Back to blog list

Health and safety for farm vets

13 Jun 2016 | Sheep | Pigs | Equine | Cattle

Share:

Many of us unfortunately know of someone who has suffered an accident at work, whether it is one of our farming clients or a vet working on a farm. In fact, if you work in the veterinary profession you will have probably suffered from a kick, bite or been crushed by an animal you’ve tried to help.

Many of us unfortunately know of someone who has suffered an accident at work, whether it is one of our farming clients or a vet working on a farm. In fact, if you work in the veterinary profession you will have probably suffered from a kick, bite or been crushed by an animal you’ve tried to help.

BVA’s Voice survey revealed that over half of farm vets were injured at work during a 12-month period. Statistics from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) also reveal that agriculture is the most dangerous industry to work in.

There were 33 fatal injuries to workers in the agriculture, forestry and fishing sector in 2014/15, broadly the same as the average for 2010/11 - 2014/15. This brings the total number of fatal injuries to workers in the sector to 160 over the last 5 years. The worker fatal injury rate in the agricultural sector (9.12 per 100,000 workers) remains much higher than any other industry sector; around 6 times that in construction and 20 times that across all industries (1.62 and 0.46 per 100,000 respectively).

Injuries to equine vets

Vet exercising a horseA 2014 study conducted by the British Equine Veterinary Association revealed that equine practice was the most injurious civilian profession with equine vets more likely to sustain an injury at work than firefighters, police officers, shipbuilders or members of the prison service.

Half of the accidents to vets involved the horses’ hind legs coming into contact with vets’ legs (29%) and vets’ heads (23%). Unfortunately these statistics may not reveal the true story as it is believed a lot of accidents go unreported, perhaps because only approximately a quarter of accidents required hospital treatment.

Reducing risk through correct livestock handling

Vet administering an injection to a cowWorking on livestock farms always presents the risk of injury from being crushed, kicked, butted or gored by cattle. There’s an increased risk if the work involves animals that have not been handled frequently, such as those up on hills or moorland, and handling newly calved cattle or sucklers. Carrying out veterinary work on these animals increases the risk even further.

To reduce these risks, farms are advised to have proper handling systems, trained and competent staff and a culling policy for aggressive animals. When we investigate the causes of accidents involving livestock we often find that this guidance has unfortunately not been followed.

The HSE advises the following for every farm that handles cattle: 

  • There should be proper handling facilities that are well-maintained and in good working order
  • A race and a crush suitable for the animals to be handled are essential
  • Makeshift gates and hurdles are not sufficient, and will result in less efficient handling as well as risking injury
  • Farmers, their staff or vets should not attempt to treat or work on any animal that is held by gates alone, or that is otherwise free to move at will 

If you have to attend to ‘downer’ cattle, or animals in loose boxes or isolation pens, and it is not possible to secure them, make sure you have an adequate escape route and will not be crushed if the animal rolls or stands suddenly. Special equipment is needed for handling stock bulls out of the pen.

Every person that handles cattle should be able to use the handling and other safety equipment provided; be aware of the dangers when handling cattle and be supervised until they are competent; they should also be able to work calmly with the cattle, with a minimum of shouting, impatience or unnecessary force; and in good health and properly trained in safe working methods.

A farmer’s duty of care to vets

As a health and safety consultant spending most of my time working with farmers, as vets do, I remind farmers that they have a duty of care to anyone that comes onto their farm and if their handling facilities are not suitable then it may mean a delay in their animals being treated or tested. I also advise vets not to feel pressurised into treating animals if their client’s facilities are not suitable as it could result in them being injured and off work, which is no benefit to them as an individual or their practice, and I’m sure we are all guilty of saying “if only” when sometimes the damage has been done.

I’m very much looking forward to speaking at the BVA CPD course, Pragmatic tips on post mortem exams and on farm health and safety, on 14 July 2016. I'll be covering the importance of managing health and safety on farm, and I'll discuss veterinary hazards and how they should be controlled.

Written by Philippa Mills

CMIOSH, Health and Safety Consultant

Share:

Want to join BVA?

Get tailored news in your inbox and online, plus access to our journals, resources and support services, join the BVA.

Join Us Today

Not a member but want a weekly vet news round up?

Subscribe to our weekly newsletter for the latest vet news in your inbox.

For tailored content in your inbox and online, as well as access to our journals and resource and support services you might want to consider joining BVA.