Managing risks with farmers in the agriculture sector – a recent case
Updated: Jun 5
Many people enjoy walking in the countryside but what seems like a rural paradise is in fact a working environment and this presents risks for those who cross farmland.
Farmers need to be aware of what they need to do in order to avoid or reduce those risks, and what might happen if they do not.
A recent case at Leeds Crown Court, where rradar successfully represented a North Yorkshire cattle and sheep farmer who was prosecuted by the Health & Safety Executive illustrates this.
As a minimum, this should include clear signage warning of the danger posed and stating that dogs should be kept on leads at all times and regularly checking on their livestock. In some cases, physically separating the cattle from walkers may be possible and appropriate.
The incident occurred in July 2020, shortly after the end of the first COVID lockdown when two couples and two dogs were following a public footpath through one of our client’s fields in which there were some cattle and their calves. A number of the cattle attacked the two males in the group, causing serious injury.
The HSE prosecuted our client on the grounds that he had failed to take all reasonably practicable steps to secure the health and safety of persons not in his employment. They alleged that the warning sign on the gate at the entrance to the field was inadequate, that he should have erected a temporary electric fence to separate the cattle from the footpath or put the cattle in a different field.
It was our client’s case that the signage was adequate, that a battery-operated electric fence would not have prevented the cattle charging in these circumstances, that most of his fields had public footpaths running through them and it was necessary for the cattle to be in this field, which also had a water supply, for grazing purposes. He also alleged that the two dogs were off the lead, contrary to the Countryside Code and the Dog Walking Code. He pointed out that in 40 years, there had never been any incidents involving his cattle and members of the public.
The case was tried at Leeds Crown Court over 4 days. The 4 walkers gave evidence as did the defendant and 3 independent witnesses. Both parties also called expert witnesses in animal behaviour and husbandry.
After retiring for 45 minutes, the jury returned to find the defendant not guilty.
Jeff Swales of rradar instructed Lisa Judge of Deans Court Chambers to represent the defendant at trial.
What this means for the agricultural sector
Clients who keep cattle, particularly with calves, in fields to which the public have access should be able to demonstrate they have assessed the potential risks to members of the public and taken appropriate action to minimise those risks.
As a minimum, this should include clear signage warning of the danger posed and stating that dogs should be kept on leads at all times, and regularly checking on their livestock. In some cases, physically separating the cattle from walkers may be possible and appropriate.
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