A farm insurance expert is warning against farmers ‘cutting corners’ and taking dangerous and potentially fatal risks in the scramble to catch up on the delayed slurry season.

Matt McWhirter, of Farmers and Mercantile Insurance Brokers (FMIB), is urging farmers not to overlook the necessary precautions needed in managing slurry on farms.

“The start of this year saw widespread flooding and unprecedented rainfall, hampering farmers plans to start slurry spreading,” he said.

“We are at the stage now where stores are overflowing, and farmers are understandably desperate to get out into the fields, but incidents involving slurry are all too common on farms and the potential risk to life cannot, and should not, be underestimated.

“Hydrogen sulphide – the most dangerous gas emitted from slurry – nullifies our sense of smell, so anyone exposed will not be able to detect danger.  It causes difficulty in breathing and disorientation, which can lead to collapse and death.

“When it comes to slurry mixing, farmers need to ensure they do not take unnecessary risks in the interests of time and savings and instead give the process the extreme care, caution and respect that it requires.”

Matt said that, before embarking on any mixing, farmers should plan the job, assess the risks and decide on appropriate precautions to work safely.

All staff should be trained and a robust and comprehensive risk assessment should be carried out.

Fencing around the storage facility should be checked and suitable warning signs should be in place.

All cattle should be moved out of slatted sheds before mixing and the building checked to ensure no-one is present who shouldn’t be.  When the mixer is running, no-one should stand over mixing points and other areas where gas may be emitted, such as slats.  Covers should be in place over mixing points and receptions pits.

It is vital that all children are kept indoors, well away from the building.

“Detectors for hydrogen sulphide are strongly advised and always use specialist contractors for the most dangerous aspects of the jobs,” added Matt.  “Most importantly, remember that no-one should work alone and always follow advice from the Health and Safety Executive.”

Matt also warned that the wetter weather will contribute to more mud on the roads, as the fields are already sodden and soft – adding another layer of risk.

“Leaving mud behind on the road is not an innocuous act – it can be a highly dangerous one, as it can cause other road users to lose control of their vehicles and skid, which can lead to serious or even fatal collisions,” said Matt.

“It is an offence if mud creates a danger or inconvenience to road users and all efforts must be made to remove it.  Not only do farmers face being prosecuted under the Highways Act, but they are also leaving themselves open to claims of negligence, if someone is injured.  Furthermore, they could be forced to pay clean-up costs by the council.

“Farmers should take steps to minimise mud deposits on the road, and to have a robust clean-up plan in place.

“Mud should be cleaned from vehicles, as far as practicable, before being driven onto the road, paying particular attention to the wheels, and tractors should be driven at a low-speed on roads, to prevent residual mud from falling off.

“Try to keep road travel to a minimum, stick to minor roads where possible, and ensure adequate and appropriate signage is used and displayed with maximum visibility to other road users.  Don’t let mud build up and instead look to clean up at regular intervals, as well as at the end of the day.

“In some instances, farmers feel they have fulfilled their duty by putting up signs but this is simply not sufficient.

“As we continue to feel the effects of climate change, wetter weather in slurry season could become more common, so being mindful and responsible will be even more imperative.”