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Animal handling

Large farm animals can cause serious injury if not handled properly. Learn about the hazards of animal handling and how to keep yourself and others safe.

The skills of animal handling combine understanding your livestock and other factors affecting them (such as storms, hunger, breeding patterns and fear). Whenever possible, get training or guidance in handling your livestock.

What is animal handling?

Animal handling means working with any large animals on farms and other agricultural settings. This includes working with animals for tourism. Animals’ temperaments and behaviours vary across species, breeds, sexes and season. Working with livestock can be physically demanding and requires consideration of the animals.

Animal handling includes:

  • breeding, mating, birthing
  • catching, mustering, herding
  • riding, harnessing, showing
  • dipping, drenching, tagging, branding
  • feeding, collecting byproducts (eggs, honey, etc), inspections
  • milking
  • shearing, grooming, cleaning
  • slaughtering
  • transporting
  • vaccinating, docking, neutering, dehorning, other care.

What are the risks of animal handling?

Physical injury

Animals are unpredictable and can cause serious physical injury to people and themselves.

Injuries can be severe and include head and spinal damage, broken bones or death.

You can be injured:

  • if you fall or are thrown from an animal
  • if you are crushed, pinned, bitten or kicked by an animal
  • by trips or falls in sheds and pens
  • when using equipment such as knives, pliers, shears and needles.

Hazardous manual tasks

A hazardous manual task is one is where you need to lift, lower, push, pull, carry, move or hold something, with one or more of the following:

  • repetitive or sustained force
  • high or sudden force
  • repetitive movement
  • sustained or awkward posture
  • exposure to vibration.

These hazards directly stress the body and lead to injuries such as sprains, strains, back injuries, muscle damage, degenerative joint injuries and broken bones.

Chemicals and medicines

Hazardous chemicals and medicines are used in dipping and drenching and vaccinations.

If exposed, you may have symptoms such as headaches, blurred vision and nausea.

Read more about the use of agricultural and veterinary chemicals.

Diseases from animals

Diseases that can pass from animals to humans are called zoonoses. These include bacteria, viruses and parasites. Some can cause serious illness or death.

This page looks at the risks common to handling all large animals. You should read this page along with pages that cover specific animals in more detail:

Other animals farmed in Queensland

Many different animals are farmed or under management in Queensland. Use the four steps to manage the risks (listed below) no matter which animal you farm.

Alpacas and llamas are grown for their fleece and meat. They are ideal for small-scale lifestyle farms where owners of small herds produce fibre products such as felts and yarns. Alpacas are curious animals with a strong herd instinct. Llamas are larger with coarser hair. Alpacas and llamas are usually gentle. Llamas tend to be more outspoken and can hiss, spit, kick or lie down if mishandled.

The Australian Alpaca Association has more information about farming alpacas.

Although not individually large, bee swarms and hives pose risks from mass stinging. Collecting honey and other hive maintenance require safety precautions.

Read more about managing bees and safe beekeeping practices.

Large and heavy, camels can bite, jump, kick and spit. Camels are an invasive species in Australia, but it is not illegal to own or farm them. Camels are used in tourism and for milk and meat products.

Read more about camel husbandry and the camel welfare code.

Powerful, carnivorous predators, crocodiles pose significant risks of serious injury and death. You need a permit to farm this native species.

Read about farming crocodiles, handling crocodiles and living around crocodiles.

Read about crocodile husbandry.

An introduced species, deer are farmed for their meat, antlers and velvet. Stags are particularly dangerous during rutting season. All deer can jump, so fences need to be high enough to hold them.

Read more about deer handling and deer farming.

You can also find more information in the Australian deer industry Code of Practice and the Code of accepted farming practice for the welfare of deer.

These flightless birds belong to the order ‘ratite’ and are considered three of the most dangerous birds in the world. They have strong legs with long, sharp claws and are often aggressive if provoked or angered. Although they can’t fly, they can jump high, run fast and swim. They pose risks of serious injury and death.

Emus are a native, flightless bird. They can only be farmed under permit. You can find more information in the Emu farming Code of Practice (1992).

Ostriches are an introduced species from Africa. Ostrich farming is not currently popular. The Australian Society of Zookeepers has information on ostrich husbandry.

The cassowary is a threatened species. You cannot keep or farm cassowaries.

Farmed for fleece, meat, hides and milk, goats are an introduced species to Australia and feral populations are pests. Although a comparatively small animal, goats are feisty and often clever, stubborn and agile. They pose a variety of risks.

Learn more about goats and goat husbandry.

Kangaroos and wallabies (macropods) are native species. You need a permit to harvest or cull them. They can be dangerous as they will use their tail to stabilise themselves and lash out with powerful legs that have large, sharp claws.

Learn more about regulations around harvesting kangaroos and other macropods.

Often farmed on a large scale for meat or eggs, poultry pose risks of disease. In fertilised-egg farms, roosters can use their beaks and claws to attack staff. Finely powdered faeces and urine in the sheds creates inhalation risks.

Learn more about starting a poultry farm in Queensland.

How can I manage the risk?

Workers and management can work together to reduce risks from hazards at work. A safe place of work benefits everyone. Read more about how you can create safe work.

For workers

As a worker, you have a responsibility under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 to take reasonable care for your own health and safety and for others who may be affected by what you do or don’t do. You must follow any reasonable health and safety instructions from your employer. You should use equipment properly, follow safe work policies and procedures and attend training. If something is unclear, or you are uncertain, ask for an explanation.

For businesses

For employers or persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), it’s your duty to manage animal handling risks, as outlined in the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

Following the four-step risk management process below will help your business meet its responsibilities under work health and safety laws. You can also use the practical advice in the How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB) .

Four steps to manage risk

The first step is to identify the hazards. This means finding all the relevant things and situations that may contribute to an incident. Think about what could go wrong and consider the consequences.

Inspect the workplace

Look at:

  • how tasks are done
  • how work is designed and managed
  • the tools, equipment and objects being used
  • your own records. This includes workers’ compensation claims, recorded incidents, sick leave and worker complaints
  • the physical work environment.

Talk to workers

Talk to your workers about the possible hazards. You might do this individually, in a meeting, or with a survey. Look for ways to consult with workers who aren’t confident in speaking up or who have other barriers to being included in meetings or in reading information.

Review information already available

You can review information such as regulations, codes of practice and standards related to animal handling in general or for the species of animal you’re working with.

Look for trends in information already available, such as workplace records, inspection reports, sick leave, worker complaints and injury compensation claims.

You can also find out about possible risks from regulators, industry associations, unions and safety consultants, or designers, manufacturers, importers and suppliers.

Find more information on how to identify risks in How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB) .

Once you identify possible risks, make a risk assessment and decide:

  • if there is a risk to you or others
  • whether any effective control measures are already in place
  • what actions you could take to control the risk
  • how urgently you should act.

You can use this risk assessment template (DOCX, 0.02 MB) to guide you and record your assessments.

After assessing the risk, you’ll need to use control measures. The best way to control risk is to remove the hazard completely. If that’s not possible, you must reduce the risk as much as possible.

You can do this by:

  • substituting the hazard with something safer
  • physically separating people from the hazard (such as with fences or barriers)
  • using engineering controls or equipment (such as lifting devices).

Control measures

Create a safe physical environment:

  • Make sure yards, sheds and pens are well designed and maintained. Yards should let animals move freely. Pens and lanes should be the right size for the animal.
  • Avoid sharp corners and tripping hazards such as broken boards or panels, loose nails or ropes and grating.
  • Manage lighting, ventilation and noise.
  • Keep floors dry and put protective covers over working and drafting races.

Know how to work with your animals

  • Understand the behaviour and temperament of the animal you’re working with.
  • Know your limitations around animals and work within them.
  • Always be aware of where you are and have an escape route.

Wear appropriate clothing and personal protective equipment

  • Wear clothing that is appropriate to the work or situation.
  • Wear personal protective equipment when needed. When handling animals, this may depend on the season and activity. It might include hearing protection, respiratory protection, eye protection, safety helmets, gloves, protective clothing and riding boots or protective footwear.
  • Livestock work is usually outside, so remember to be sun smart.

Manage equipment

  • Maintain tools and equipment and use good hygiene practices (such as sterilising).
  • Make sure equipment such as belt drives and grinders are properly guarded.
  • Maintain vehicles and wear protective clothing or equipment when needed.
  • Set up handling systems so operators are not cut with tools, sprayed with chemicals or jabbed with a needle.

Manage hazardous manual tasks

  • Avoid lifting animals wherever possible. Use ramps or races to position animals for tasks. Use drop gates to hold sheep to be drafted off.
  • Use lifting equipment or lift with two or more people. If you must lift alone, sit the animal on its rump, squat so you are beside the animal, pull the animal against your body, lift by straightening your knees (not using your back).
  • If you need to lift an animal over a fence, work from the same side as the animal. Don’t try to drag it over the fence from the other side.

See the Hazardous manual tasks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 1.38 MB) for more information.

Follow safe practices with chemicals and medicines

  • Use the right product for the job and the least harmful to humans.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions and safety directions. See the product labels and safety data sheets.
  • Make sure people using agricultural chemicals are trained to use the chemicals and the equipment used to apply it.
  • Wear protective clothing, goggles and breathing equipment.
  • Maintain and check equipment to make sure it’s not leaking.
  • Only use as much of the chemical as you need for the job. Use decanting kits to reduce spills.
  • Keep records of what you buy, store and use.
  • Clean equipment according to directions. Dispose of rinse water and empty containers correctly.
  • Observe the correct withholding periods for drugs and chemicals before slaughter.
  • Have a first aid plan. If anyone experiences headaches or other symptoms get medical help. Make sure you have information about the chemicals that were used (such as the labels and safety data sheets). If you need to, phone triple zero (000) for an ambulance. Avoid using that chemical in the future.
  • For advice on the effects of exposure to hazardous chemicals, call the Poisons Information Centre.

Control biological hazards and diseases from animals

  • Follow good animal husbandry and hygiene practices. Maintain facilities in clean and hygienic conditions. Clean equipment and tools.
  • Provide handwashing facilities and alcohol-based hand rubs.
  • Cover cuts and abrasions. Use personal protective equipment if needed.
  • Eat in designated areas away from animals.
  • Have a pest control program and cover feed bins.
  • Know the disease symptoms for your livestock so you know when it is present. Treat or vaccinate if needed
  • Encourage staff to get vaccinated if there is a vaccination available.
  • Use animal welfare guidelines for your specific industry

Read more about diseases from animals.

Provide inductions and have safe work procedures

  • Develop clear and safe work procedures.
  • Give workers a workplace induction, so they know the health and safety risks and controls. Use the induction to do an assessment of the worker’s skills.
  • Train workers in how to perform the tasks needed and check they’re competent. Plan to refresh skills regularly.

Risk management is an ongoing process. You should check regularly to make sure the control measures are working. If you find problems, go through the steps again, review the information and decide whether you need new controls.

Under the work health and safety laws you must review controls:

  • when you become aware that a control measure is not working effectively
  • before a change that might create a new risk
  • when you find a new hazard or risk
  • when your workers tell you that a review is needed
  • after a health and safety representative requests a review.

You can find a list to help you find any issues in the How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB) .