Wed 22 Aug 2018

Fatal accidents at work

Figures published by the Health and Safety Executive’s report 'Fatal injuries in agriculture, forestry and fishing in Great Britain 2017/18' show that 33 people were killed in farming and other agriculture-related activities during the year. Accidents involving livestock, particularly cattle is the biggest killer in agriculture. It is noteworthy that Agriculture has the highest accident rate involving fatal injury of all the main industry sectors, around 18 times higher than the All Industry rate and that nearly half of those who died were over 65.

It appears that part of the problem is that  livestock handling procedures both on farms and while in transit or on arrival at the abattoir follow a traditional "low tech" approach where handlers require to come into close proximity with cattle which may be agitated and unpredictable. Trying to handle livestock in a confined location like a cattle shed creates an inherent risk of an accident involving trampling or crushing injuries against barrier fencing or walls. Beef cattle have an average weight of around 720 kg.

Workplace Accidents Scotland

In Scotland the deaths at work included the following circumstances:

  • A 76-year-old self-employed farmer was crushed by a bull when trying to move him to another field. It appears he was either crushed against a fence or attacked.
  • An 82-year-old forestry owner was run over by a forest harvester. He entered his woodland and was struck by the vehicle as it was being reversed.
  • An 8-year-old child was struck and trapped by logs as she played on a stack in a commercial forestry site. She died from asphyxiation.
  • A 49-year-old farm worker was crushed beneath a tractor trailer as he carried out repairs. 
  • A 62-year-old oyster farmer drowned while tending to oysters being grown on trestles on the seabed. 


Older Workers

Why is it that a high proportion of agricultural workers killed were over 65 years of age? This may be explained by the fact that in these industries older workers often cannot avoid placing themselves potentially in harms way because of the nature of the tasks carried out whereas in, for example the building trade older employees who continue to work will often take supervisory roles such as a foremen which allow for more sedentary work to be carried out. In relation to fishery activities there is a well recognised increase in risk of serious injury when working on or in a water environment. Employers liability insurance premiums are significantly higher for such work types compared with land based industries.


In farming, the reason for the spike in serious accidents at work and fatalities relating to cattle also seems to be obvious. It is comparable with factory workers working alongside large vehicles or fork lift trucks which can suddenly move off in uncontrolled or unpredictable directions. The animals are also often at their most agitated and unpredictable when taken out of their familiar surroundings, such as when transported by a cattle truck into an alien environment such as the lairage section of an abattoir. Here they are transferred by the farmer into the control of the abattoir workers who will have no knowledge of their individual characteristics at a time when they may be difficult to handle. It is perhaps hardly surprising that in such a situation serious accidents are commonplace.


Cattle sheds, farm yards and fields are "workplaces", covered by the Workplace (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1992. If a person is injured because of a slippy surface underfoot, this gives rise to a prima facie breach of Regulation 12(1) or 12(3) : Maintenance of clear and safe floors and traffic routes; and Regulation12(5): Provision of handrails and guardrails. Whilst direct liability results in criminal penalties rather than civil damages, the fact that there is no direct civil liability for breach of the Regulations is now largely immaterial. The Regulations connote a standard for reasonable care in relation to any civil damages claim. Personal injury solicitors will recognise that it is difficult to see how regulations that may give rise to criminal sanctions for breach could do otherwise.


Agriculture forestry and fishery work often combines heavy machinery with outdoor work which create risks which are in their nature difficult to control. The risk of slipping on a cattle shed floor is more difficult to control because of the presence of cattle waste and mud from outside. A unique hazard is created by the presence of large livestock such as cattle whose behaviour can be sudden and unpredictable. As every accident lawyer knows an employer requires to make "a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risks to the health and safety of his employees to which they are exposed whilst they are at work" and then take adequate steps to control the risk so that the activity can be safely carried out. It appears that, particularly in the area of livestock management serious risks are sometimes accepted as unavoidable, in part because that is the approach widely used in the industry. However, just because that is how the job has always been carried out does not necessarily mean that it is safe.

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