by Jason Chuck, Practice Manager

The tragic recent news of two experienced stock agents being killed while working cattle should serve as a warning to all people involved in the livestock industries. It is a confronting reminder of the unpredictability and danger associated with working with large animals in confined spaces, and highlights the risks that even experience and good cattle handling facilities cannot completely mitigate.

According to WorkSafe, twenty seven Victorians lost their lives in workplace accidents in 2017, and fourteen of these fatalities occurred on farms. These accidents often occur while doing routine tasks that the victims have done countless times before, and according to Adam Watson, head of operations and emergency management at WorkSafe, they often occur due to a failure to properly identify and manage workplace hazards.

Cows and bulls are the second-most likely causes of animal-related deaths of people in Australia. Falls from horses are the most common animal-related deaths for people, with dog-related deaths third, according to National Coronial Information System data. (The Age, 4th January 2018)

There are numerous resources online to support farm owners and managers in identifying safety hazards on farm, and managing the likelihood and severity of these risks. General principles to follow include:

  1. Identify hazards on your farm. This is best done in consultation with staff and contractors who regularly work on site, and needs to be an ongoing process. Set up a method for those who work on your farm to report hazards as they are discovered, such as ineffective or broken equipment, live exposed electrical wires or dangerous animals.
  2. Assess the risk for each hazard. A matrix, such as the one below, can help identify which hazards are the highest priority for implementing controls. The higher the likelihood of a hazard causing harm, and the greater the severity of consequences, the higher a risk would be rated.

  1. Implement controls. Once hazards have been identified and assessed, controls should be put in place to prevent injury. There are numerous ways risks can be controlled. In order of effectiveness, these are:
    1. Eliminate the hazard if reasonably practicable. For example, remove a low beam that poses a tripping hazard in the dairy.
    2. Substitute for a hazard of lesser risk. An example of substitution would be to use side-by-side ATVs instead of quad bikes for farm work.
    3. Isolate the hazard by redesigning the work flow. For example, use a hydraulic tipper crush to teaseal heifers instead of doing them in the dairy.
    4. Change the way people work to reduce risks. A good example is ensuring staff are adequately trained to competently use dangerous equipment.
    5. Use personal protective equipment to reduce the impact of hazards. For example, ensure staff wear gloves when handling hazardous chemicals or drugs.

A series of detailed and valuable safety resources are available online from organisations such as:

It is essential that all farm workers and contractors, and especially farm owners and managers, work to create a culture of safety by making farm safety a priority. To assist us in keeping our staff safe on farm, we ask that clients:

  • Please ensure that a farm worker is on site when the vet arrives to assist if necessary. Not only will this reduce the risk of injury, it makes our work more efficient, improves our ability to make an accurate diagnosis and ultimately saves you money.
  • Ensure your cattle handling facilities and equipment is designed with safety in mind and kept in good working order.

As these recent farm tragedies show, cattle can be unpredictable and dangerous creatures, and catastrophe can strike without warning. It’s up to all of us in the industry to work together to make sure everyone gets home safe and sound to their families.