Increasing awareness, knowledge and understanding of on-farm health and safety

Farm health and safety
Working with livestock on farms and the type of work that vets do pose obvious risks. Although some risks are unavoidable, the BVA wants to increase awareness, knowledge and understanding of on-farm health and safety, as well as the obligations of veterinary surgeons as employers and employees.

MSG chairman, Rachael Kilroy, explains: ‘We want to establish the types of scenarios that vets find themselves in when carrying out veterinary work on farm. We also want to find out if vets are aware of the risks they could be facing and, if so, whether this is from their training received at university or training offered by their employer, whether they are provided with guidance by their employers, and if there are practice protocols in place. For example, do practices have a handbook, is training provided, are clients’ premises discussed before an initial visit, would new employees receive training and advice before going on farm?'

The BVA would like to know whether vets assess on-farm risks, conduct risk assessments, keep records and, for example, what, if any, repercussions there might be if a vet decided that a farm was unsafe and presented too much of a risk. From an employer's perspective, it is gathering evidence of the types of policies and practices in place in order to establish best practice examples with the aim of having an area of its website dedicated to on-farm health and safety, and offering a ‘one-stop shop’ capturing all the relevant guidance and templates. In this respect, work with the HSE is ongoing, and the farmers' unions will also be involved, as well as other relevant veterinary organisations.

"90% of the broken bones that have happened in our practice over the last 30 years come off the back of TB testing"

Writing on the BVA community recently, large animal practitioner, Nicky Paull, said: ‘90% of the broken bones that have happened in our practice over the last 30 years come off the back of TB testing. Mix cattle, metalwork, a long day of work and stressed farm staff, then accidents seem almost inevitable. Fingers and arms are top of the list for sure, but we have had concussion from crush gates and two broken legs from kicks.’

Recent graduate, Jen Hall, added: ‘When I entered into farm practice, I accepted that there would be some risk. After all, I weigh 60 kg and a small adult cow weighs 500 kg – I'm not much of a match. It is inevitable that incidents will occur at some point. However, there are many situations which make risk much higher than it needs to be, namely TB testing, and not necessarily in places with poor facilities. Often, injuries have occurred on tests where everything is going well and a wild cow takes everyone by surprise.’

[Since the publication of this article, the BVA has produced a PDF guide on the legal requirements and responsibilities for on-farm working, which can be found here]

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