Farm Safety Week 2015 (Day 4) - Cattle

3 July 2015

Farm safety week

 “Staying safe with livestock is as simple as ABC – Always Be Careful” was the title given to Day 4 of Farm Safety Week.

Alan Plom (RIG Vice Chair and member of the Farm Safety Partnership England Board) joined representatives of the Farm Safety Foundation, the national Farm Safety Partnerships, HSE, HSENI and HSA Ireland and other supporters of Farm Safety Week UK & Ireland (including NFU Deputy-President Minette Batters) on 8 July at a press conference held during the Livestock Event at the NEC in Birmingham. 

This meeting was held to celebrate day three of Farm Safety Week 2015, to review progress so far and discuss ideas for the future.  Being held at the Livestock event, in addition to the previous day’s theme of ‘transport’, there was also much discussion about today’s theme of crush injuries caused by cattle.

Emphasising the high proportion of deaths and injuries caused by cattle, James Eckley (Chief Officer of the National Federation of Young Farmers Clubs (NFYFC) and a member of Farm Safety Partnership England was quoted in the Farm Safety Foundation’s press release issued for the 4th day of the Week:

 “Over the past five years 17% of all reported major injuries are as a result of livestock-related incidents and 11% of all workers killed on farms over this period were livestock-related. Handling livestock always involves risks, from crushing to kicking and butting.”

Carmen Wood’s case was used to highlight the consequences of such incidents.  She and her family know all too well the effect an incident like this can have, after she suffered serious injury when a newly-calved Aberdeen Angus cow turned on her 9 years ago.                     

Carmen, who still suffers from the effects of the accident, had been moving a small group of cows and calves with her husband Rog on their hill farm, near Sanquhar, half way between Ayr and Dumfries. Rog, who is currently the farming correspondent for The Herald, had gone ahead in their Land Rover to open a gate, when the cow turned on Carmen without warning. The cow knocked Carmen to the ground, gored her with its head and trampled her.

Alan Plom commented:  “As we all know, whilst the fatalities usually make the headlines and are quoted in the official statistics releases, many other incidents result in long-term consequences – for individuals and their families.” 

Carmen was left seriously injured and fighting for her life in the Intensive Care Unit at Dumfries Royal Infirmary. In a lengthy operation during which she received 30 pints of blood, her right lung and two ribs were removed. As if that wasn’t enough, after spending 3 weeks in intensive care, she developed serious complications when the cavity where her lung had been became infected with a cocktail of infections, including MRSA and a very persistent strain of pseudomonas. Following several months in hospital fighting those infections, she then went on to have further major surgery to her chest.

Although Carmen has now made a good recovery, she still suffers pain, her posture and mobility has been affected and she suffers badly when she gets an infection in her remaining lung. However, the accident also had serious implications for the rest of the family.  With Rog committed to nursing his recuperating wife, the farm was not financially viable, and they made the difficult decision to give it up eight years ago.

Despite the devastating consequences of that day, Carmen considers herself fortunate that husband Rog was near and managed to summon medical assistance quickly. She realises she could have been alone and lain unattended for hours which, in her case, would have been fatal.

The NFYFC’s James Eckley added “Farm workers of any age run the risk of injury or death from livestock related accidents. Livestock can be unpredictable and there is always a risk from crushing, kicking, butting or goring.  We should all learn lessons from Carmen's tragic accident and think very carefully before working with cattle to ensure it's done as safely as possible. Don’t learn safety by accident. Take the time to think about what you are doing and what might go wrong as making a few simple checks could actually save a life – maybe your own!”

Recent ‘cattle-related’ incidents

  • Irish cattle producer killed by bull

Most recently, Farmers Weekly reported that a Northern Irish cattle producer Seamus Joseph Kelly (in his 60s) was ‘gored to death’ by a bull on his family farm near Pomeroy in County Tyrone on the evening of 27 June. He suffered serious chest wounds in the incident and paramedics were unable to save him.  He was pronounced dead at the scene.

  • Person attacked by bull when loading it into a trailer    

This incident occurred at Longtown, Cumbria on 01/06/15 and the person died 03/06/15.  No further details are available.               

  • Woman died after attack by cow during calving

A 63-year-old woman died when she was attacked by a cow in Clontibret in County Monaghan, Ireland on 20 May. A Gardaí spokesman said: "It appears that the woman was struck by a calving cow while tending to the animal. She was transferred to hospital but failed to recover from her injuries."

She was one of 3 people that the Farmers Guardian reported had died within days of each other on farms in Wales and Ireland around the late May Bank Holiday weekend. This brought the death toll in Ireland (up to that point) to six, and the HSA  recently warned that livestock were getting more ‘aggressive and unpredictable’ and that tasks as simple as tagging a recently-born calf can prove dangerous in the presence of an over-protective cow.

Just to emphasise that farmers need to think about other hazards and other people who are exposed to risk around animals too, one of the other deaths was a two-year-old child killed in County Cork on Saturday 23 May when the dividing door from a horsebox fell on him. He was airlifted to Cork University Hospital but died shortly after. The Gardai and HSA are investigating.

The other involved a 26-year-old man was also killed the same day on a dairy farm near Bridgend in Wales, when he fell or climbed into a feeder wagon. [This case was mentioned in relation to machinery safety and ‘Safe Stop’ in RIG’s News article posted on Tuesday.]

Risks to others

The thorny issue of the risk to the public walking on footpaths through fields where cattle are grazing was also debated at the IOSH-FSP Workshop last October. The information and ideas raised have since been considered by the FSP England’s Livestock Safety Group and fed into the other national FSPs, leading to further information, guidance, signs, etc being developed.

Public on footpaths in cattle fields

Farmers Guardian (15 May) carried the harrowing words of a woman who had been trampled by cows, describing the life changing impact of her ordeal. Sharn Thomas (aged 59) was attacked by three Welsh Black cows when walking her dog through a field in Llanbedr, North Wales, on May 1, 2015.  The field had no sign stating there was livestock grazing and a large hedgerow blocked Mrs Thomas’ view of the cattle and their young calves. She said: “Had I had known there was livestock in the field, I would not have gone anywhere near it.”

Mrs Thomas’ dog was off the lead at the time and escaped unscathed, but Mrs Thomas spent two days in hospital recovering from her injuries and even now at home, is unable to get up or walk without help.

Had it not been for a group of young boys who were out playing that evening and heard her screams and managed to scare the cows off, she would have lost her life. She expressed concern that the field which contained the cattle was connected to a playing field and led to the River Arto, so is used by people of all ages on a daily basis - including school children going to and from the local primary school. She pointed out that a child would not have survived the injuries she sustained. “I have had a very lucky escape” she said.

Facing a three month recovery, Mrs Thomas said “I would not wish this on my worst enemy.  Stay away from all fields with livestock, without question.” She urged walkers - with and without dogs - to steer clear of fields where there are livestock, and has asked farmers to display clear signs when there are livestock in a field.

See HSE’s Information Sheets Advice for farmers keeping livestock on public access areas in England and Wales’ and for Scotland.

Other guidance on this issue includes the NFU’s Livestock on rights of way’

Last year Farmers Guardian also launched its ‘Take the Lead’ campaign  which encourages walkers to keep their dogs on a lead when out walking in the countryside.

Vets

On the first day of FSW, Farmers Weekly carried an alarming article on risks to vets. A survey by the British Veterinary Association (BVA) has revealed that more than half of farm animal vets in the UK have suffered injuries on farm in the past 12 months.  Of those responding, almost 20% said the injuries were very or quite severe, with the most common injury (84%) being bruising caused by kicks. Other injuries reported lacerations, crush injuries and head injuries and fractures caused by kicks.

As part of Farm Safety Week, and as members of the FSP England, the BVA urged all vets to take health and safety on farms seriously and to conduct (their own) health and safety assessments. BVA president John Blackwell said: “I want vet practices to understand their responsibilities and make use of our resources to help protect their employees on farm visits.

“I want vets going out on farms to keep updating existing risk assessments to keep their colleagues and themselves safe. Farmers and vets up and down the country have seen colleagues injured on farms and consequently unable to work. Many injuries are avoidable if vet practices, their employees and farmers all take action to minimise the risks,” he added.

Vets and farmers can download specific farm safety resources for farmers and vetsThe presentation by Lysan Eppink to the IOSH-FSP Managing Cattle Safely Workshop on behalf of the British Cattle Veterinary Association (BCVA), gave the vets perspective and outlined their concerns and key issues. This ppt is available on the IOSH Past Events webpage.

Coincidentally, a new product caught Alan Plom’s eye at the Livestock event which could solve the vet’s dilemma.  The ‘Cow Tipper’ – a compact, multi-purpose cattle crush, incorporating some innovative features including powered elements, to reduce the risk of being kicked or trapped - is also easily transportable, being mounted permanently on a small trailer, ideal to tow behind a 4WD.

So perhaps this is the Ideal solution for vets as well as farmers – particularly in areas where small farms predominate and their handling facilities are traditionally poor? For more details see www.northernengineeringltd.com .

Escaping animals

Farmers Weekly reported this incident on 4 June and their online article includes a quite alarming series of photographs showing the ‘raging’ bull charging and jumping on a woman jogger. The 72-year-old lady was taken to hospital, luckily only with minor injuries.

The two-year-old bull caused chaos and also injured two other people during its three-hour rampage through Lerwick on Shetland. [Alan Plom asks:  Why are bulls always described in the media as “raging” and “rampaging”, when stock people always describe them as usually being “quiet” and  “friendly”?]

Last month a cow was shot dead by police marksmen in Northumbria after it escaped along with 2 others from a field in Wallsend.  Police Officers came in for criticism on social media for shooting the cow after some suggested its life could have been spared if a vet had administered a tranquiliser, but they considered it to be a “significant risk to members of the public and motorists”.

Slurry

The associated hazards of drowning in slurry or from slurry gases are regularly highlighted and this topic has occupied a lot of the FSP’s Livestock Group attention over the past 3 years or so, leading to guidance and new signs being produced 

For example, Police, Fire and Health and Safety chiefs in Northern Ireland recently issued another warning about the dangers of slurry pits.  This came after NI Fire and Rescue Service reported that it had attended 11 incidents so far this year, where animals had fallen into uncovered or badly maintained slurry pits, resulting in death. 

Another new product that attracted attention at the Livestock event was the ‘SlurrySafe’ package of fencing and work platform designed to prevent anyone from falling into lagoons, etc, whilst agitating slurry.  This was devised by a young Irish couple to protect their children on their own farm and they were inspired to market the idea after the well-publicised slurry-related deaths in Ireland.  It has also been deemed eligible for grant aid in Ireland, aimed at encouraging farmers to make their farms safer. [nb. The Irish Minister has not announced the % yet.] For more information and a video showing “Do’s and Don’ts”, see www.slurrysafe.ie .

Last year an eight-year-old boy died in NI after being overcome by fumes from a slurry pit and the well-publicised triple fatality in 2012, involving Ulster Rugby star Nevin Spence and two members of his family who lost their lives in a similar tragedy. This incident galvanised the industry and Authorities to work together, through the FSP NI.

Research has been carried out by Teagasc on methods of aerating slurry to reduce the effect and production of lethal gases.  This will be covered in an article soon, but meanwhile some sources of available guidance is listed below.

Guidance

Readers are reminded that all the national regulators website’s host useful guidance.  As fruitful alternatives to HSE’s website, look at HSENI’s interesting and extensive range of guidance on their website, and also the HSA’s on dealing with livestock and other hazards.

Information and guidance on cattle handling and slurry gas is available on the FSP England ‘Campaign’ webpage the national regulators websites and others, eg Teagasc.

The farming media are playing their part too, eg Farmers Weekly’s posted 8 steps to stay safe when dealing with newly calved cows on 10 April 2015, in which beef specialist Dr Basil Lowman of SAC Consulting shared practical steps that can be taken to minimise the possibility of being injured if an animal does turn nasty. FW also posted Top tips for safe cattle handling to avoid injury  on 5 February 2014. These useful articles are available to on-line subscribers.

IOSH/RIG activities

FSP

RIG has also played an active part in developing guidance and raising awareness of these common causes of death and injuries, eg the 3 successive Chairs of the FSP’s Livestock Safety Group have all been RIG members: David Leavesley, followed by Gwyn Barlow, and recently taken over by David Knowles.

Media coverage – The Archers!

Last November, IOSH/RIG complimented the BBC for their timely and well-acted story-line in The Archers on Radio 4.  This involved series stalwart Tony Archer being trampled by a bull, and was investigated by an ‘HSE Inspector’.  Many were relieved to hear recently that ‘HSE’ had decided not to prosecute Tony for any failings in his system of work which led to his near fatal incident…. The impact on his family and business was also well-covered.  The IOSH response was even noted on the BBC/Archers website. This incident was also used as the basis for a recent wide-ranging article ‘Forget James Bond - farmers face the real drama’ posted online by The Telegraph on 29 May. It was based around an interview with Alan Plom after IOSH was asked to make a comment. The generally ‘educational’ article was really aimed at those unfamiliar with farming [other than through listening to the Archers?] but highlighted all of the hazards we have been focussing on this Week.

Networking Event/Workshop

Meanwhile, back in the ‘real world’, these issues were considered in depth for the first time at an industry-wide Workshop ‘Managing Cattle Safely’ organised by IOSH/RIG on behalf of the FSP at Askham Bryan Agricultural College last October. An interesting aspect explained and perspective demonstrated at the Workshop was ‘animal psychology’, ie improving understanding and communications between stock persons and their animals.

 [See report

Following the Workshop, HSE undertook a more detailed analysis of reported incidents involving cattle and this clearly revealed that by far the greatest proportion of people killed or injured are of the ‘older generation’.  We now need to find effective ways to educate them. With this in mind, we had invited specialists from Ireland and Northern Ireland to share their experience in communicating with small family farms and to describe their methods and excellent range of available guidance material. 

Older Workers

Farmers Weekly carried an interesting article with the intriguing title ‘Why are older people twice as likely to die in a farm accident?’ on 4 May 2015. This quoted Rick Brunt (Head of HSE’s Agriculture Sector) and included statistics from HSE giving a breakdown of incidents involving older people.  This has also been discussed at HSE’s Agricultural Industry Advisory Committee.  Specifically in relation to working with cattle, Rick pointed out this brings extra risks for older people.  “A younger person might have more ability to retain their balance if a cow knocks into them. If you are knocked into and you fall and hit your head, then the accident can have an entirely different outcome.”  RIG will return to this issue in a future article.

So finally……

Remember you’re ABC – ‘Always Be Careful’ – particularly where unpredictable livestock are concerned! For further information, keep checking the RIG News page,  FSP website and others, eg Yellow Wellies , and for you Twitters out there - keep following and Tweeting  #FarmSafetyWeek .