Preventing or controlling ill health from animal contact at visitor attractions or open farms

All animals naturally carry a range of microorganisms, some of which can be transmitted to humans. Diseases passed from animals to humans are known as zoonoses. Some zoonotic diseases are more serious than others.

There are a range of zoonotic diseases that could be acquired from animal contact at visitor attractions including E. coli O157 and Cryptosporidium parvum.

Simply carrying the bacterium will not normally cause an animal any harm or illness, but contact with contaminated animals or their faeces can cause illness ranging from diarrhoea to kidney failure in humans. In some cases, the illness can be fatal. Young children and the elderly are at the greatest risk. Very low numbers of microorganisms can cause human infection.

People can become infected by microorganisms such E. coli O157 or Cryptosporidium parvum through consuming contaminated food or drink, through direct contact with contaminated animals, or by contact with an environment contaminated with animal faeces.

Therefore, as with many other activities, visits to such premises can never be considered free from all risk. However, implementing effective control measures will help ensure that the risk of infection from contact with animals is low. If you invite the public onto your farm:

  • decide whether you want to allow visitors to have direct contact with the animals. Tell them about the risks and where and when they will be able to use washing facilities (in particular, remind nail biters, pen chewers and thumb suckers). Provide information signs to remind them;
  • washing facilities should be sufficient for the expected numbers of visitors needing to use them at one time, and should include running water (preferably warm), soap and paper towels;
  • alcohol gels and wipes are not a substitute for hand washing on farms;
  • provide training and supervision for workers on the need for visitors to wash and dry their hands thoroughly;
  • if you are selling food for human consumption do so only after visitors have passed animal contact areas and washing facilities;
  • do not allow eating in parts of the farm where animals can be touched.

Further information

A 'Code of Practice' has been produced by the industry and is aimed at the owners, operators and managers of such visitor premises. It provides guidance, including pictures and real-life case studies, of practical measures that you can apply at your premises to help you comply with the law and keep visitors safe. The code, along with a summary of controls and a teacher's supplement is available at the my farm website.

Further information can also be found in HSE's internal operational instruction and guidance SIM 01/2011/02 on Preventing or controlling ill health from animal contact at visitor attractions - Guidance on inspection and enforcement.

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