Between 1 April 2022 and 21 March 2023, 27 people were killed in agricultural settings. Unfortunately, the rate of fatal accidents in the agricultural sector remains stubbornly high, 21 times higher than the average five year rate across all UK industries.

The issue might feel overwhelming and impossible to tackle at the level of an individual operation, but support and guidance is out there and change might be more achievable than you think.

Risks from animals

In the year April 2022 to March 2023 the most common cause of death in agriculture forestry and fishing was injury by an animal, eight people died during the period.

Sadly, this trend doesn't seem to be abating, and a woman was trampled to death by a heard of cows at the start of September. She was walking her dog along a public path which crossed a field. More recently, three adults were injured by a herd of cows, including a bull, while they were walking along a beach in Barra.

The issue is made more difficult for farmers by the operation of the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003.

Balancing risks from animals and access rights

The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 grants public rights to access privately owned land. Occupiers have only very limited scope to restrict that access. The risk of injury by animals is not enough on its own to allow restrictions, and occupiers must seek to allow access while reducing the risk of injury.

The HSE recognises both the gravity of these incidents and the practical difficulties that farmers face in mitigating the risks, its useful guidance for Scottish farmers can be found here

Measures to reduce the risk of injury can include moving cattle to locations which are not frequented as much or at all by the public, the use of signs to warn of the risks and locations of cattle and providing alternative routes at certain times of year.

Following previous fatal incidents with cattle, farmers have been criticised for not fencing off routes where there was no other way to protect people from cattle, and the requirement to balance safety and access can feel onerous. However, people exercising the right of access must do so responsibly, taking care for their own safety and following guidance they are given about routes and the presence of animals. For that reason, erecting signs and exercising in public engagement can be very effective ways to reduce the risk and to demonstrate that care is being taken.

Farm safety week – some useful advice

This year the UK Government's Farm Safety Week ran from 17 – 23 July and the theme was "let's start with you".

The material which accompanied the campaign gives useful practical advice on how to get started on making agricultural operations safer and reducing the risk of accidents and injuries.

The focus is on taking manageable steps towards a safer way of working and the guidance aims to be readily understandable and achievable. The key message is that it is within your control to make a difference and that changes don't have to be significant or expensive.

The material also includes a useful guide to farming safety and a checklist for workers


Kate Donachie

Legal Director

Clare Bone

Partner & Solicitor Advocate