‘Take extra care when mixing slurry’

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With the closed period for spreading slurry coming to an end at midnight on 31 January, the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) is reminding farmers to take extra care when working with slurry.

Malcolm Downey, Principal Inspector of HSENI’s farm safety team, said: “Before starting any job on the farm, including slurry mixing, take time to stop, think and safely plan the work ahead.

“Cover openings and keep children and animals far away during the slurry mixing process. Stay out of the building for at least 30 minutes after the mixing starts and every time you move the pump or change the direction of mixing.

“Please be aware that if a tank is mixed before the end of the closed period and is then mixed again before the tank is emptied that gas can build up again even within a day or two and it is essential to stay out for at least 30 minutes once again.

“Do not take any chances when mixing slurry. As the closed period comes to an end, I urge farmers to reflect on the safe slurry mixing code, remembering that just one breath can kill.”

Mixing slurry can be a particularly dangerous job as slurry gas is released very quickly, and in large quantities, as soon as the mixing starts.

Slurry gas is a mixture of gases, including the extremely poisonous gas, hydrogen sulphide. Even a low concentration of hydrogen sulphide can knock out your sense of smell so you won’t even know it’s there. At higher concentrations you will rapidly find it harder to breathe and become confused - and at certain concentrations, just one breath can kill.

The first 30 minutes are the most dangerous, so it is important for farmers to leave the shed as soon as mixing starts - and to stay out for at least 30 minutes.

The Livestock and Meat Commission for Northern Ireland (LMC) is also appealing to farmers to remember the ‘think SAFE’ message when mixing slurry.

LMC Chief Executive, Ian Stevenson said: “I echo HSENI’s repeated messages of mixing slurry in a safe manner and would urge anyone who is unsure to visit the HSENI’s website where there is a lot of helpful material,” Ian said.

“As an affiliate member of the Farm Safety Partnership, LMC would like to remind all those who work in the countryside and especially farmers of the dangers of working with slurry. Thankfully most farmers are acutely aware of the risks of slurry gases and the harm that can come if corners are cut to save time or effort. It is of vital importance that the proper procedures are followed and no risks are taken when it comes to safety on the farm.”

He added: “Over recent years LMC has been working closely with HSENI to help communicate farm safety messages. This included the production of a booklet titled ‘The Importance of Properly Maintained Slurry Storage Facilities.’ This leaflet was circulated to members of the Northern Ireland Beef and Lamb Farm Quality Assurance Scheme (NIBL FQAS) if a non-conformance relating to slurry storage is raised at inspection.

“Many people think that working in the countryside is the ideal profession. However, there are very real dangers facing farmers every single day. As the closed period for slurry comes to an end, it’s essential that farmers remember the ‘Stop and Think SAFE’ message.”