Playing it safe – Toxic Gas Concerns in Agribusiness
November 18, 2015
Precautions around silos, manure pits and grain bins
You already know how important it is to wear effective protective equipment on the job to prevent injury and illness. In agriculture, air-purifying respirators, powered air purifiers, gas masks and air-supplied respirators are crucial for preventing long-term damage.
However, engineering controls and personal protective equipment are just the first lines of defence against toxic gases. It is also important to know what kinds of poisonous substances you work around so you can identify symptoms and warning signs.
The following toxic gases are commonly found in and around agricultural buildings, especially silos, manure pits and grain bins. Use this information to better equip yourself to stay safe on the job and identify when hazards exist.
Hydrogen Sulphide (H2S)
- Has a distinct, putrid, rotten egg smell, is extremely flammable and is heavier than air
- Workers exposed to the gas even for a short time become immune to the odour.
- Symptoms include eye and respiratory tract irritation, headache, nausea and dizziness.
- Causes death at high concentrations
- Colourless gas with a distinct, pungent odour that is heavier than air
- Causes eye and respiratory tract irritation as well as ulceration to the eyes in high concentrations
Carbon Dioxide (CO2)
- Common sources in agribusiness are soil, plant and animal respiration as well as microbial respiration in manure
- Acts as an asphyxiant by replacing oxygen in the air, which is especially dangerous to both humans and animals in confined spaces or poorly ventilated buildings
- Odourless and difficult to detect
- Early symptoms are dizziness and shortness of breath.
- Odourless and lighter than air
- Accumulates on top of manure pits
- Main hazard is its ability to easily ignite and explode
Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2)
- Sharp, biting odour and red-brown in colour, but only visible at very high concentrations
- Extremely toxic, but easily detected by smell
- Present at the bottom of enclosed spaces
- Symptoms include bronchitis, pneumonia and severe lung damage.