Workers in construction, farming, veterinary, or animal service industries may handle horses, cows, or other types of large animals in the course of their daily jobs. The size and behavior of these types of animals will vary, and it is important to understand some basic, natural characteristics that often occur when dealing with them.

Horses and cattle can move unpredictably and workers should remain constantly alert. These large animals can cause injuries due to sudden movements or bites; they can also cause scratches, and “zoonosis,” which is a process by which a variety of diseases can be spread from animals to humans.

Animal handling techniques

Proper handling of horses or cows begins with knowing these animal’s typical behaviors. Animal handling techniques should be taught to inexperienced workers and used consistently by everyone who works with animals.

It is best to:

  • Move slowly and deliberately around the animals.
  • Approach animals from the front and avoid their blind spots.
  • Avoid the “kick zone” behind cattle and horses.
  • Do not corner, tease, poke, or hurt animals—it can cause them to react violently.

Watch for warning signs of animal aggressiveness and fear. These signs vary with animal breeds, but may include:

  • Raised fur on their backs.
  • Flattened ears.
  • Twitching tails.
  • Baring teeth.

Sick, hurt, or new mothers

Caution should also be used when handling large animals that are sick, hurt, or when they are new mothers. Aggressive or sick animals should have their pens or holding stalls clearly labeled to ensure that every worker uses caution around them. If workers must capture animals or administer treatments that may cause pain, they should do so with assistance from animal capture devices, use anesthesia, and ask for the help of fellow workers.

Employees should also use extreme caution when giving injections and handling sharps around animals—sudden movements could cause a needlestick injury. It is advisable to keep an open route of escape when working under these conditions.

If injured by an animal, or potentially exposed to a diseased animal, workers should immediately report the incident to their supervisor and seek the appropriate medical attention and followup. The worker should also keep in mind some herd animals may be calmer when handled in small groups. If possible, they should avoid handling animals until the animals are in a calmer state.

Personal protective equipment

Workers need protective footwear with non-slip soles, sturdy clothing, and gloves. Frequent hand washing is the best defense against diseases caused by touching animal saliva and waste. Protective eyewear and respirators may also be used to help prevent diseases transmitted by breathing contaminated farm and field dusts.

Handling and caring for horses or cattle can be very rewarding but also challenging. It is important that workers be properly trained on the potential hazards, safe animal handling techniques, and exercise caution when dealing with the animals to avoid workplace injuries.

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The above evaluations and/or recommendations are for general guidance only and should not be relied upon for medical advice or legal compliance purposes. They are based solely on the information provided to us and relate only to those conditions specifically discussed. We do not make any warranty, expressed or implied, that your workplace is safe or healthful or that it complies with all laws, regulations or standards.

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