Majority of farm animal vets report being injured at work, BVA survey finds

19 July 2019

The British Veterinary Association (BVA) is urging vets, veterinary employers and farmers to take action to minimise farm health and safety risks, as survey findings released during Farm Safety Week (15-19 July) reveal that more than 6 in 10 (61%) vets working with production animals on farms suffered injuries in a 12-month snapshot reported last year. A similar number of vets working in equine practice (65%) and mixed practice (66%) were also injured by animals in the course of their work.

One in five production animal vets responding to BVA’s Autumn 2018 Voice of the Veterinary Profession survey who had suffered injuries rated their injuries as very or quite severe. By far the most common injury was bruising caused by kicks, with 81% of production animal vets who had been injured reporting this. Other injuries reported included crush injuries, lacerations, scratches and bites. Almost a fifth of vets (19%) who had been injured had to take time off work as a result of their most severe injury.

Vets responding to the survey described some of the injuries they had received and their impact on their health and careers.

“I was kicked by a cow during a caesarean, flew backwards into my kit and sprained a wrist - in the same week as a horse hit my face with its head. But I was unable to take time off work as I’m the only one here,” one vet said.

“Regrettably, I am giving up large animal work because it is too dangerous,” reported another vet. “I am the lead earner in my house and we wish to start a family and cattle work is simply too dangerous now because of the risk of serious kick and crush injuries.”

BVA President Simon Doherty shared his own first-hand experience with on-farm injuries and their career-changing impact:

“I’ve been stood on, kicked and had my arm broken whilst working with cattle. I’ve had problems with my back due to the physical aspects of repeated lambings and calvings – particularly at night-time – and when I ruptured a spinal ligament calving a heifer with a uterine torsion, the injury was serious enough that I could no longer continue working in large animal practice.”

Shared responsibility

Mr Doherty emphasised the importance of all parties taking health and safety on farm seriously.

“These figures show the serious risk of injury that production animal vets run in the course of their work, even when handling facilities are relatively good. Animals on a farm can be large, heavy and unpredictable, and vets up and down the country have seen colleagues injured on farms and frequently unable to work as a result.

“Health and safety assessments by farmers, vets and veterinary employers can reduce these injuries and save lives. Safe and well-maintained facilities and restraining equipment, such as cattle crushes, pens, gates and safe escape routes, are also key to reducing injuries to humans as well as animals. I’d encourage farmers and vets to start the conversation and take action to minimise avoidable risks. 

"I would also ask vets going out on farms to keep updating existing risk assessments to keep their colleagues and themselves safe, and all veterinary practices to make use of our Farm Health and Safety guide to develop action plans." 

For veterinary practices

BVA’s Farm Health and Safety guide and risk assessment form for veterinary practices includes information about: 

  • The Acts and Regulations aimed at reducing on farm injuries and death
  • How to develop a practice policy including management of hazards and risk 
  • A list of the most common risks to assess
  • Reporting requirements when accidents occur

The guide also includes a section for employees identifying key points and principles to help them meet health and safety standards when working on farms.

Accompanying the Farm Health and Safety guide a risk assessment form gives employees an overview of the risks on each farm to forewarn them of potential problems. It also encourages effective communication with the client before attending the premises to make the visit as efficient as possible. 

The British Equine Veterinary Association has also developed guidance on reducing work-related injuries to equine practitioners, Managing risks from working with horses.

For farmers

The Health and Safety Executive’s guide, Farmwise, has easy-to-follow, practical advice for farmers to make sure anyone working on a farm, including vets, is safe and healthy at work. It can be used to start a discussion with vets about minimising avoidable risks on farm.

BEVA has guidance on workplace safety for those handling and involved with equines, including seven video tutorials on quick and simple techniques to help horse owners prepare their horses to be quiet, relaxed and safe for veterinary procedures.

Related BVA policy

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