Farmers obliged to have a safe working environment for vets as well as themselves

Some 26 people were killed while working with animals in the agricultural sector in Ireland between 2006 and 2015.

However, these figures do not include fatal accidents to vets because they are not regarded as being agricultural workers, according to the Health and Safety Authority (HSA).

Two vets have been killed at work in the last five years, HSA figures show.

Therefore, the provision of good animal handling facilities is essential to reducing the stress levels at calving time and providing a safe work environment.

The HSA has highlighted the following health and safety advice for farmers and vets around the calving cow:

Most farms have safe handling facilities for dealing with cows that are in the late stages of labour.

However, these facilities do not take into account the unpredictable nature of the expectant cow in the late stages of the birth.

The recently calved cow can be overwhelming and extremely dangerous.

Neither the vet nor the farmer should come between a freshly calved cow and her calf.

It is in the moments and days immediately after calving that a cow is at her most dangerous and even normally quiet cows can become aggressive in and around the time of calving.

The casual approach by many farmers of entering pens with freshly calved cows without any means of protection or escape must cease.

No chances or shortcuts should be taken with the calving cow.

Occasionally, a calving cow may require a delivery by Caesarean section. The cow needs to be restrained, either with a head collar or preferably in a sculling gate.

The bars should go all the way to the floor so that if the cow goes down during calving (a regular occurrence), there will be no danger of the cow choking.

The gate should also be easily openable to allow the easy release of a cow that goes down.

A nose tongs and a halter may also be required for additional restraint. Calving gates which have an openable inner gate can reduce the risks during this task.

The recent farm safety scheme offered by the Department of Agriculture (specification S138) sets out the Minimum Specification for Grant-aided Calving Gates and Mobile Cattle Crushes.

A strong light source is also important in these facilities to ensure that an operation can be carried out safely.