This week marks the start of a campaign by the Royal Mail and Communication Workers Union to raise awareness of the risk to postal workers from dog bites and attacks. This is an annual awareness event which takes place in the summer months to raise public awareness of the issue of dog attacks on postal workers and to encourage responsible dog ownership.
In Britain, 2,275 reported attacks on postal workers took place in the year 2017-18 with 82% of all taking place at front doors or in gardens of premises they were delivering to. This figure does not take into account the number of attacks which are deemed to be minor in nature and, therefore, go unreported. In Scotland, the highest prevalence of attacks occurred in the North-East of the country. Aberdeen is in the ‘top 10’ of postcode areas for dog attacks in the UK with Tayside and Fife also reporting a worrying high number of attacks.
The injuries caused by a dog attack on postal workers can be devastating. Dog attacks can result in serious physical, as well as psychological injuries. As a part of their campaign, the Royal Mail have issued top tips to dog owners to allow postal workers in carry out their job in safety:
- Ensure your dog is out of the way before the postman or woman arrives. Secure your dog in the back garden or a closed room.
- If you have a back garden, please close off the access, in case your dog could get round to the front when the postman calls.
- Dog attacks can happen when you’ve opened the door to sign for or collect an item which can't go through the letterbox. Please keep your dog in another room before answering the door and make sure children don’t open the door, as dogs can push by them and attack.
- Give your dog some food or a toy to occupy them while your mail is being delivered.
- Wait 10 minutes after your mail has arrived before you let your pet back into your hallway. Check outside before letting the dog out to make sure the Postman or Woman has left and the gate is shut. Keep everything as calm and low-key as possible.
- If your dog likes to attack your mail consider installing a wire letter receptacle. It will protect your post, and your postman’s fingers.
- If it’s not practical for you to keep your dog away from a postman delivering your mail, please consider fitting a secure mailbox on the edge of your property.
As well as following these top tips, dog owners should be aware that there can be legal consequences for failing to keep your dog under control. If a dog is to attack a person, the owner faces a risk of criminal prosecution and they also face the risk of being sued for the injuries caused by their dog.
When a dog causes injury, there is legislation in place to assist those who have been attacked through no fault of their own – for example postal workers going about their usual duties. Under the Animals (Scotland) Act 1987, strict liability is imposed on a dog owner where the dog is to attack someone. This means that an injured party does not need to prove that the dog owner is negligent.
In order to be successful in a claim of this nature, the injured party is required to prove three things:
- That the owner was the keeper of the animal;
- The animal belongs to a species whose members generally are by virtue of their physical attributes or habits likely (unless controlled or restrained) to injure severely or kill persons or animals; and
- The injury or damage complained of is directly referable to such physical attributes or habits.
By nature, dogs fall under the definition of an animal whose physical attributes or habits are likely to injure severely or kill even where the dog has not shown any violent tendencies previously. In order for strict liability to apply, the injury caused must be through a bite or an attack, rather than falling over the dog. It is possible for the injured party to make a claim for the injury sustained as well as any wage loss incurred and damage to their property, such as clothing.
It is essential that dog owners take reasonable steps to ensure the safety of postal workers, and members of the public, as the consequences for the injured party and the dog owner can be very costly.
Blog by Eilish Lindsay, Associate Solicitor