Confined Spaces: Emergencies and Rescue

Use the following format to cite this article:

Confined space: Emergencies and rescue. (2012) Ag Safety and Health eXtension Community of Practice. Retrieved from

Entering a confined-space manure storage area can be deadly. Farm and ranch managers, family members, and employees must have a complete understanding of what to do in the event of a confined-space emergency and ways to avoid such an incident.

If you find a victim unresponsive in a manure storage area, immediately call 911. Inform the operator that the incident involves a person in a confined-space manure storage area so that the appropriate emergency response personnel can be dispatched to the scene. Emergency responders trained in confined-space rescue will be equipped with the necessary rescue apparatus and gas detection equipment. Do not enter the manure storage area under any circumstances.

While waiting for an emergency response team, ventilate the area by blowing fresh air into the space, moving the toxic air away from the victim. Keep a ventilation fan readily available specifically for such emergencies. When using a fan, be aware of the following recommendations:

  • Do not use typical barn or home fans to ventilate manure-storage areas because they may emit sparks from static electricity or an electrical short. If flammable methane gas has collected in the storage area, a spark could cause a fire.
  • Never attempt to get fresh air closer to the victim by lowering a fan into the confined space.
  • Make sure that the ventilation fan does not blow the manure gases back toward you, affecting your breathable air.

Preventing Confined-Space Manure Storage Emergencies

Take the following precautions on your farm or ranch to reduce the risk of a confined-space manure storage emergency:

  • Warning Signs: Post warning signs (example is shown below) about the risks of confined spaces and gas hazards at the openings to manure storage areas. Include warnings against walking or driving on crusted manure surfaces.

    Confined Space Sign

(Source: Pennsylvania State University. Agricultural Safety and Health)

  • Limited Access: Limit access to manure storage areas to authorized personnel. Take these specific steps to keep people away from manure storage areas:
    • Equip exterior ladders with locking mechanisms.
    • Remove temporary-access ladders from areas surrounding aboveground tanks.
    • When manure storage areas are open, place barricades at the openings of storage areas.
    • Install and maintain fencing around uncovered ground-level storage areas such as manure ponds or lagoons.
  • Education: Educate employees, family members, and visitors about the hazards associated with manure storage in confined spaces.
  • Entry Plan: Prepare and document an entry plan for entering confined spaces where manure is stored. Review the entry plan annually with all employees and family members. The entry plan should include specific physical details about the confined space, descriptions of potential hazards, reasons for entry, procedures for entry, and procedures to follow during emergencies.
  • Two-Person Minimum: Require that two people be present for any confined-space entry and that both individuals be trained in entry and rescue techniques. The person outside the manure storage area should maintain verbal and visual contact with the person inside the confined space at all times. The person outside the storage area should be available to summon help and to implement the rescue and retrieval system if necessary. This person should not enter the manure storage area, even in the event of an emergency.
  • Gas Detection: Use gas detection equipment to monitor oxygen levels and levels of explosive and toxic gases in the confined space.

Gas Monitor

(Source: Pennsylvania State University. Agricultural Safety and Health)

  • Ventilation: Prior to entry, ventilate the confined-space manure storage area for a minimum of 15 minutes and continue ventilation during entry and occupancy. A positive-pressure ventilation system is recommended because of the reduced risk of fire or explosion.
  • Body Harness: Require that the person entering the manure storage area carry a portable gas monitor and wear an adjustable body harness with a lifeline attached to a rescue and retrieval system. A typical rescue and retrieval system uses a tripod device equipped with a winch to limit a person’s fall and retrieve a person who has been incapacitated.
  • Power-Source Lockout: To reduce the risk of stray electricity, prior to entry, lock out all power sources in the confined-space manure storage area other than the positive-pressure ventilation system.

Additional Safety Recommendations

  • Remember that youth under the age of 16 are prohibited from working in confined spaces.
  • Provide training about the hazards associated with confined-space manure storage to every person working on, living on, or visiting the farm or ranch.
  • Ventilate manure storage areas appropriately to increase oxygen and decrease explosive and toxic manure gases.
  • Remove personnel and animals from the confinement building during manure storage agitation or pumping. If you are unable to remove the animals, maximize ventilation and begin agitating very slowly while monitoring the animals for abnormal behavior.
  • Prohibit smoking in and around manure storage areas.
  • Operate manure agitators below the surface of liquid manure to reduce the release of manure gases.
  • Leave 1 to 2 cu. ft. of space above the manure to contain released gases. If you are unable to leave the recommended space, lower the manure level prior to agitation.

Use the following format to cite this article:

Confined space: Emergencies and rescue. (2012) Farm and Ranch eXtension in Safety and Health (FReSH) Community of Practice. Retrieved from


Hallman, E. & Aldrich, B. (2007) Hydrogen sulfide in manure handling systems: Health and safety issues. Cornell University Manure Management Program. Retrieved from

Hill, D., Murphy, D., Steel, J., & Manbeck, H. (2011) Confined space manure storage emergencies. Penn State Extension. Retrieved from

Ogejo, J. (2009) Poultry and livestock manure storage: Management and safety. Virginia Cooperative Extension. Retrieved from

Reviewed and Summarized by:
Linda M. Fetzer, Pennsylvania State University –
LaMar Grafft, East Carolina University –
Davis E. Hill, Pennsylvania State University – (has since retired)
Dennis J. Murphy, Pennsylvania State University – (has since retired)
Aaron M. Yoder, University of Nebraska Medical Center –