Today's modern farming methods have brought new dangers that arise from farmers entering confined areas where oxygen levels may be inadequate or where toxic gases are present. When entering a confined area such as a manure pit, silo, grain bin, or an inadequately ventilated building a farmer may be at risk of being overcome by gases or dusts which can cause permanent lung damage or death. Hydrogen sulfide is encountered most commonly as an environmental contaminant. It is formed as a result of bacterial breakdown of organic matter containing sulfur and can be formed by bacteria in the digestive tract. It can be found in livestock barns and manure. Gases in manure pits and silos can quickly kill an unsuspecting farmer.
Characteristics of H2S - There are several gases around farm sites that pose a risk to farmers, one of the most common in confined space areas are hydrogen sulfide.
- Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is formed during manure decomposition. This is from the organic matter breaking down in its original form.
- Hydrogen sulfide is toxic, combustible, and because it is heavier than air, it dissipates oxygen and can suffocate an unsuspecting farmer.
- Hydrogen sulfide also has a distinctive "rotten egg" stench that dulls the sense of smell, giving the farmer a false sense of security because the original odor disappears as exposure time increases.
Inhalation Effects of H2S - Hydrogen sulfide (H2S) is a very toxic gas at normal temperatures. It poses a very serious inhalation hazard.
- 1-5 ppm - Moderately offensive odor, possibly with nausea, or headaches with prolonged exposure.
- 20-50 ppm - Nose, throat and lung irritation, digestive upset and loss of appetite, sense of smell starts to become "fatigued".
- 100 -200 ppm - Severe nose, throat and lung irritation, ability to smell odor completely disappears.
- 250-500 ppm - Potentially fatal build-up of fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema) in the absence of central nervous system effects (headache, nausea, dizziness), especially if exposure is prolonged.
- Lengthy exposure (for several hours or days) to concentrations as low as 50-100 ppm can cause a runny nose, cough, hoarseness, and shortness of breath. Prolonged exposure to higher concentrations can produce bronchitis, pneumonia and a potentially fatal build-up of fluid in the lungs (pulmonary edema).
- Gases such as hydrogen sulfide (H2S), ammonia (NH3), carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) are a major concern in manure pits & tanks.
- Manure pits provide a deceptive hazard. Many pits are semi-open vats, but because many deadly gases are heavier than air they remain in the pit at lethal concentrations.
- Adequate ventilation and/or air circulation must be provided before a manure pit is entered. Ventilation and air circulation is also important if the pit is sufficiently close to buildings where livestock are housed or where humans enter.
- Open flames or smoking in the area of many gases, especially around highly explosive methane gas, can be deadly.
- Provide adequate ventilation during agitation of pit contents.
- Provide backup power for mechanical ventilation in case of power failure. Also, provide for equipment backup if any part of the ventilating system should fail.
- Be sure that humans and livestock are not inside confinement buildings during agitation.
- Always keep at least 12 inches of clear space between the highest manure level and the floor slats.
- Never enter a manure pit without wearing a self-contained breathing apparatus. There are potentially fatal gases in pits, even after the pit has been emptied.
- Always wear a Sensorcon H2S detector for real time detection and monitoring.
NEVER enter a manure pit without:
- A self-contained breathing apparatus & a hydrogen sulfide Detector
- A lifeline and harness with adequate retrieval equipment (hoist, etc.)
- Sufficient personnel standing by to effect a rescue. Rescue personnel should be equipped with a complete self-contained breathing apparatus and trained in rescue procedures. There has been at least one instance where rescue workers were killed when they entered a pit without proper protection. Depending on your sense of smell, cannot be counted on to warn of the presence of the gas.
Please feel free to learn more about the effects of hydrogen sulfide in our online support section. There you will find useful data about the facts and myths of carbon monoxide. Also feel free to reach out to us and speak with one of our cutomer service technicians for more information.
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