Slurry lagoon toxic gas warning sign©FLPA/Rex

Farmers are risking their lives by ignoring the threat of deadly slurry gases, a new poll has revealed.

A survey of 100 farmers by the Health and Safety Executive Northern Ireland (HSENI), found just one in five waited the recommended time before entering a slurry shed after mixing had begun.

Of those farmers surveyed, 14% said they waited for five minutes or less – yet the recommended time is at least 30 minutes.

See also: Farm accidents – how to save a life in an emergency

HSENI chief executive Keith Morrison said it was “demoralising” that many farmers were ignoring the dangers of slurry gas. While Ulster Farmers’ Union president Ian Marshall said the findings of the survey were “disheartening”.

Slurry gas is a mixture of gases, including the extremely poisonous hydrogen sulphide which, even at a low concentration, can knock out your sense of smell so you won’t know it’s there.

At higher concentrations inhaling the gas can make it harder to breathe and you may become confused. In certain concentrations, just one breath can kill.

Over recent years, incidents involving slurry have tragically claimed the lives of a number of people in Northern Ireland, including that of a child.

With the closed period for spreading slurry coming to an end on 31 January, the HSENI is urging farmers to take extra care when working with slurry.

The call comes as part of a new slurry awareness drive which features a new leaflet warning of the dangers from slurry gas and offering advice on how to mix slurry safely.

HSENI inspectors have also started a series of visits to local farms to offer advice and information to improve working systems.

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

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

Appealing to farmers to follow the advice on offer, Malcolm Downey, head of the HSENI farm safety team, said: “Before mixing slurry, always stop and think about the job ahead and plan to do it safely.

“Cover all the openings and keep children and animals well away during the mixing process – and 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.

“Don’t take any chances – you may have got away with it in the past, but you are risking your own life and the lives of others as well as putting your livestock in danger.

“Always follow the slurry mixing code and remember that with slurry gas, just one breath can kill.”

HSENI has produced a leaflet on working safely with slurry.