Staff welfare on pig farms

All businesses have a duty of care to their employees. Here we look at some of the dangers that might face you and your employees and what you can do to reduce risk.

Lone working

It is the employer’s duty to keep their employees safe and this may be more challenging when lone working is necessary to the job.

Suitable arrangements should be made to ensure lone workers are in regular communication, have been correctly trained and supplied with the correct equipment and personal protective equipment (PPE).

Read the HSE's Working Alone leaflet

Language barriers

The pig industry employs many migrant workers, which means English may not be your employees’ first language.

However, it is vital that all staff understand the health and safety issues that they may face. Specific hazards on the farm may need to be translated into the appropriate language and supported with clear diagrams.

Read the HSE's advice on working in Great Britain from overseas

Noise levels

Large numbers of pigs in a building can generate noise levels of 100 dB or above, especially at feeding time.

Even short-term exposure can be harmful, particularly if workers are exposed to other sources of noise during the day.

Consider the following control measures to help reduce exposure to harmful levels of noise:

  • Installing automated feeding systems (to reduce the need to enter the building when it is at its noisiest)
  • Carrying out work inside the building when the animals are quiet
  • Fitting feeding-system controls away from the noise or in a protected area, e.g. a noise-proof enclosure
  • Providing earplugs and defenders as part of personal protective equipment (PPE)

Veterinary medicines

Work with veterinary medicines (VMs) should only be undertaken by competent staff who have received adequate training.

The priority is to select the least hazardous product appropriate for the treatment. Check that you have the right equipment and facilities for the job to be done safely.

Adequate animal restraint is important to reduce the risk of accidental self-injection. Applicators with shrouded needles, automatic needle guards or other protective devices can significantly reduce the risk of accidental self-injection.

The risk of infection from a dirty needle can be reduced by using devices that contain a reservoir of disinfectant through which the needle is drawn before each injection.

  • Always follow manufacturer instructions and wear any personal protective equipment necessary (e.g. gloves, aprons, face shield, etc.)
  • Dispose of used needles safely (e.g. in a purpose-made sharps box)
  • Store medicines in a locked cupboard or other secure place where they cannot be accessed by children
  • Observe any precautions or special instructions, e.g. certain products are not to be used by pregnant workers
  • Everyone who works with veterinary medicines should make sure that high standards of personal hygiene are observed
  • Anyone who feels unwell after administering medicine to animals should seek medical advice as soon as possible
  • Accidental self-injection with an oil-based vaccine is a medical emergency and the injured person should be driven to hospital without delay

Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs)

Back, neck and limb disorders are the most common cause of ill health in agriculture. Many injuries are caused, or made worse, by poor manual handling practice.

Injuries can be caused by a number of factors, including the weight, size, shape and available grip, plus the way you actually carry the load and how repetitive the job is.

The solutions to improve manual handling usually involve a combination of physical measures, systems of work and worker training. Reducing risk from manual handling will usually improve the efficiency of the task.

The aim is to avoid hazardous manual handling, but if the handling task cannot be avoided, you will need to assess and reduce the risks, e.g. by providing mechanical assistance.

Where this is not possible, you will need to look at introducing changes to the task, the load and/or the working environment to reduce the risk to an acceptable level.

The following table gives some practical examples.

Task Solution Comments
Moving bags of feed Replace with bulk feed Store feed in silos and transport it by means of pipes/augers to eliminate risk
Moving pig arcs Use telescopic handler with appropriate attachments/lifting gear Mechanical handling eliminates the need for manual handling
Removing dead animals from crates/ buildings Use mini tractor with winch or skid-steer loader Mechanical handling eliminates the need for manual handling
Transporting piglets Use suitable trolley, feed barrow or cart Several piglets can be moved at once

Even with some of the solutions, you will still need to apply manual effort. Training in good lifting technique is valuable but is no substitute for other risk-reduction measures, such as lifting aids and mechanical handling. 

Handling pigs

The most common accidents occur when handling pigs. Wounds to the legs and crush injuries, for example, are often caused by poor handling techniques.

Reduce this risk of these types of injuries by:

  • Training staff in safe and efficient handling techniques
  • Keeping a visual check of the animal and avoiding facing away from it. This can be helped by considering the design and layout of buildings and facilities
  • Ensuring a clear escape route when in a pen with a boar or sows with/near a litter
  • Ensuring sows are properly restrained or segregated when working with her piglets
  • Making full use of pig boards when moving or working among animals. Pig boards help guide the animal in the direction you want it to go and can help protect handlers from bites
  • Lifting young pigs by grasping the hind leg and supporting their chest with the other hand
  • Only lifting pigs weighing less than 12 kg. Heavier pigs should be herded when they need to be moved
  • Making sure stock handlers are aware that boars can be very aggressive if left alone. All boars should be able to hear, see and smell other pigs
  • Reducing boar tusks in length where necessary, to prevent injuries to other animals or for safety reasons

Control of substances hazardous to health (COSHH)

Using chemicals or other hazardous substances at work can put people’s health at risk.

The law requires employers to control exposure to hazardous substances to prevent ill health.

Employers have to protect both employees and others who may be exposed by complying with the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH).

Further information, including details about other human health hazards such as respiratory diseases and zoonoses, can be found on the Health and Safety Executive's (HSE) website.

HSE: Agriculture health and safety