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A Head Start on Head Protection

Redwings Horse Sanctuary’s Health and Safety Manager David Cameron shares his views on why hats are an essential part of the charity’s uniform.

Wearing a hard hat when working around horses is normal practice at Redwings Horse Sanctuary and has been for well over a decade.

Redwings is the largest horse sanctuary in the UK, caring for almost 1,500 horses and donkeys across 10 sites. We employ more than 280 staff, the vast majority of whom are involved with sanctuary residents on a daily basis and would no more go to work without their hard hat than without their boots (with toe protection of course!).

As Health and Safety Manager I and my team are very aware of the risks involved when interacting with any horse. My job involves assessing risk with our teams and to develop safe systems of working while achieving high standards of horse care.

Redwings specialises in the rescue, treatment and care of horses who are unhandled, semi-feral or who have been mistreated so we deal with some challenging and potentially dangerous behaviours. Our experience has helped us develop a positive attitude to safe working with horses; seeing first-hand what a horse is capable of when frightened or in pain makes wearing a hard hat a logical and sensible precaution.

Even with our quiet, well-behaved horses there have been cases of unpredictable behaviour where they have kicked out. It is worth noting that a hard hat, as with all personal protective equipment, is your “last line of defence” in the hierarchy of control measures and while it may not prevent an accident occurring it is almost certain that it will reduce the severity of any head injury should there be impact.

A situation I witnessed when joining Redwings some 12 years ago left a lasting impression me. Our team was involved in the round-up of over 70 horses when, on attempting to gather and lead them into horse transport, a small stallion suddenly broke loose, ran towards and then over one of our horse handlers. Thankfully, as he was wearing his hard hat, he sustained a severe headache rather than a fractured skull (or worse) – needless to say the hard hat was split down the middle and confined to the bin after its inclusion in some hard-hitting safety meetings!

I wish I could say instances such as this were one-offs, but there have sadly been too many examples in the news in recent years of similar incidences happening in much more conventional or domestic settings and with well-known horses – and where head protection has not been a priority.

Procuring and supplying hard hats that are fit for purpose, comfortable and of sound quality needs the involvement of, and feedback from, our staff by getting their views rather than just issuing a legally compliant hat off the shelf. In fact, a positive safety culture in any organisation can only be achieved through engaging with staff in developing sensible and safe systems of work in all equine based tasks and related activities. So headwear is very much part of Redwings’ ethos as well as our uniform. You can find out more about Redwings Horse Sanctuary at their website here.

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