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Preventing Deaths of Farm Workers in Manure Pits

NIOSH Update:

Contact: Fred Blosser (202) 401-3749
July 3, 2007

The tragic deaths of four members of a Virginia farm family and a farm employee on July 2, 2007, highlight the importance of vigilance when entering manure pits or tanks. Accumulations of methane, hydrogen sulfide, carbon dioxide, and ammonia can pose a life-threatening risk of suffocation and other dangers. The immediacy and magnitude of the hazard may not be readily apparent.

To prevent death or serious injury, NIOSH recommends:

  • never enter a manure pit unless absolutely necessary, and only when proper safeguards have been taken
  • the atmosphere within the pit should be tested before entry,
  • if the atmosphere is toxic or oxygen-deficient, do not enter without proper respiratory protection
  • a standby person should be in constant contact and ready to lift the worker to safety with mechanical lifting equipment (winch, hoist, or pulley), and
  • anyone entering a manure pit should wear a safety belt or harness with a lifeline tied to the mechanical lifting device
  • never enter a manure pit to attempt a rescue without proper respiratory protection

More details on NIOSH findings and recommendations for working safely in manure pits can be found in these documents:

NIOSH Alert: Request for Assistance in Preventing Deaths of Farm Workers in Manure Pits.

NIOSH Update: NIOSH Warns, Manure Pits Continue to Claim Lives

In partnership with the farming community, employers, extension services, equipment manufacturers, and other stakeholders, NIOSH conducts a strategic program of research and outreach to prevent injuries, illnesses, and deaths in agricultural work. More information is available at or by calling the NIOSH toll-free information number, 1-800-35-NIOSH (1-800-356-4674).