Across Scotland, England and Wales, agriculture remains the sector with the highest rate of work-related deaths and injuries. In an attempt to tackle commonly recurring issues, the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) has launched a farm safety initiative, with a particular focus on working with cattle. This particular focus is unsurprising because working with cattle and interaction with moving vehicles are two of the most common causes of deaths on British farms.

Cattle present a risk not only to those working on farms, but to anyone who accesses fields where cattle are held. The HSE guidance contains a section on placing cattle in fields with public access, with specific advice for those who keep cattle in Scotland.

Prosecutions of farmers whose cattle injure and/or kill members of the public are not uncommon, and there are regular prosecutions in relation to injuries caused to the public by cattle. Recent examples include:

  • A farmer was fined more than £5,000 plus costs for health & safety breaches after two women and their dog were attacked by more than a dozen cows on a popular public right of way in Yorkshire. One of the women suffered such severe injuries that her mobility is still heavily restricted three years after the incident. The HSE found that insufficient measures were put in place to protect the public from the cattle and their calves.
  • A farming business was fined more than £70,000 plus costs after a grandmother on a family walk died following an attack by one of a herd of cows and calves that were being moved via a public bridle path in Northumberland. There was no assessment of the risks involved, no safe system of work in place and no precautions taken to alert the public that cattle were in the area.
  • A man and his dog were attacked by cows with calves, while using a public footpath in Devon, which only ended when the cattle were called back to the farm. The farmer had to pay a fine of £6,500 plus costs for breaching his health & safety obligations.
  • The landowner of an estate in Wiltshire was fined £15,000 plus £8,000 in costs following two separate cow attacks within weeks. The landowner failed to control the risks to members of the public who were using a public right of way, including a failure to put in place appropriate segregation of cattle with calves.

All of these prosecutions were for breaches of section 3 of the Health & Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. In a farming context, this requires anyone operating a farm to take all reasonably practicable steps to protect members of the public from risks presented by faming operations. The duty is wide ranging and applies to all employers, whether companies or the more traditional farming partnership. There are similar duties which apply to individuals and company directors, partners, employees and the self-employed should be aware of their duties to manage and restrict any risks their work may pose to the public, so far as is reasonably practicable.

With more people out and about in the Spring weather, and with calving season upon us, it is essential that those with cattle are aware of their duties and take proactive steps to prevent incidents, and avoid the potential risk to life and the significant fines imposed on those who do not meet their responsibilities.

Farmers, landowners and keepers of livestock must give careful consideration to the interaction between their cattle and members of the public, particularly when calves are around. If you need any advice in relation to this, please do contact Victoria Anderson or your usual Brodies contact.


Eve Gilchrist


Victoria Anderson

Senior Associate

Clare Bone

Partner & Solicitor Advocate