Farm Safety Week 2016 Day 3 – ‘Take Stock of Livestock’

6 July 2016

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The third day of Farm Safety Week 2016 will see a discussion involving supporters of the 5 national Farm Safety Partnerships (FSPs) and representatives of other national Regulators, following the launch of HSE’s latest Annual Report of Fatal Injuries in Agriculture (for 2015-16), at the Livestock Event, being held at the NEC in Birmingham.

It is fitting therefore that today’s theme is Livestock Safety - focusing in particular on crush injuries. Handling cattle always involves risks - the risk of being hurt physically by an animal that is frightened or has been startled, as well as the risk of being hurt due to misuse of equipment or poor maintenance.

As the Farm Safety Foundation points out, many farmers never stop to consider why animals behave as they do and, more importantly, what this behaviour could mean to their personal safety. Animal-handling practices are often inherited from watching others and from personal experiences growing up on the farm. Too often, this results in unsafe livestock handling and restraint practices. Although most animal incidents are not fatal, many men, women and children are needlessly injured every year due to a lack of safety awareness. Broken bones, crushed and mashed limbs, work absences and unnecessary medical expenses are some of the results of livestock-related incidents so, today, the Farm Safety Week team is challenging farmers to think about improving livestock handling systems and making them safer and more efficient.

Speaking at The Royal Association of British Dairy Farmers (RABDF) panel discussion on the opening day of the Event, Guy Smith, Vice President of the National Farmers Union (NFU) and Chair of the Farm Safety Partnership said: “Over the course of this week, we aim to educate and inspire a drive to improve agriculture’s poor safety record. Today it’s all about animals.  Livestock can be unpredictable, something that Liskeard farmer Stephen Pearce knows all too well...”

Father-of-two 58 year old Stephen, who lives and farms with his wife Angela on their farm near Liskeard, Cornwall, considers himself extremely fortunate to have survived an incident with a group of 75 Simmentals on 13 March this year.

Stephen recalls: “It was a Sunday morning and I went as normal to scrape the yards and place silage in the feeders. I opened the gate for the cattle to go into the smaller lower yard like every other day so I could scrape out. The cattle were quiet and around 15 Simmentals had walked quietly down into the lower yard when I noticed a young heifer was in season. Like many times before, I needed to identify the ear tag number so quietly approached the group of cattle. Meanwhile the remaining group of Simmentals were unexpectedly spooked for no apparent reason (it could have been a butterfly!).  There was nothing to hint at what was to come…”

“Suddenly the cows in the top yard were racing towards me at what seemed to be 100 miles an hour. I had nowhere to go and knew that I was in serious trouble. My initial thought was to try and stay standing but it was to no avail.”

Stephen was knocked over by the stampeding cows and trampled on. He managed to extract himself from underfoot and made his way to his tractor where he realised that he couldn’t use his arm. His wife Angela drove him to A&E where it was found his arm was broken in three places.

“It wasn’t their fault.” Stephen is quick to point out: “They set each other off and, to be honest, I think I got off lightly as I know others who have been less fortunate in this situation.”

In the wake of the accident, Angela was marvellous and helped where possible but there were many jobs Angela was unable to do, such as driving the straw chopper or carrying heavy feed bags, so Stephen enlisted the help of Ben, a young farmer who was able to come in every day for seven weeks. “Many times we heard Ben using the tractor at 5.30am so he could still be in the contractor’s yard (where he worked) by 7am.”

“Our neighbours were wonderful and rallied around to help with fertilising and ploughing,” adds Stephen: “We also had some pedigree Simmental’s calving so to ensure they had the best attention we did have to spend considerably more on vet fees.”

Stephen admits that they had been in a position to alter the layout of their cattle housing system before, and had they made the planned improvements then it is unlikely that his accident would have happened. He had hoped to obtain a grant to move away from an open yard once used for the dairy cows, to a penned  housing system so that cattle could have been safely housed in age groups, but no funding was available. The financial cost initially made this impossible but now they will redevelop the unit, Stephen says: “after all what price can you put on your health?”

“It really could have been so much worse. I was really fortunate, God was really looking after me and I got away lightly considering the fact that 75 cattle of various ages and size stampeded over me – twice!” Stephen concludes: “Any farming accident can have major consequences for you, your family, friends and neighbours, so thinking about “Who would fill your boots?” is a valuable exercise for every one of us this Farm Safety Week.”

Guy Smith added: “Stephen is right - this Farm Safety Week is the ideal opportunity to call out to all farmers to work safer and smarter around livestock. People tend to give animals human qualities and forget that animals quickly revert to primal reflex actions when they are threatened or under stress. Animals will fiercely defend their food, shelter, territory and young. When frightened or in pain, animals may react in ways that threaten their, and our, safety.”

“Facilities, too, can play a major role in preventing incidents. Good facilities provide a means of controlling animals while allowing easy access for routine chores - all in a safe environment. Often we don’t make adjustments or modify our equipment to make it safer because we are in a hurry or for economic reasons we feel that we should “make do” with what we’ve got. There needs to be an element of common sense and safety involved in these decisions – “because I’m in a hurry” is not a good enough reason for poor maintenance of equipment and facilities. Safe handling equipment is more of an investment than an expensive luxury. Do ask yourself ‘Who Would Fill Your Boots?’ if something serious were to happen to you while handling livestock and don’t rely on luck - one day it could run out.”

HSENI also issued a warning and guidance in April for farmers to take extreme care when working with bulls, after two serious incidents were reported in Northern Ireland within 48 hours. Sadly, it was later reported that in one case (in Co Tyrone) the 54 yr old farmer died.  Belfast Live was told that he used to say: “The (Ayrshire) bull is so tame you could lie on its back…”

In GB, around 6 people are killed every year due to livestock related injuries, cattle being the primary culprit.  The Farm Safety Partnership is keen to tackle this issue head-on, and are developing a campaign to raise awareness of the dangers associated with handling cattle, and to try and influence farmers when it comes to choosing safer cattle handling techniques.

Current guidance

  • There is already a wealth of information available on safe cattle handling from a range of sources, and links to some of the key documents, including HSE’s information sheet AIS35 “Handling and housing cattle”, and EBLEX's Manual "Improving cattle handling for better returns" can be found on the Farm Safety Partnership ‘Safe Cattle Handling’ webpage.
  • A number of practical case studies collected by HSE enabled farmers to share their experiences of making changes to their cattle handling in a range of systems. These demonstrate significant business benefits, whilst reducing the risk.
  • There are other video-based case studies that really highlight the importance of safe cattle handling, emphasising the harrowing, painful and costly implications that an accident of this nature can have on a farm, eg the FSP’s website includes a link to HSA’s Survivor Stories (Episode 1) ‘Bull Attack’.
  • See also today’s Farm Safety Week  ‘Top Tips’ poster.

Walkers

We should also not forget that many incidents involving cattle often involve members of the public.  For example, the fatality reported by HSE which also occurred on 3 April 2016 in Northumberland, when a family group were walking along a bridleway and cattle were being moved along the same route. One of the walkers is said to have been butted by a cow and thrown over a fence.

Key messages to promote include:

  • Plan how to safely move individual cattle, the whole herd, or part of it, from field to field. Remember that inadequately controlled cattle can cause public concern, damage or injury.
  • Consider the nature of the particular cattle you intend to put in fields with public access. If you have an animal known to be aggressive you should not keep it in a field with public access.
  • Before putting any cattle, including bulls, in fields with public access you should assess their likely behaviour when members of the public – perhaps walking dogs or with children - are present.
  • Members of the public are unlikely to understand cattle behaviour and this should be taken into account when placing livestock on land
  • Check that paths are clearly marked and that fences are secure and well maintained.
  • It is good practice to display signs warning the public when a bull or cows with calves are present in an area.

Further detailed guidance on cattle in fields can be found on HSE’s livestock page including Information Sheet AIS17EW “Cattle and public access - Advice for farmers, landowners and other livestock keepers in England & Wales”, and AIS17S for those in Scotland.

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