AN ARGYLL farmer’s video of his second-hand gas monitor at work has highlighted the dangers of the ‘silent killer’ hydrogen sulphide that is released when mixing slurry under a cattle shed.

NFU Scotland member David Colthart of Achnacone Farm, Appin, bought the gas monitor as an ex-hire seven years ago after hearing from a friend about a neighbouring farmer who had died after exposure hydrogen sulphide – and said that for just a few hundred pounds, the device had been a lifesaver for him on more than one occasion.

With many farmers working with slurry at present, the video – which shows his gas alarm detecting dangerous quantities of gas on the approach to a shed where mixing is underway – comes as a timely reminder of the dangers of hydrogen sulphide.

When mixing slurry, the gas is released very quickly, and in large quantities. Even a low concentration of hydrogen sulphide can knock out someone's sense of smell so they won’t even know it’s there. At higher concentrations, anyone inhaling the gas will rapidly find it harder to breathe and become confused – and at certain concentrations, just one breath can kill.

Scotland’s farm safety record continues to be one of the poorest across the UK. According to the Health and Safety Executive, over the last five years 10 people have been killed by asphyxiation or drowning, including when working with slurry pits. This does not include those who have had ‘near-misses’ with slurry gases.

Mr Colthart shared his video following the launch of a fresh push by the Farm Safety Partnership Scotland to encourage farmers and crofters to make safety a priority, and campaign organisers, while stressing that a gas monitor should never be used as a substitute for working safely, said that it could help to provide reassurance.

In the video, following the mixing of slurry underground, as David approaches the machine and shed whilst still outside, the warning sounds when half the deadly level of gas has been reached, which is a warning to ‘get out’. The second beeping gives a warning of the ‘deadly’ level as he gets closer.

Mr Colthart said: “We are told time and again of how dangerous slurry gases can be, but many still don’t take heed. Even exposure to hydrogen sulphide for a short period of time can render you unconscious and it really isn’t worth the risk.

“It is frustrating when time after time you read about death of cattle, and even worse farmers, and the devastating effect on families left behind after being exposed to slurry gas when a couple of hundred pounds spent would help protect them," he said.

“I’ve spoken to the company that services my detector and the dealer can count on one hand how many farmers over the years have enquired about them. He said it is the price that puts them off. Can you really put a price on a life? This has been worth every single penny spent and I would urge others to make the investment."

NFU Scotland chief executive Scott Walker commented: “This is an excellent example of a simple and cost-effective measure that people can put in place that can saves lives. It is Your Safety, Your Choice and for just a few hundred pounds you could make your farm a safer place to work and live.”

To view the video visit: