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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

Forage Congress

February 27, 2019
10:00 am - 3:30 pm
Mt. Morris, NY

  • Climate Smart Farming Decision Tools
  • Forage Quality to Reduce Purchase Concentrate Cost.  N Management, Guidelines for Grass, Low Lignin Alfalfa, Harvest Schedule
  • Fiber Digestibility & Corn Silage Hybrid Evaluation Using Fiber & Starch Yields
  • Silage Fermentation
  • Inventory & Shrink
  • Producer Panel

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MANURE APPLICATOR TRAINING - DEC Approved Training for CAFO Farms, register by 2/22/2019!

February 28, 2019
9 a.m. - 11 a.m. - Wyo Co Ag Bus Center, Warsaw and 1 p.m. - 3 p. m. Civil Def Bldg., Bath NY

This informational meeting is for all farm owners, family members, and employees who manage their farm's manure. All farms, regardless of size are encouraged to attend. This is a DEC approved Manure Applicator Training that is required for CAFO farms. A certificate will be provided to each farm that participates in the meeting. 
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Raising Healthy Livestock: The Basics of Feeding, Health, and Quality Care

March 2, 2019
10 am - 1 pm
Lockport, NY

Raising livestock can be a rewarding enterprise. There are many things to consider, including what to feed, how to keep them healthy and how to handle them. Cornell Cooperative Extension NWNY Dairy, Livestock & Field Crops Team is holding a workshop for livestock farmers to help address these topics. 
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CDL Training Program For Agricultural Producers and their Employees ONLY

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Wyoming County, in collaboration with Genesee Valley BOCES, will be offering a CDL Training Program for both Class A and Class B licenses. This course is offered to Farm Owners, Operators, and their Employees ONLY.

Thursday, February 28, 2019, 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM (Informational Meeting)
Wednesday, March 6, 2019, 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM (Classroom)
Thursday, March 7, 2019, 7:00 PM - 9:00 PM (Classroom)
Class A CDL=$ 750.00 (Enrolled in Ag Program)
Class A CDL =$ 800.00 (not enrolled in Ag Program).
Class B CDL=$ 600.00 (Enrolled in Ag Program)
Class B CDL =$ 650.00 (Not enrolled in Ag Program)
Checks payable to Cornell Cooperative Extension of Wyoming County
Held at CCE-Wyoming County., 36 Center Street, Warsaw, NY 14569

The informational meeting will be held the week before the CDL training session begins, to answer any questions you may have regarding this program and to pick up the required training materials and medical forms. To register, please contact Debra Welch at 585-786-2251 or email

Wyoming County Pride of Ag Dinner - N Java Fire hall, March 2nd

For more information about the event or to purchase tickets, please contact the Wyoming County Chamber of Commerce, 585.786.0307.

USDA to Host 2018 Farm Bill Implementation Listening Session

The listening session will be held Feb. 26, 2019 at 9:00 a.m. in the Jefferson Auditorium in the South Building located at 14th Street and Independence Ave. S.W. in Washington, D.C.

The listening session is open to the public. Participants must register at by February 22, 2019, to attend the listening session and are encouraged to provide written comments prior to the listening session. For those orally presenting comments at the listening session, written comments are encouraged to be submitted to by February 22, 2019. Additional written comments will be accepted through March 1, 2019. Comments received will be publicly available on

Three Free Digester Workshops offered through CCE St. Lawrence Co.

CCE of St. Lawrence County is offering three FREE workshops showcasing the research results from our feasibility study of anaerobic digester technology on small farms. The research was conducted by our partners at Clarkson University using the anaerobic digester at the Extension Learning Farm, which is fed both manure from a dairy operation and vegetable waste from our commercial kitchen. The digester heats a small green house that starts our seedling plants. We have a small scale vegetable-only digester as well. The research and program targets small dairies under 200 head, livestock producers, horticulture producers and anyone interested in alternative energy.

Program will be held on December 5, January 7, and March 6. A catered meal is provided at each program. Participants within the North Country Region will be given a $25 stipend to help cover travel costs, those from outside the region will be given $50. To receive the stipend, participants will need to complete a pre/post-test survey.

More information and registration information can be found here:

New Guidance for Mortality Disposal Issued

NYS Department of Ag and Markets has posted guidelines on disposal of livestock carcasses, in response to reports that some rendering companies have halted pickups from farms.|1