The Health and Safety Authority will begin an intensive farm safety inspection campaign on Monday 28th January with a focus on the safe management of livestock during calving season when the risk of injury to farmers increases significantly.

Livestock is the number one cause of accidents on Irish farms accounting for 42% of all injuries. In relation to fatalities, incidents involving livestock are the second most common cause. In the 10 year period 2009 – 2018, 16% of all fatal farm accidents (33 deaths) were livestock related, with over half of these (18 deaths) involving cows and heifers.

According to Pat Griffin, Senior Inspector with the Health and Safety Authority “Although 2018 saw a 40% decline in farm fatalities, there are still far too many deaths in the agriculture sector as well as a substantial number of very serious injuries.  Working with livestock is a key incident trigger and there is no room for complacency amongst farmers.  During calving period, increased fatigue and stress levels are common.  However, early planning and preparation can make a significant difference in the safe management of livestock and help prevent injury or even death”.

Key areas of focus during the inspection campaign will include:

Is there a plan in place to minimise the risk of attack from a cow when handling a calf to tag, dip navel or stomach tube?

Has an adequate physical barrier been established between the farmer and the freshly calved cow when tagging, treating and handling calves?

Are facilities and procedures adequate for loading and unloading animals?

Pat Griffin added, “Good handling facilities and holding areas where cows can be monitored remotely are important and can help reduce farmer fatigue. Well-prepared calving units with clean bedding, calving gates and the necessary equipment will ensure safety and reduce stress both on farmers and on the animal. With much of calving happening during short and often dull days, or at night, farmers are encouraged to have plenty of well-positioned lights in calving units and around the farmyard as this will greatly improve visibility and safety”.

A wide range of free guidance material in relation to livestock and many other farm safety hazards is available on the Authority’s website at

The maternal instinct of the cow kicks in some hours before calving and may last for several days afterwards. Knowing an animal’s temperament is an advantage but it is important to remember that any cow can attack with a speed that may make it impossible to get out in time.

The maternal instinct is simply there for the cow to protect its calf, farmers must always consider their safety and the risk of attack. If entering a penning area to bring a cow into a calving unit always have a practical identified escape route.

When managing any new born calf, naval dipping, tagging, treatment, etc., it is absolutely critical that there is an adequate and strong physical barrier between the farmer and the cow. The risk of attack is highest when treating the calf as it may ball, alerting the cow whose natural protective instinct will be to attack. The vast majority of livestock attacks and fatalities happen in this way and farmers can prevent further deaths by ensuring that they have a strong physical barrier in place.

A range of livestock related publications can be found on the HSA website ( such as:

Safe Handling of Cattle on Farms

Safe Handling of Cattle on Farms – Information Sheet

Guidance on the Safe Handling of Livestock at Marts and Lairages

Cattle Handling in Marts and Lairages – Information Sheet

The HSA has also developed and published in association with the Farm Safety Partnership and FBD Insurance an extensive video on the safe handling of cattle on farms incorporating the most up-to-date livestock handling techniques, including the Temple Grandin principles. Farmers are encouraged to use these resources to reduce the risk of injuries arising from livestock handling.

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