The Irish equine industry is going through a tough time. Competitions, race meets and events have been cancelled or postponed and disposable incomes have fallen, forcing many businesses to downsize or close. On top of this, apparent low safety awareness within the industry, frequent large claims and something of a compensation culture have combined to drive some insurers out of the market – resulting in reduced capacity and rising premiums. With litigation on the rise, we believe owners, trainers, riding schools, stud farms et al need to rein in the risks from both employees and third parties.
What are the risks?
Every business has its unique risk environment which must be individually assessed, but some of the main problem areas include:
Inadequate staff training
This is probably the number one issue that puts a business on the back foot. If a business can’t prove it’s adequately trained its staff and notified them of all potential risks, it’s open to allegations of providing unsafe work environments. Not only should training include generic issues like safe working practices, heavy lifting and handling dangerous chemicals, it should also be specific to horses and how to behave around them.
Lack of detailed injury records
Good record keeping and prompt accident notifications are a must if businesses want to manage claims effectively. It’s not unusual for claims to be notified over a year after an incident happens, by which time employees and witnesses have frequently moved on. Witness statements, CCTV, health records and training records should all be preserved on the presumption there will be a claim. For example, we’ve seen a potential six figure claim come in that hadn’t been recorded in the accident book.
Insufficient safety statements or failure to inform staff
Written risk assessments should cover all procedures including but not limited to standard daily activities such as mucking out, turning out and riding out. Trekking, lessons, use of a horse-walker, loading, jumping, breaking and dealing with difficult horses all require specific statements and businesses must be able to prove these have been issued.
Dangerous machinery management
Simply having a licence is not enough. Businesses must be able to demonstrate that staff are appropriately trained to operate everything from a JCB to a strimmer. This means all working procedures should be risk-assessed, and maintenance procedures documented.
PPE not being enforced
Employees should wear approved hats, helmets or back protectors whilst riding or working around the yard as standard. They should also use gloves and safety glasses when handling dangerous chemicals or machinery. Appropriate footwear is essential. PPE should be issued to staff and its receipt should be signed off by both employee and employer.
Disclaimers not issued
We all know dealing with or riding horses are dangerous activities. People coming onto the premises should be asked to sign a suitable disclaimer or waiver.
What claims are we seeing?
Claims we frequently see are split between horse-related issues, machinery issues and soft tissue injuries.
- Horse-related issues include everything from falls, kicks, bites, trodden feet, head butts or spooks.
- Yard safety issues include slips and trips caused by wet, slippery, icy or uneven surfaces, or by unseen hazards like buckets, tack, troughs or mounting blocks.
- Eye, head and limb injuries are often caused by machinery or chemicals and we see a flow of soft tissue injuries from lifting and mucking out.
- Third party claims typically include kicks and falls, but also slips and trips within the yard.
How can we help?
We are taking a proactive stance in helping to protect our customers by reviewing their safety documentation, using specialist risk surveyors to visit client sites and making recommendations to drive a culture change. Health & Safety resources can also be helpful, such as https://www.besmart.ie/ which hosts a free online tool to generate workplace risk assessments and safety statements.