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Prosecutions for Livestock Safety Failings

Posted on 25th April, 2022

Livestock Risks

Two recent prosecutions by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) have highlighted the importance of implementing appropriate safety controls when keeping and handling livestock.  Livestock can be unpredictable and due to their size, death or serious injury can result from such accidents. Every year there are deaths and injuries to farmers and other workers while handling cattle. These are often caused by using poor equipment, ineffective methods of moving cattle and an underestimation of the strength, speed or behaviour of cattle.

Livestock safety failings result in prosecutions

As well as farm workers, the HSE regularly investigates incidents involving cattle and members of the public.  Some of these result in death or serious injuries and almost all of these incidents are in fields and enclosed areas. Many other incidents occur but are not reported to or investigated by the HSE. The two most common factors in these incidents are cows with calves and walkers with dogs.  Members of the public, including walkers and children, may not understand that cattle with calves at foot can present a risk due to protective maternal instincts, especially when a dog is present.

HSE Livestock Prosecutions

The first case involved a member of the public and his wife who were attacked by cattle whilst following a public right of way across farmland at Carnforth.  The couple were walking on a footpath that passed through a farmyard, following a right of way that runs from the farm down to the road. They were accompanied by two border terriers. The couple were attacked by cattle that were grazing in the field with calves at foot. The 83-year-old man was trampled and pronounced dead at the scene and his wife sustained serious injuries.

The farm owner pleaded guilty to breaching section 3(2) of the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974. He received a prison sentence of 12 weeks, suspended for 12 months, and was fined a total of £878 and was ordered to pay £7,820.30 in costs.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Julian Franklin said:

A number of measures could have been taken to safeguard walkers using the path, while cattle and calves were grazing in that field.  Firstly, not using that field for cattle and calves. Most farmers will have other groups of stock that can graze fields containing rights of way, so can reduce the risk of incidents by putting sheep in them, or they could take fodder crops from them. Cattle with calves can be put in fields without rights of way, away from members of the public, or can be segregated from walkers.  Farmers should ensure they take all reasonably practicable precautions to protect walkers on public rights of way, especially when they are grazing cows and calves together, or bulls are present.

In the second case, a livestock auction mart was fined after an employee was fatally injured when he was struck by a dairy bull he was helping to load onto a lorry.  The HSE investigation found that there were no suitable refuges or barriers within the loading area for those handling the livestock to shelter behind if, for example, cattle became fractious.

The company pleaded guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 and was fined £18,000 and ordered to pay costs of £8,819.

Speaking after the hearing, HSE inspector Anthony Banks said:

This incident could so easily have been prevented. The bull was able to strike the employee because he had been unable to outrun or out manoeuver the bull and he was unable to seek protection from any form of refuge or barrier when it began to charge. The company should have undertaken a suitable and sufficient risk assessment to identify, and put in place, the appropriate control measures.

HSE Livestock Safety Guidance

The HSE has published guidance for farmers in relation to livestock which operators should be familiar with.  Both documents are freely available on the HSE website:

Farmers and other landowners should consider the following precautions if you graze bulls or groups of entire male cattle for bull beef:

  • Bulls of recognised dairy breeds (e.g., Ayrshire, Friesian, Holstein, Dairy Shorthorn, Guernsey, Jersey and Kerry) are in all circumstances banned from being at large in fields crossed by public rights of way. Do not keep them in fields with public rights of way, statutory or other types of permitted access.
  • If you are considering putting a bull of any other breed in a field to which the public have access, you should carefully consider the animal’s temperament and behaviour and monitor its demeanour and state of health on a frequent basis. If there is any indication that the bull is likely to be aggressive or unpredictable, or if or if its behaviour gives you cause for concern, it should not be kept in a field to which the public have the right of access.
  • Beef bulls are banned from fields or enclosures with footpaths unless accompanied by cows or heifers. This does not include open fells or unenclosed moorland. There are no specific prohibitions on other cattle.
  • In other fields make sure that groups of animals older than 10 months are securely enclosed by stock-proof hedging or fencing at least 1.3 m high, strong enough to retain the animals and capable of restricting access by children. Erecting an electric fence 0.5 m inside the external perimeter hedge or fence will provide a greater degree of security.
  • Fit gates or other means of closure at points of entry into the fields containing the cattle. Gates etc should be at least of equal height and strength as the perimeter fencing, should restrict the access of young children and be fitted with a securing device which will prevent release by children and/or the animals. They can also be kept locked as they will not be sited on public rights of way.

In order to eliminate or reduce the risks to the public, the following measures should be implemented:

  • Wherever possible keep cattle in fields that do not have public access, especially when cattle are calving or have calves at foot.
  • Check that fences, gates, stiles etc are safe and fit for their purpose.
  • Check paths are clearly marked so that users do not enter fields without public access.
  • Make arrangements for checking both the cattle (for illness or other possible causes of aggression) and the fences etc surrounding the field regularly at least once each day.
  • Plan how to safely move individual cattle, the whole herd, or part of it, from field to field. Remember that inadequately controlled cattle on roads can cause public concern, damage or injury.
  • Ensure cattle handling facilities are available, and that you can safely move animals to them.
  • If bulls are on hire, lease, or loan, or if other cattle are new to the farm, check that they are suitable to keep in an area used by the public before putting them in such an area. A few days in another field or in a stock building, where they can be closely and regularly observed, should be enough.

Adequate signage should also be in place to warn of the presence of cattle which should comply with the Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996 e.g., bull sign would be triangular with a yellow background and a black band around the outside. A bull or bull’s head should be shown (black on yellow) on the sign, with supplementary text (also black on yellow) such as ‘bull in field’ if desired. Supplementary text should not suggest that the bull is aggressive, threatening or dangerous (i.e., avoid words such as ‘beware’ or ‘danger’).

In respect of farm workers and employees handling cattle, operators should ensure that they are suitable for the job.  In particular, can employees use the handling and safety equipment provided, are they aware of the dangers of handling cattle and, are they in good health and properly trained for the task?  Some handling of cattle will inevitable require more than one person and should be planned in advance. 

There is no legal upper or lower age limit for cattle handling, as individuals’ capabilities vary widely, but children under 13 should not normally be allowed to enter cattle housing or handle cattle. Many incidents involving cattle happen to people beyond normal retirement age, when they are less agile. Operators should consider the risks carefully before anyone over 65 works with cattle, and if so, what they can safely do.

Every farm that handles cattle should have proper handling facilities. The guidance states that these should be 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. Workers should never 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.

The guidance provides practical considerations in relation to the race, the crush and belly clipping which operators should consider when planning their cattle activities.  When working with cattle in a field the HSE advises that:

  • there are at least two people present if you have to separate an animal from the herd in the field, or during ear tagging with the dam unsecured;
  • you have a vehicle close to where the task is to be carried out;
  • the second person acts to dissuade other animals or the dam from approaching too close to the task and warns when it is necessary to take avoiding action, e.g., entering the cab of the vehicle.


Livestock such as cattle can present significant risks of death or injury and suitable control measures must be implemented to eliminate those risks or reduce them as far as reasonably practicable.  By implementing the controls recommended in the HSE guidance documents, farming operators can help to ensure that workers and the public are protected. 

If you require advice on any of the issues in this article, please contact one of the Jacksons team.

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