When one hears the word “farm,” the typical person would usually imagine looking over vast green fields and breathing in clean, fresh air. While the presence of lots of plant life and its distance from polluted urban jungles do play a part in the improvement of air quality, seasoned farmers would know that there are actually many airborne hazards on the farm.

In this article, we’ve listed airborne farm safety hazards that you should be aware of. Take note of the symptoms to watch out for, as well as how to prevent their dangerous effects in order to live a long and healthy life as a farmer.

Gaseous agricultural hazards

1. Methane

If you frequently work alongside or near manure pits, you’re likely exposed to methane. This gas is primarily absorbed through inhalation and brings risks of asphyxiation. Because it is flammable, methane is also an explosion hazard.

With that said, see to it that areas near manure pits are free of ignition sources and smoking. In addition, maintain proper ventilation in the area. However, if you have no choice but to stay near methane-rich areas for prolonged periods of time, wearing a self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA) may be necessary.

2. Ammonia

Moderately high levels of ammonia in the air can trigger respiratory tract irritations and discomfort in the eyes, skin, mouth, and nose. Moreover, even higher concentrations can easily lead to suffocation, so caution is necessary when dealing with this gas.

Usually, increased concentrations of ammonia are found in animal confinement buildings and out in the fields. On the flip side, ammonia has a very distinct odor (that we’ve all probably already encountered at least once in our lives), so it’s easy to identify when you might be at risk.

To avoid the dire effects of ammonia, make sure to provide adequate ventilation in enclosed areas. Also, run fans for a while before entering barns and manure pits. When handling fertilizers and other ammonia-containing products, use gloves, boots, and an apron as a precaution.

3. Hydrogen sulfide

Hydrogen sulfide has a foul rotten egg smell. However, note that this gas paralyzes the olfactory nerves after the initial inhalation. This renders you unable to detect the odor any longer. Clearly, this makes hydrogen sulfide extra hazardous because it provides a false sense of security to those who are in danger of inhaling fatal amounts of this gas.

Inhaling small amounts of hydrogen sulfide already leads to nose and eye irritation, nausea, dizziness, headache, and even unconsciousness. Failure to evacuate the area with higher than normal levels of hydrogen sulfide can easily lead to death. On the farm, areas near manure pits are prone to having dangerous levels of this gas. It’s crucial, therefore, for these areas to be well-ventilated. Also, once you detect a foul rotten egg smell, it’s best to immediate evacuate the area and seek fresh air.

4. Nitrogen oxide

Nitrogen oxide irritates the eyes and mucous membranes, causes shortness of breath, and in worse cases, leads to a fever or even death. The greatest risk of exposure to this airborne hazard occurs in silos, especially those that have been recently filled. With that said, you should stay away from silos for two to three days after filling. Then for the next five to seven days, make sure to open all chute doors, wear an SCBA, and run a blower for at least 15 minutes before entry.

5. Carbon dioxide

When inhaled, relatively-high amounts of carbon dioxide can cause drowsiness, dizziness, flushing, and unconsciousness. Severe exposure to carbon dioxide can also cause death.

To avoid these consequences, it’s important that you keep buildings with motorized equipment well-ventilated. Moreover, grain bins can also house high levels of this gas—so make sure to avoid staying in this type of enclosure for prolonged periods of time.

Other airborne hazards on the farm

6. Pesticides

Diluting or mixing pesticides exposes farmers to hazards stemming from potential contact with chemicals. Effects will vary according to the specific type of chemicals involved, but symptoms can range from simple irritation to lung damage and systemic poisoning.

To avoid these dire effects, use appropriate equipment when handling chemicals. Protective goggles, gloves, and other personal protective equipment are important.

7. Dust

Dust can be found pretty much everywhere. On farms specifically, you’re exposed to large amounts of dust inside buildings, out on the field, and when dealing with animals and grinding feed. While it doesn’t directly cause any symptoms or illnesses, dust can act as an allergy or asthma trigger. If you have an existing respiratory condition, make it a habit to wear a dust respirator when going to dusty areas.

8. Metal fumes

Farmers who dabble in metal welding and soldering are prone to inhaling metal fumes, which can lead to metal fume fever. It’s important, then, to be mindful of your exposure to metal fumes to avoid their dire health effects. Also, keep in mind that special respirators for these types of activities are your best friend.

9. Molds

Molds can grow and fester in the hay, spoiled silage, and beddings. Additionally, mold spores in grains can attach to dust particles and be absorbed through inhalation. This can affect your lungs and trigger any allergies or sensitivities that you may already have. To cope with this airborne hazard, it’s important that you wear a mist respirator when handling mold-prone materials and substances.