Investigating cattle incidents


This operational guidance provides the background to the investigation of accidents and incidents involving cattle, reminds staff of the information to be collected and how the investigation should be recorded.


Every year a number of those working with livestock eg farm workers, auction mart staff and veterinary staff, are killed or injured by cattle whilst undertaking livestock activities. In addition there are members of the public killed or injured each year whilst walking in fields containing cattle, often with a dog. These accidents cause serious public concern, including concerns raised by MPs, and this guidance is produced to ensure consistency in the type of information collected as a result of investigating these incidents so conclusions may be drawn about any potential underlying causes. In addition HSE is consulted by other government departments regarding this issue and the information given to them must be useful, reliable and accurate.  For these reasons it is important that the Vulnerable Workers, Agriculture, Waste & Recycling Unit is made aware of any investigations of incidents, not just fatal incidents.


Visiting staff and concerns teams should collect as much of the information detailed in this OG as possible in order to facilitate consistent decision making. The information should be recorded directly on COIN or in an attached investigation report. 


On average 4 or 5 workers and members of the public are killed in accidents involving cattle each year. The numbers of injuries reported from this type of incident are unreliable due to under reporting in the agriculture and associated industries but are likely to be significant.

Those accidents which involve farm staff and ancillary professions involve workers who should be trained, competent and familiar with the risks involved with working with cattle. Accidents often occur due to a breakdown of agreed safe systems of work or the use of inadequate or poorly maintained equipment. Other factors, such as the age of the victim, may be significant.

Other fatal accidents involving cattle involve members of the public present in fields, often with a dog. The Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 refers to seven recognised breeds of dairy bulls which are prohibited from being present in fields with footpaths, with bulls of other breeds being allowed in fields with footpaths only if accompanied by cows and/or heifers.  HSE guidance further requires an assessment of the risks of other cattle being present in fields with public access considering temperament, health and the presence of significant maternal instinct.

In order to assess the findings of investigations against existing legal provisions and guidance any investigation into an accident involving cattle must therefore include the following information:

  • The identity of the dutyholder
  • The ownership of the field and the cattle involved
  • The breed of the cattle involved in the incident
  • Whether the animal or herd are classified as dairy or beef cattle
  • The age of the livestock
  • The type of livestock ie bulls, cows, heifers, bullocks,
  • If cows are with or without calves and the age of the calves
  • Whether the individual animal or herd were previously known to be aggressive
  • Where an individual animal was involved as much information as possible to identify it.
  • Details of those injured including their age and general health

If the accident occurred in an area of public access the investigation should detail

  • Whether a right of way was involved
  • How many there were in the group or did the incident involve an individual
  • Whether the those involved were accompanied by a dog
  •  If the dog was on a lead and what happened to the dog during the incident
  • Details of any signage present
  • Whether the person was trespassing

If the accident involved farm staff investigate

  • Where the accident occurred
  • Details of the cattle handling facilities
  • If TB testing or other veterinary procedures were taking place
  • If routine staff or contractors/helpers were being used
  • Whether the accident involved a planned, routine or impromptu task
  • If an assessment of risk or work instructions had been agreed between staff

Recording and reporting

The information recorded on COIN will be used to evaluate the potential underlying causes of these incidents and in establishing if any trends exist.  Inspectors and visiting staff investigating cattle related accidents should record 'cattle', 'cow' or 'bull' in the COIN case summary field and the rest of the detail in the investigation report.

Where the Concerns & Advisory Team collect information this should be recorded in the same way. Incidents involving cattle should be referred to the appropriate B2 including as much of the information listed in paragraph 8 as possible.

Health and safety

Agricultural workplaces can include access to areas of significant risk.

  • Do not enter farm buildings unless you are accompanied by a responsible person familiar with the site specific risks. 
  • All livestock are potentially hazardous and you should not generally enter pens. Only approach livestock if absolutely necessary and if someone familiar with the animals accompanies you.

See the industry site specific section of 'Your health & safety -  Agriculture for further details.

Further references


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Updated 2022-11-01