Staying safe during anhydrous ammonia season

October 16, 2015 11:02 AM
Blog Post

By: Clarke McGrath

Just a gentle reminder to be as safe as you can while pushing hard to get things done for harvest. Having to dust off my EMT skills today and stabilize an accident victim until the ambulance arrived was a not so subtle and disheartening reminder that incidents happen quickly. Be careful around equipment, grain, traffic, and other hazards; keep your cell phone handy and have a first aid kit on hand.

It’s NH3 season, so here are some safety reminders from a guy who has seen how badly NH3 can injure people, first-hand. We work around it so much that sometimes we forget how caustic and dangerous it is.

1) Always, always wear proper gloves and goggles (and long sleeves, pants- not shorts, good workboots…)
2) Be sure your safety water tanks are full of clean, clear water. It doesn’t take them long to get brackish and even a little mossy which can slow or stop the flow of the emergency water. Also as it gets colder at night, either drain and refill in the morning or at least double check them in the morning to be sure they will flow and the outlets and rinse hoses aren’t frozen.
3) If you can, carry a personal eyewash bottle. Keep it in the same place on you all the time, so you can find it in a stressful situation. If nothing else, a small squirt bottle in your pocket can help you start the flush process and buy time to get to the emergency water tanks.
4) Just for the experience and practice, do a few “dry runs” each season. Be sure everything is drained so there isn’t an NH3 safety hazard component to this drill, it will be a little dicey given you’ll be moving with your eyes closed. I’d feel better if you wore a helmet and full football gear, but in lieu of that you can have someone there to ensure you don’t trip and smack your head.
5) Start at the coupling, gloves on. Close your eyes and feel your way back to the emergency flush hoses- no peeking. It is not an easy task, and hopefully you’ll never have to do it for real, but a few evolutions of that drill may just make a difference someday. It helped save the vision of one of my employees when he had to do it for real; as I was taught in the fire service "train like the best to prepare for the worst."

For more info on NH3 safety, here is a great publication


Clarke McGrath On-Farm Research and Extension Coordinator - Iowa Soybean Research Center

Clarke McGrath currently serves as the On-Farm Research and Extension Coordinator.

Prior to joining Iowa State University, McGrath spent nearly a decade as a retail agronomist and manager in the GROWMARK system, earni...