Today members of Farm Safety Week UK & Ireland gathered at the Livestock Event NEC, Birmingham to celebrate day three of Farm Safety Week 2015.
Ian Marshall UFU and Keith Morrison from HSENI joined colleagues from the Farm Safety Foundation, Farm Safety Partnerships, the Health & Safety Executive and Health & Safety Authority Ireland to highlight the issues surrounding slurry and how to prevent slurry related accidents on the farm.
According to Ian Marshall, President, Ulster Farmers’ Union and Farm Safety Partnership member: “Today’s focus is slurry and sadly, over recent years, incidents involving slurry have claimed several lives in Northern Ireland.
“This Farm Safety Week we are trying to raise awareness of some of the hidden dangers of working in an agricultural environment in the hope that the same thing will not happen to anyone else.
“Most people in the industry have heard of methane, but hardly anyone knows about the dangers of hydrogen sulphide. More farmers need to be made aware of hydrogen sulphide in slurry. At low levels, hydrogen sulphide smells like rotten eggs. But at higher levels it can’t be smelt, shutting down the nervous system, causing collapse, unconsciousness and ultimately death.”
Following a near fatal incident when mixing slurry, Co. Antrim farmer Alex Walker, spent a night in hospital followed by weeks of severe headaches and fatigue. As Alex now realises, this accident could have been prevented.
Alex was mixing slurry on the family farm. It was a calm day with barely any wind. Fifteen minutes after starting up the slurry mixing pump Alex walked back towards the shed. As he approached the shed he took a breath and immediately realised that something was wrong.
He explained what happened next: “As I was walking towards the shed I took a breath and knew instantly that I’d inhaled gas. It felt like someone had sucked all the breath out of me.”
Alex reacted quickly, he held his breath and ran towards the tractor to switch off the pump, before running to safety. He managed to get away from the gas, before he passed out.
“I knew I was going to pass out so tried to get as far away from the gas before it happened. As I lay on the ground I could see my Dad running towards me, but I couldn’t move my body at all,” He continued.
Alex’s father helped him up, but he collapsed a second time trying to make his way to the house. An ambulance was called which rushed him to hospital.
As a result of the accident, Alex explains that he is now more cautious about how he works with slurry. He added: “The advice I would give to anyone is to mix on a windy day, and always leave at least 30 minutes before re-entering the area.”
Ian Marshall agreed: “Farm workers of any age run the risk of injury or death from slurry handling on farms. It’s a dangerous process. The toxic gases released can quickly kill workers and livestock – even in the open air – and multiple fatalities can occur as attempts are made to rescue workers who have been overcome. Don’t learn safety by accident. Take the time to think about what you are doing and what might go wrong as making a few simple checks could actually save a life – maybe your own!”