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Sections 3: Large Animal Handling: Occupational Health and Safety Guidelines for Farming Operations in Ontario

The Occupational Health and Safety Guidelines for Farming Operations in Ontario were developed to highlight specific, and sometimes unique and unusual hazards on farms. They were jointly prepared by representatives of the farming community, the Farm Safety Association (now Workplace Safety and Prevention Services), the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs and the Ministry of Labour.

The purpose of the guidelines is to help employers, supervisors and workers on farms recognize hazards and determine the ways they may best comply with their obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA), and the relevant regulations. The guidelines provide general information to those in the workplace to help them identify specific hazards and dangerous situations. The guidelines may also provide the workplace parties with suggestions to consider in determining how to protect worker health and safety and to prevent injuries.

It is important to understand that the guidelines do not replace the laws that are in place. Employers, supervisors and workers on farms have responsibilities and rights under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and the following three regulations under the Act: Regulation for Farming Operations, O. Reg. 414/05, Critical Injury Defined, R.R.O. 1990, Reg. 834 and Occupational Health and Safety Awareness and Training, O. Reg. 297/13. The requirements in the OHSA and these three regulations must be complied with.

Employers have a legal obligation to take every precaution reasonable in the circumstances for the protection of workers; and, supervisors and workers must take appropriate steps to identify and address all workplace hazards. The guidelines are a starting point for the workplace parties to think about how to fulfill their obligations under the OHSA. Following the recommendations suggested in these guidelines does not relieve the workplace parties of their obligations to comply with the OHSA.

This is the first edition of the guidelines. They will be reviewed and updated on an ongoing basis, as needed, and expanded as new production methods and technologies emerge.

On average, two people die every year in accidents involving animals on Ontario farms. Inadequate animal handling facilities and poor animal handling methods increase the likelihood that accidents will occur. Animals are also the source of some infectious diseases that can be spread to humans. Handlers must always be on guard when working with or around animals. This section covers the following topics:


Large Animal:
For the purposes of this section, large animals include but are not limited to, cattle, hogs, deer, sheep, horses and goats.
A disease such as rabies that can be transmitted from animal to human.

General Responsibilities

  1. The employer shall provide information, instruction and supervision to a worker handling large farm animals and shall ensure that the worker is competent to do so safely.
  2. A worker coming into contact with an animal should wear appropriate personal protective equipment for the assigned work. (See Guideline on Personal Protective Equipment)
  3. A worker coming into contact with an animal should be made aware of any transmittable diseases that the animal may carry and should be instructed on how to prevent transmission, to themselves and to other animals. (See Guideline on Occupational Illness)
  4. An employer should ensure that workers know how to safely separate themselves from an animal while working in an enclosure occupied by animals.

Animal Handling Hazards

Farm employers and workers handling large animals can be killed or injured in a number of ways, including being:

  • stepped on,
  • knocked down,
  • kicked,
  • bitten,
  • pinned against a hard surface, or
  • exposed to a transmittable disease.

Factors to Consider When Handling Large Animals

The measures set out below are general factors that employers and workers should take into account to reduce the likelihood that an animal will behave in an unpredictable or aggressive way and thereby endanger either people or other animals nearby.
  1. The employer should ensure that proper equipment and facilities are available for housing and handling the type of animals in the operation with attention to:
    • good housekeeping practices;
    • equipment, fencing and gates that are able to restrain animals safely for general maintenance or health care;
    • walking or working surfaces that are even and finished or constructed to prevent slipping under wet conditions;
    • even and diffused lighting; and,
    • alleys and chutes that are wide enough for animals to pass but not to turn around.
  2. When approaching an animal, handlers should announce their presence by voice or by being clearly visible and gently touching the animal on the front or side.
  3. Handlers should be aware of and avoid an animal's kicking region.
  4. Noise and yelling should be kept to a minimum when working with livestock to enable the animal to feel secure.
  5. When handling livestock with young, allow them to remain as close to their offspring as possible.

Background--Animal Characteristics and Behaviour

The points below are provided for information purposes only and may help those handling large animals to understand why certain precautions are necessary.

Animal Vision

Workers should be aware of the limitations of vision of the particular animal that they are working with. Animals may have:

  • colour blindness;
  • poor depth perception;
  • sensitivity to contrasts, which may cause them to balk or hesitate at sudden changes in lighting (shadows), colour or texture;
  • difficulty in picking out small details;
  • sensitivity to distractions or sudden movement because of wide angled vision;
  • a natural tendency to move from dimly lit areas to lighter areas;
  • blind spots where they cannot see a worker.

Animal Hearing

Loud, abrupt noises can cause distress in livestock. Reduction of noise levels will have a calming effect on animals.

Maternal Instincts and Territorial Behaviours

Livestock with young exhibit a maternal instinct. They are usually more defensive and difficult to handle.

Most animals have a strong territorial instinct and develop a very distinctive attachment to certain areas such as pastures, buildings, water troughs and worn paths. Forcible removal from familiar areas can cause animals to react unexpectedly. Similar problems occur when animals are moved away from feed, separated from the herd or approached by an unfamiliar person.

Kicking and Biting

Each type of animal kicks differently. Some of the reasons animals kick include:

  • pain, injury, or inflammation,
  • something in their blind spot,
  • sudden noise.

Animals may signal their intention to kick. For example, ears that are "laid back," or flattened backward, warn you that a horse is getting ready to kick or bite.

Approaching Animals

Most animals, like humans, have a comfort zone. The illustration below is specific to cattle but the principles apply generally to other animals as well.

Flight Zone

A comfort or flight zone can be used to effectively move cattle and other animals. This works best when the handler works at the edge of the flight zone. These zones will vary from animal to animal and can be anywhere from five to twenty-five feet. Deep invasion into the flight zone may cause panic and confusion. Learning the principles of using the flight zone will allow a handler to move the herd safely.

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