A woman has been describing the moment she tried to save her dog from a cattle attack at her family farm.
Heather Vance ended up with life-changing injuries after being trampled by a herd of cows.
The Magherafelt woman’s life was saved after an air ambulance was dispatched to take her to hospital.
Her dog, Trigger, was headbutted by one of the animals and would have to be put down as a result of his injuries.
Her story comes the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland (HSENI) are highlighting research showing that fatal incidents involving animals are on the increase.
The study examined 50 years of farming incidents here.
It found that while vehicles and equipment are still the primary cause of deaths on a farm, their incidence has decreased over the years.
Meanwhile, the research showed an overall increase in fatal animal incidents rate over time, with the most marked increase taking place in recent years.
On May 13 2021, Heather Vance arrived home from work and decided to take her dog, Trigger, out for a walk near her family farm outside Magherafelt.
“Suddenly, he just jumped into the field where 18 cattle were grazing and they immediately started to circle around him,” she said.
Shortly after entering the field, the beloved family dog was headbutted into a ditch by one of the cows.
Without thinking, Heather climbed the fence to go to her pet’s aid.
She said: “I had just bent down and I had my hand on top of his collar and the next thing the animals began to trample over me.
“This continued on for quite some time and I just lay there with my whole body in severe pain.”
Mrs Vance had suffered a fractured collar bone, a fractured elbow and three fractures in her pelvis as well as extensive soft tissue damage to her thigh.
She lay in the field without her mobile phone, but eventually managed to make her way out to a nearby road where a neighbour spotted her.
After an initial medical assessment, an air ambulance was called and Heather was brought to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast. She would spend more than six weeks in hospital.
Sadly her dog Trigger would have to be put down as a result of his injuries.
“That was just so devastating for me and it very easily could have been me,” Heather said.
She added: “For anybody hearing my story I would just say, yes the animals can look lovely in a field, but they are so dangerous.
“I am lucky to be alive here today to tell this story, and don’t think I would have been without the air ambulance.”
Life and death
It took the air ambulance helicopter approximately 15 minutes to transport Heather from just outside Magherafelt to Belfast.
As a local charity, it aims to raise £2.5m each year to maintain the service. The service is a partnership between the charity and the Northern Ireland Ambulance Service.
It responds, on average, to two emergency calls every day and there is always a doctor and paramedic on board.
Kerry Anderson is Air Ambulance NI’s Head of Fundraising.
She said: “Essentially this is the hospital that is coming to the patient and it can often be a matter of life and death.
“Certainly there isn’t a week goes by where, like Heather, there isn’t some sort of farm incident that the team would have to respond to.”
Agriculture is still one of the most hazardous industrial sectors in terms of fatal accidents right across the world.
There are between six to seven fatalities on average per year on Northern Ireland’s farms.
A recent study by the Health and Safety Executive for Northern Ireland undertook an analysis of 50 years of farm deaths and incidents.
Overall, there were 508 fatalities in the agriculture sector in Northern Ireland between 1968 and 2017. The study also found:
There is a higher rate of fatal incidents on farms which involves farmers aged over 65 years
Farm incidents involving children occur outside school periods e.g. Sunday
The three most common causes of accidents are vehicles and equipment (53%), fall from high (19%), and animal (12%).
Vehicles and equipment are still the primary cause of deaths on a farm although their incidence has decreased
Fatal incidents involving animals are on the increase
Camilla Mackey, head of HSENI’s agri-food team, said the increase in animal-related fatalities was a worrying trend.
She said: “Farming is becoming heavily mechanised and the industry has changed so much over the last 50 years.
“My thought would be that potentially animals aren’t being handled as much as they were in the past, and this could be having an impact on the increase in incidents.”
HSENI said there were a number of possible factors at play and stressed that every fatal incident on a farm in Northern Ireland was preventable.
Last month HSENI began rolling out unannounced workplace inspections on farms to try and reduce fatal accidents.