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Horse handling fatality

In March 2020, a person suffered fatal injuries while handling a horse on a rural property. It appears the person was in the process of catching the horse in its yard prior to leading it to the stables.

IMPORTANT: These findings are not yet confirmed. Investigations are continuing into the exact cause.

Preventing a similar incident

Horses have the strength, speed and ability to cause injury if they are not handled properly. People need to consider their limitations around horses and avoid handling ones which are likely to exceed their abilities. Activities involving horses can never be without risk. The risk of horses moving in an uncontrolled or unexpected manner must be managed by ensuring appropriate controls are put in place.

The person conducting the business or undertaking (PCBU) must manage risks associated with the movement of horses. Effective risk management starts with a commitment to health and safety from those who manage the business. Managing work health and safety risks is an ongoing process and involves four steps, including: identifying hazards, assessing risks, controlling risks and reviewing control measures to ensure they are effective.

Once risks have been assessed, control measures need to be put in place. These control measures are ranked from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest and are known as the hierarchy of control. PCBUs must work through this hierarchy to choose the controls that most effectively eliminate or, where that is not reasonably practicable, minimise the risks.

Risks can be minimised by implementing one or more of the following:

  • Substitute the hazard with something safer - for example, replace an intermediate level horse with one suitable for a beginner rider. (Source – Safe Work Australia)  
    • supervisors in places of work including instructors at horse riding schools should ensure that the horse provided for a rider's use (worker, trainee or client) is suitable and safe for that person, taking into account age, size, experience, general riding ability and any known handicap or limitation of the rider. Riders should be given information about the horse's character and behaviour.
    • allocation of horses should be undertaken by the head guide or trainer, or another suitably qualified and experienced person. The person allocating horses should be familiar with the characteristics of the horses.
  • Engineering controls - includes modifications to equipment. For example:
    • stable floors should be soundly constructed, slip-resistant to both horse and handler and impervious to moisture. Concrete slabs with a grooved surface are more slip resistant and can assist with drainage. Stable surfaces should be made of materials that can be readily cleaned to maintain stable hygiene.
    • doors that allow quick access to stables and other areas should be well constructed and fitted with heavy-duty hinges and bolts to prevent a horse pushing through. Consider the stable's size and construction, ensuring it provides adequate space to minimise the risk of handlers being crushed or trodden on when attending to a horse.
    • ensure equipment, including but not limited to saddles, stirrup leathers, stirrup irons, bridles and bits, is regularly checked, adjusted for fit and well maintained.
  • Administrative controls - if any risk remains, it must be minimised by implementing administrative controls. For example:
    • ensuring workers and others receive a workplace induction. They should provide information, including but not limited to, horse instincts and their response to fear; how to behave around horses; determining an escape route; how to recognise a horse's individual characteristics; what riders and horse handlers should wear; first aid and emergency procedures. (Source – Safe Work Australia)
    • developing clear, simple and effective safe work procedures that can play an important part in helping people interact with horses safely. These procedures should be developed, delivered and enforced at the workplace. For example: approaching a horse and avoiding their blind spots and kicking zones; accessing and working around a horse in a stable or enclosed area; leading horses through narrow places; tying up horses; leading horses through a group of loose horses; working around a tethered horse. (Source – Safe Work Australia)
    • use of signage to restrict access to stable areas and detailed warning signs on horse stable doors where needed.
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) - any remaining risk must be minimised with suitable PPE. For example:
    • riders and handlers who may be exposed to head injury should wear a correctly adjusted and fitted helmet which meets the Australian and New Zealand Standard AS/NZS 3838. Helmets should be replaced according to the manufacturer's recommendations. A competent person should check any damaged or dropped helmets.
    • suitable footwear should be worn by riders, horse handlers and stable hands. Riders should preferably wear riding boots.
    • wearing comfortable clothing including long trousers and a shirt which covers the arms and shoulders. Loose clothing should be secured, and jewellery should not be worn.

Control measures should be reviewed regularly to ensure they are still working as planned. Common review methods include workplace inspections and consultation with workers.

If any issues are identified, revisit the risk management process and then make further decisions about control measures.

Statistics

Between July 2015 and February 2020, 439 workers' compensation claims where a person was struck by a horse were accepted.

From July 2014 to March 2020, Workplace Health and Safety Queensland was notified of 136 events where people were struck by a horse. In the same period, WHSQ issued 10 statutory notices for breaches in managing the risk of being struck by a horse.

More Information

Support for people affected by a serious workplace incident

Have you been affected by a workplace fatality, illness or serious injury? For advice and support, visit our Facebook page or email ohs.coronialliaison@oir.qld.gov.au.