Mart-goers adjust to new health and safety rules

Cattle buyers and sellers have adjusted to new health and safety rules in livestock marts, according to the manager of Headford Co-Operative Mart, Joe Wynne.

The Galway-based mart was one of the first establishments to announce that it was updating its health and safety protocols for the benefit of its staff, customers and livestock.

Earlier this year, it was announced that “only certified drovers” would be allowed in the mart yard in Headford. This decision was taken in the aftermath of a serious bull attack at Mohill Livestock Mart, Co. Leitrim, where a man needed to be airlifted to hospital.

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Wynne outlined that something had to happen in relation to health and safety in livestock marts. The mixing of people and livestock on the day of a sale was “an accident waiting to happen“, he said.

Commenting on the introduction of the changes, he added: “Everyone just went along with it; an odd person would complain – but most people realised that the changes were introduced for health and safety reasons.

“We put viewing times in place. There is a complete lock-down of chutes and pens during the viewing times. If cattle are not penned before the viewing time starts, they cannot be viewed.

Because of this, cattle are now in earlier. It has made things a lot easier for the lads working in the yard as well. Before the changes they had to be watching out for people when they were moving cattle.

The transition has been made easier due to other marts in the area implementing similar changes, Wynne added.

Continuing, he said: “It’s a learning process for us – as it is for all marts. If we identify other measures which need to be introduced for health and safety reasons, we will implement them.

“The changes we introduced are working well for us at the moment.”

Next step

The next step is examining the cost of overhead walkways, Wynne said.

“We’re looking into the cost of overhead walkways. We would like to have them installed by the back-end of the year if possible.

It could cost in the region of €200,000 to install them in our yard, which is big enough to hold 700 cattle.

The mart manager is hopeful that a grant system can be put in place to lessen the financial burden on livestock marts to erect these walkways.

‘Positive development’

Meanwhile, the Irish Co-Operative Organisation Society’s (ICOS’) livestock services executive, Ray Doyle, stated that the new health and safety measures introduced can only be viewed as a “positive development” for the livestock mart sector.

Speaking to AgriLand, he said: “All change is stressful; changes are being made to customs and practices that have been in place for over 50 years. But changes are being made for the right reasons – health and safety.

“We don’t want to negatively impact on the mart experience for farmers with these changes; we see it as enhancing the reasons why farmers should attend and market their livestock through the marts, as attending your mart should be a safe experience.

There has been limited negativity around the changes, as increasing health and safety in marts can never be wrong.

Doyle admitted that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach that mart managers can take to introducing the changes, as each mart is unique. He indicated that managers will have to tailor measures to best suit their respective premises, the type of livestock they sell as well as the farmers they are selling for.

Primary objective

The primary objective is to stop members of the public mixing with cattle, according to ICOS’ livestock services executive.

He highlighted that the biggest “pinch point” is the intake and outtake of cattle. The heavy flow of cattle in loading and unloading areas during busy periods poses significant health and safety concerns, he added.

When cattle are moved into the penning areas, it is a bit more straightforward – as viewing times can be put in place or overhead walkways can be installed, Doyle explained.

Concluding, he said: “This is a work in progress for 2018. No mart can ignore these developments; I would be surprised if these new health and safety measures were not rolled out nationwide by the end of the year.”

Doyle outlined that he is aware of 15 livestock marts that have already implemented the changes, with further marts set to roll out the measures during the quieter summer months.