by Carrie Webster

respiratorIt is crucial to your health that you have a complete understanding of all of the possible gases you could be exposed to on the farm. In hog barns, there are two forms of respiratory hazards – long-term or chronic and acute or immediate. An acute hazard makes people sick immediately upon exposure.

“You can protect the health of your employees, your livestock and yourself with some simple precautions,” said the Pork Checkoff’s Karen Hoare. “It’s important to provide an environment that encourages safety awareness.”

That includes being able to identify gases released while raising pigs and the symptoms or reactions they may cause. The Pork Checkoff has outlined the five main gases of concern.

Methane, released during decomposition and agitation of manure, is a colorless, odorless, usually nontoxic gas. However, it is flammable and poses an explosion hazard. Watch for pit foam and use caution, especially when agitating manure or when pressure washing a room with reduced ventilation.
Ammonia also is released during decomposition and agitation of manure. The pungent, colorless, noxious gas is easily detected even in small concentrations. At low levels, it can irritate your eyes, throat and lungs. Long-term exposure may make you more susceptible to respiratory diseases.
Carbon Dioxide is released as animals and humans breathe. Carbon dioxide is a heavy, colorless, odorless, non-flammable gas. Humans have no reaction to low levels, but a 10 percent concentration will cause panting and dizziness.
Carbon Monoxide is released from unvented heaters and gas-powered pressure washers. The colorless, odorless and very toxic gas can cause death at high concentrations. Gas-powered pressure washers should be used in well-ventilated areas.
Hydrogen Sulfide also is released during decomposition and agitation of manure. The flammable, poisonous gas smells like rotten eggs, but only at very low levels. Higher levels will deaden your sense of smell. Small amounts quickly and severely irritate your eyes, throat and lungs. Even low concentrations can cause immediate loss of consciousness and death.

Be Ready to Act

If you suspect toxic gases are in an area or if people are unconscious, assume that the area contains hazardous levels of a toxic gas.

Do not enter the area or attempt a rescue without using an air respirator. Contact emergency medical services according to your farm’s Emergency Action Plan.