Farmer and his employee died after collapse and attempted rescue in manure storage pit

Iowa Case Report: 05IA024
Report Date: August 4, 2014

The following report is the product of our Cooperative State partner and is presented here in its original unedited form from the state. The findings and conclusions in this report are those of the individual Cooperative State partner and do not necessarily reflect the views or policy of the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.


On a spring afternoon in 2005, a 52-year-old farmer and his 23-year-old hired hand were emptying manure from the pit beneath a cattle confinement shed at the farmer’s homestead. After the job was finished at about 15:30, the farmer “climbed down” the vertical manure transfer pump that was in the pit, presumably to retrieve a chain that had fallen in the pit earlier that week. While in the pit, he collapsed and fell backward. His employee either witnessed the collapse or discovered the farmer in the pit. He ran 150 yards to the farmer’s house and told the wife to call 911 because her husband had fallen in the pit. The employee raced back to assist the farmer. He was followed by the farmer’s daughter. The employee then entered the pit in an attempted rescue. He, too, collapsed and fell face down in four to six inches of manure that remained in the pit. The farmer’s father-in-law (who had come to the site by chance) and daughter witnessed the employee’s collapse. After completing the 911 call, the farmer’s wife rushed to the shed with a ladder to attempt rescue, but her father prevented her from entering. Within five to seven minutes of the 911 call, local firefighters and emergency responders arrived from the nearby town. Medical assistance was requested from a regional hospital 12 miles away. An initial rescue attempt was made by an emergency responder wearing an air-purifying respirator. On his way into the pit, he had difficulty breathing and nearly passed out, but he managed to get back out of the pit. Firefighters then donned self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) respirators, entered the pit, and retrieved the unconscious victims. Medics took over care of the victims and transported them to the nearest hospital. From there, they were air-lifted to a tertiary-level hospital 70 miles away.

Farmer and his employee died after collapse and attempted rescue in manure storage pitpdf icon [PDF 1.83 MB]

Page last reviewed: November 18, 2015