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Cattle handling

Cattle are large animals that can move quickly and be aggressive. Their ease of handling can differ due to previous experiences, breed characteristics and psychological state. Workers face a range of risks when handling cattle.

What is cattle handling?

Cattle handling is any activity that requires workers to interact with cattle. It can include working with cattle in paddocks, laneways, yards, cattle transportation, feedlots, abattoirs, saleyards and activities relating to on-farm cattle sales.

Common cattle handling activities include:

  • mustering
  • working with cattle in yards and sheds
  • loading and unloading
  • dehorning and ear tagging
  • veterinary checks
  • drenching
  • working cattle through the crush.

What are the risks of cattle handling?

Cattle handling can present significant risks to workers including injuries and fatalities from being crushed, gored, trampled, kicked or bitten by cattle.

Risks that arise from direct interaction with cattle include:

Other risks are environmental or arise from the use of equipment associated with cattle handling. These include:

  • common plant including quad bikes, motorcycles, vehicles, aircraft and tractors
  • chemicals such as veterinary medicines and pesticides, including drenches
  • exposure to dust, noise and electricity
  • stress and fatigue resulting from making critical decisions, long work days and extended periods of hard physical labour
  • falls from horses, quad bikes and motorcycles
  • heat stress and skin cancer from working outdoors
  • property maintenance, including fencing, windmill repair and vegetation management.

How do I manage the risks?

Workers and management can work together to reduce the risks of cattle handling.

For workers

As a worker, you must:

  • take care of your own health and safety as well as the health and safety of others
  • cooperate with management to meet health and safety requirements and reduce risks.

For businesses

As an employer or business owner, you have legal responsibilities as outlined in the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 for the health and safety of every worker and visitor.

The four-step risk management process below will help businesses to meet their 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.

Think about the work processes and ask yourself:

  • Are workers adequately trained and experienced in cattle handling?
  • Are natural cattle handling techniques used to encourage instinctive behaviours, to reduce stress, unpredictability and aggression in the herd?
  • Are the stockyards:
    • designed to keep workers safe
    • built to match the size of the cattle being handled
    • well maintained?
  • Are there cattle in the herd with a known bad temperament?
  • Are there adequate cattle handling aids in place, such as head bails, branding cradles, drafting cranes and cattle crushes?

Talk to your workers and ask:

  • Are you aware of any potential hazards?
  • How can we improve our safety and our processes?
  • Do you know how to report a hazard?

Regularly review your own records and consider:

  • What do your workers’ compensation claims, recorded incidents, sick leave and worker complaints tell you about past incidents and hazards?
  • What can you do to prevent the same things happening again?

Identifying hazards should be an ongoing activity which happens at least once a year, or whenever there is a change in equipment, facilities or work practices.

Next, assess the level of risk posed by each hazard. The risk level is determined by:

  • how serious the potential harm is
  • how likely it is to happen.

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

The law requires you to eliminate the risks if practical or to minimise them as much as possible.

You must work through the hierarchy of controls to choose the control that most effectively eliminates or minimises the risks. This may involve a single control measure or combination of two or more different controls.

Find the hierarchy of controls in  How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB).

Additionally, to control the risks associated with cattle handling you can:

  • ensure workers involved in cattle handling are trained and experienced, understand animal behaviour and can predict animal responses
  • cull cattle with known bad temperament from the herd
  • prepare mustering routes in advance, including opening gates and working out where the cattle are likely to break away
  • wear appropriate protective clothing including a hat, long pants, long-sleeved shirt, steel-capped boots and a helmet when mustering on a quad bike or motorbike
  • design and build stockyards and sheds that are strong enough and the right size to match the cattle being handled and allow for separation from beasts for workers
  • avoid sharp, blind corners and ensure gates are well positioned
  • limit loud noises like shouting, barking dogs and revving motorbikes which unsettle cattle
  • maintain facilities in good condition, free from rubbish and ensure yards and ramps are not slippery
  • plan an escape route in advance for workers when handling cattle in yards
  • train workers in the correct use of your plant, including stockyards, cattle crushes, gates, pounds, calf cradles, races, loading ramps, quad bikes, motorcycles, vehicles, aircraft and tractors
  • train workers in correct loading and unloading techniques
  • never work alone with cattle, especially when working with large bulls
  • drench using techniques that avoid splash, and wash skin immediately if exposed to the drenching chemical
  • use a veterinarian to give vaccinations and attend to the health and wellbeing of the herd—don’t do it yourself
  • always wash your hands with soap and water and dry with clean paper towels after working with cattle to stop the spread of infectious diseases.

You should regularly review your control measures. Don’t wait for something to go wrong. If necessary, change or adjust your approach. The aim is to maintain a work environment that is without risks to health and safety.

Work health and safety laws require you to review controls:

  • when you become aware a control measure is not working effectively
  • before a change that might introduce 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.

Standards and compliance

Codes of practice

Related links