Pig unit hazards

Some hazards are unique to pig farms. By following this guidance, you will ensure that your farm meets current health and safety regulations to help avoid accidents.

Slurry stores or lagoons

Indoor pig farms produce a large amount of slurry which needs to be stored.

Storage can be on-site in slurry lagoons, in buildings under slatted floors in pits, or in above- or below-ground stores.

Stores and lagoons can pose a potential health and safety risk if not correctly maintained.

To prevent potential risks:

  • Add appropriate safety signs at all sides of lagoons
  • Ensure lagoons/stores are fenced off to prevent unauthorised access and avoid accidental falls and potential drowning
  • Ladders made from old car tyres or knotted ropes should be added to lagoon-side slopes. This will help with exit if someone does fall in
  • Use a cover that can withstand a forcible traffic load on below-ground stores. They also need to be too heavy for children to lift. Covers must also be locked to prevent unauthorised entry
  • Use permanent connection points to avoid opening store covers
  • Ensure stores, reception pits and channels have a 20-year design life

Farm slurries produce poisonous gases, which is a problem when stored in confined spaces.

The following precautions must be taken to help reduce risk to health:

  • Never lean over to look into slurry pits during agitation, as toxic gas is produced
  • Always display signs warning of the dangers
  • Never enter a confined space used for slurry storage unless it is absolutely necessary. If you do need to enter, check you have the correct personal protective equipment and breathing apparatus, as well as having received the appropriate training
  • Never smoke to allow naked flames near stored slurry

Refer to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) information below for further advice.

HSE: Managing slurry on farms HSE: Managing confined spaces on farms

A covered slurry store

Bulk feed hoppers and sealed feed bins

Feed hoppers and storage bins are used daily within pig farming. Hoppers can become problematic when being inspected and loaded.

Potential risks can be reduced using the following advice:

  • Keep air vents clear of obstruction to reduce the risk of the hopper bursting during the filling operation
  • Provide safe access to the inspection hatch with a ladder, handhold and guard rail, where necessary
  • Make sure hoppers incorporating rotary or ‘star’ valves are electrically isolated before entering, or before you attempt to clear a blockage
  • Never enter a hopper either above or below any bridged meal. The bridging of meal within a feed storage hopper should be dealt with from outside by tapping the hopper sides or using a long-handled probe from a place of safety
  • If entry into a hopper is unavoidable, you must develop and follow a safe system of work. Ventilation, air testing, training and correct personal protective equipment should be considered
  • Check feed bins regularly for structural deterioration
  • Do not leave temporary mobile storage trailers in a raised position, unless they are properly supported by means other than hydraulics
  • Make sure feed bins and hoppers are accessible to HGVs and away from power lines

Farm transport

Pig husbandry involves frequent use of tractors, handlers and other machinery, often under difficult conditions. Incorrect use of these vehicles can have serious consequences.

Incidents can be prevented by following the advice below:

  • Ensure machinery has been correctly maintained and serviced – keep a record of this
  • All staff are suitably trained and hold a ‘certificate of competence’, where required
  • Users have been supplied with the correct protective personal equipment

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has specific guidance on telehandlers and other lifting equipment.

HSE: Safe use of all-terrain vehicles HSE: Lifting operations and lifting equipment regulations 1998 (LOLER)

Overturned vehicles

Fields, tracks and yards may be uneven or on variable gradients. When working within these types of environments, you must ensure the vehicle is fitted with rollover protective structures (ROPS) and drivers wear seat belts.

Seat belts are a legal requirement on all tractors where there is a risk of overturning and where it is reasonably practicable to fit one.

Accidents happen because drivers misjudge slopes, ignore changing ground conditions and forget that loads will affect vehicle stability.

Reduce the risk of overturning by:

  • Making sure vehicles are properly equipped and maintained, especially brakes, steering and tyres
  • Considering wide wheel settings for work on slopes
  • Planning the operation in advance and making sure drivers know the key elements of safe working on slopes

Key advice to remember:

  • Always turn uphill when working across a slope and descend straight down the gentlest gradient
  • You cannot always safely descend a slope that you safely drove up
  • Tractor rear-wheel grip lessens as the load of a rear-mounted machine is emptied
  • Tractors with trailed rollers, four-wheel trailers, etc. will have extra thrust imposed with no additional weight – they may slide away out of control
  • Only carry the number of passengers a vehicle is equipped to transport
  • Doors must always be closed and no loose equipment should be carried in the cabin

The Health and Safety Executive’s has further advice about using tractors safely.

HSE: Using tractors safely

Safety and electricity

Electricity can be extremely dangerous and, if the correct precautions are not taken, can cause injury or death.

A common cause of pig farm fires is poor or faulty electrics.

Overhead power lines (OHPLs)

Electricity can jump gaps when equipment or machinery gets close enough – you do not need to contact OHPLs to be injured. The main problems encountered involve tractors and telehandlers moving housing arcs.

The advice from the HSE is as follows:

  • When siting outdoor units, avoid areas with OHPLs. If you can’t avoid an area, the site should be organised so the risk of making contact is minimised
  • Do not lift anything above tractor or loader height when working within a 10 m horizontal distance of OHPLs
  • Know the full height of equipment and machinery when all parts are raised to their full extent (and note them in the cab). Check these heights against the line-clearance distances marked on the farm map so that you know your areas of risk
  • If you have no option but to move equipment (e.g. feed bins) close to OHPLs, then you must contact your electricity supplier and temporarily disconnect them
  • If high machines frequently work near OHPLs, e.g. in the farmyard, consult your local electricity company to explore burying or diverting the lines
  • Add signs to the risk areas from all approaches; consider physical barriers, i.e. ropes, to stop machinery reaching cables or mark out the restricted areas of access on concrete

Electric fences

Electric fences can pose a hazard when incorrectly sited or when poor maintenance causes contact with OHPLs. Generally, electric fences should not be placed under power lines if the fence height exceeds 1.2 m.

If the fence height exceeds this, for example to create a gateway, then you must ensure that safety clearance distances for the type of power line are complied with.

This information can be obtained from the distribution network operator. If your electric fence is not in use, then it must be earthed to avoid the build-up of electricity.

You can find out your distribution network operator, and relevant emergency numbers, via the National Grid website.

Portable generators

Portable generators are becoming more common on pig farms due to their convenience and relatively low cost. However, there are a few guidelines which must be followed when using such equipment.

  • Make sure a residual-current device (RCD) is present on all generators
  • Make sure the generator system is earthed to allow the RCD to operate if there is a fault

Water damage

Indoor pig farmers often use electricity in damp conditions, which carries great risks. To reduce risk:

  • Use IP-rated socket outlets, switches and light fittings which are designed for use outdoors, in damp or corrosive atmospheres or where steam or water jets are used
  • Protect all circuits with a residual-current device (RCD). Never use a household-type socket or switch
  • Ensure all fixed electrical installations are inspected by a qualified electrician every 3–5 years. Portable electrical equipment may be tested by a suitably trained person using a portable appliance test (PAT) every 6–12 months

All information is based on mains voltage (230 V and 400 V).