Shared responsibilities in shearing
Health and safety responsibilities in shearing sheds must be shared between farmers and contractors.
Sheep and wool production is a key sector of NSW agriculture and an important contributor to the economy. However, those working in the industry can be at a higher risk of suffering injury than workers in other industries if work health and safety risks aren't managed.
Shearing, crutching and related activities can be dangerous, as can working in shearing sheds.
The reality of this was brought to light by a tragic incident involving a young woman in Central West NSW in November 2017. She suffered serious head injuries when her hair became entangled in unguarded overhead shearing gear.
Everyone has a legal duty to reduce risks in the workplace, including shearing sheds, with many of the obligations shared.
Shearing shed owners and contractors
Farmers and contractors have a shared obligation to ensure the workplace is safe, so far as reasonably practicable, including a responsibility to communicate, consult and coordinate with each other.
In practical terms this means that:
- the shearing shed has a safe way of entering and exiting
- the shearing shed, surrounding infrastructure and shearing operations are without risks to the health and safety of any person, especially during shearing - for example:
- yards, races, gates, catch pens and doors are in good condition
- ventilation and lighting are adequate
- sheep drag paths are as straight as possible.
- shearers only use stands that match their right or left-hand shearing technique
- let-go chutes have cut-away's to aid letting go
- an earth leakage device is fitted to the shed and regularly tested
- emergency stop devices are fitted and regularly tested
- amenities - toilets, wash and dining areas - are available and clean
- fresh, clean drinking water is available
- an emergency response plan and first-aid kit provisions are in place and regularly checked
- zoonotic disease controls are in place, including Q-fever screening and vaccination
- chemical use on sheep is managed, to prevent contamination risks.
- the fixtures, fittings and plant are without risks to the health and safety of any person (including proper maintenance of plant) - for example:
- overhead gear is either guarded to comply with Australian Standards or decommissioned in lieu of electric plant, which preferably includes anti-lock technology.
- wool presses are fitted with a safety bar and emergency stop button
- grinders are guarded
- secure back harness suspension points are incorporated into the shed
- noise risks are controlled.
- their actions or omissions don't harm workers or other people
- there is ongoing consultation on workplace health and safety with the workers, before and during shearing operations - shearing contractors and staff also need to cooperate with any reasonable instruction, policy or procedure of the farmer or client, relating to health or safety at the shearing shed or elsewhere on the property.
While at work, all workers involved in the shear must:
- take reasonable care for their own health and safety
- take reasonable care for the health and safety of others
- comply with any reasonable instructions, policies and procedure given by their employer, business or controller of the workplace.
- report injuries and anything that is unsafe
Planning and advice
Finding and fixing health and safety problems will be more effective if properly planned.
Developing a documented plan that includes what health and safety issues need to be fixed, by when, by whom and how ensures all matters are addressed. In some cases, interim measures may need to be put in place, particularly where large fixes may be required. This plan should be agreed to by all parties.
Before shearing starts, it's recommended that farmers/clients communicate with the shearing contractor to review health and safety and resolve any health and safety matters by putting a plan in place to address them before workers are on site. This will allow safety issues to be fixed in a planned way, which doesn't impact on the shearing or put workers at risk.
It's also a good idea once the job is complete, for contractors, farmers and workers to collectively communicate about what could be further improved before the next shearing operation.
Shed owners, who may engage alternate contractors, have a responsibility to advise them of any identified health and safety issues that have been previously identified, to ensue no worker is inadvertently put at risk.
We have a small business safety rebate that can provide up to $500 to farmers, contractors and shearers to help buy a range of safety products, such as electric shearing plant, earth leakage protection devices, and animal restraint equipment.