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Confined Spaces - A Danger Regardless of Farm Size

Jerry Bertoldo, Dairy
Northwest New York Dairy, Livestock & Field Crops

Last Modified: June 25, 2013

A confined space can be defined as an area that has limited openings for entry and exit, has unfavorable natural ventilation which could contain or produce dangerous air contaminants and is not intended for continuous employee occupancy. In the animal agriculture world, upright silos, manure digesters, manure pits, trenches and storage tanks all come to mind as examples.

The danger on the farm is usually in the form of gasses harmful to the respiratory tract, ones that displace oxygen or are explosive in nature. It must be kept I mind that mechanical hazards cannot be ignored. Agriculture is exempt from most OSHA regulations. The mandatory signage, respirators, safety harnesses, eye wash stations and the employee training that goes with it is not mandatory as with other industries. 

Silo gas (NO2 or nitrogen dioxide) was a well recognized health danger from the early days of upright silos. The switch to bunkers, bags and bottom unloading silos has reduced the risk. With the increase in collection and storage of liquid manure many more potentially dangerous confined spaces have been created. The key concern is the air within these spaces. This can include a drop in oxygen concentration (from decay of organic matter and displacement by CO2 and/or methane), an increase of carbon dioxide, a buildup of carbon monoxide from nearby running engines, lethal build up of hydrogen sulfide (H2S, rotten egg smell) or explosive levels of methane.

Manure pits have been to blame for numerous deaths of unsuspecting individuals entering them to work on pumps, impellers or other objects needing attention. Low oxygen conditions (16-18% versus the normal 21% atmospheric concentration) as an example are rather innocuous. At these levels there is an impairment of judgment and breathing without the victim realizing it. A drop in the oxygen concentration to 6%, however results in death within minutes. Hydrogen sulfide can be detected by most people at very low levels (<.005 ppm). Between 100-150 ppm the sense of smell is deadened with a few breaths. Levels approaching 350 ppm will cause pulmonary edema and possible death. The heavier than air nature of H2S makes forced ventilation of a pit before entry a must.

Methane (biogas) is non-toxic, lighter than air, colorless and odorless. Even though it does not accumulate in the bottom of a confined space, continuous methane production can be expected from manure at the floor of a pit. At 5-15% concentration by air volume, methane is explosive. This means anything that might create a spark - cell phones, radios, engines, clothing static, fans or any other non-explosion proof devices - could initiate an explosion.

Anyone working around or in confined spaces should be made aware of potential dangers. Working in pairs or groups with a means to retrieve someone quickly from a hazardous air space should be a minimal consideration. For more information go to











calendar of events

Upcoming Events

Pasture Walk - Wild Geese Farm - Franklinville, NY

August 21, 2019
5:30pm - 8:30pm
Fanklinville, NY

Topics to include: Tools for Managing Rotational Grazed Pasture, Weed ID and Management and Calculating Cost of Production. 
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Bovine Reproduction and AI Training Course

September 24 - September 25, 2019
9:30am - 3:30pm
Shortsville, NY

This two-day AI workshop will be held on September 24 and 25. 

Topics covered will include:

• Reproductive Physiology
• Synchronization Protocols
• Heat Detection
• Artificial Insemination
• Proper Thawing of Semen
• Loading A.I. guns
• Practice Breeding Cows

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Corn Congress - Batavia Location

Event Offers DEC Credits

January 8, 2020
10:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.
Batavia, NY

Please join the NWNY Dairy, Livestock and Field Crop Program's team for our annual Corn Congress.  DEC re-certification points and Certified Crop Adviser credits available, so bring your picture ID.  Lunch is included.  Hear from program-related professionals and visit with our sponsoring vendors.  
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2019 NY Corn & Soybean Yield Contests - Entries Due 8/30/19

The annual corn and soybean yield contests sponsored by the New York Corn & Soybean Growers Association are underway. Click Here for the 2019 yield contest entry form.  This form and contest rules can also be found on the NY Corn & Soybean Growers Association web page at: 

Entry forms must be postmarked by Friday, August 30 and mailed or emailed to Mike Stanyard. Cost is $30 per entry. Good Luck! 

Preventing Sexual Harassment on Farms

If you're wondering how to get your farm business in compliance with NYS Sexual Harassment Regulations, you've come to the right place.  This is a recording of the presentations given at the live training on July 30 and July 31, 2019 across New York State, which provides updates and farm-specific resources developed by CCE. View the recording here:

RMA Announces Additional One-time Changes to Prevented Planting Provisions

June 29, 2019

RMA Announces Additional One-time Changes to Prevented Planting Provisions
for 2019 Crop Year

In response to delayed and prevented planting resulting from above average rainfall and wetness, the USDA Risk Management Agency has made a one-time change to the 2019 crop year prevented planting rules that effectively allows silage corn, if planted as a cover crop following local agricultural expert guidelines, to be acceptable as a post-prevented planting cover crop. Under this one-time rule change, producers are allowed to produce this crop while retaining their prevented planting payment. This change couples with previously announced one-time changes to the prevented planting rules - including expanded acceptable uses for post-prevented planting cover crops and a change in the cover crop haying and grazing start date rule - serve to help those struggling to meet their forage needs due to the weather.

Read the full article from the New York Crop Insurance Education Program.

The USDA-RMA states that "For crop insurance purposes, a cover crop is a crop generally recognized by agricultural experts as agronomically sound for the area for erosion control or other purposes related to conservation or soil improvement." PRO-DAIRY specialists Joe Lawrence and Karl Czymmek and Dr. Quirine Ketterings, Professor and Director of Cornell Nutrient Management Spear Program have released a letter stating "Corn on Prevented Planting acres meets these objectives."