Sooner or later, no matter how a manure pit is designed, someone will likely have to enter the pit to perform some type of maintenance. Advance planning and attention to safety details can help prevent an unpleasant task from having a deadly outcome.

"Five out of every seven rescuers becomes a victim when dealing with a manure pit emergency," says Rich Lutz, a first responder, emergency medical technician and first aid instructor at Northeast Community College in Norfolk, NE.

Lutz provided attendees at the recent North American Manure Expo with a series of potentially life-saving, practical planning tips he has learned first-hand experience while responding to manure pit emergencies. He is a strong advocate for having a safety harness and appropriate breathing equipment available for anyone who has to enter a manure pit.

"Chances are very high that once you become unconscious in a confined space, such as a manure pit, if you don't have the proper equipment the rescue crew is going to be performing a body recovery. Do not go into that space without a safety harness and life line," he urges. "They are not expensive. If you cannot save yourself, at least be kind enough not to put those who may come down to rescue you into a life-threatening situation, too."

Lutz says a safety harness can be purchased for about $45. Or check with your rural electric association, they may have a retired safety harness on-hand. Special coveralls with a built in safety harness are also available for people who don’t want the harness getting in their way.

If someone has to enter the pit, the safety harness and attached rope should be monitored at all times from outside of the pit.

Lutz suggests that producers should work with their local fire department in advance to check if they have the proper equipment to perform a rescue from a confined space.

"Think about response times. It is possible the closest fire department may not have the equipment or training for this type of rescue, so the call may need to go to a different town. If you know this ahead of time, you don't waste valuable time when every minute counts," he says.

Invite the local fire department personnel to your operation for a pre-planning session so they know how the operation works. Lutz says the local fire department and rescue squad should have answers to the following questions about your operation:

• How many buildings are on each site?
• How are the buildings identified? "If you say you need help in Building No. 3, how will they find that building?" he asks.
• Where are the entrances and exits for each building and manure pit?
• Are there biosecurity protocols that must be followed?
• Are buildings locked? If so, how can they be accessed?
• Are gates padlocked? Will responders need a bolt cutter?
• Do you use propane or natural gas?
• Where is the power supply located for each site?

Be sure employees at the operation know the answer s to these questions as well. "The people who call the emergency responders should be able to specifically explain the situation so the right equipment is brought to the emergency and time is not wasted," Lutz points out. "Share the information with everyone who works with you in that operation. Even if you aren't the person who goes into the manure pit, you work with the people who do and the people who may make the difference when it comes to saving a life."