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Sheep handling and shearing

Sheep handling activities such as mustering, crutching and shearing can put workers at risk of illness or injury. Find out about the risks involved in handling sheep and how to keep yourself and others safe.

What does ‘sheep handling and shearing’ mean?

Sheep handling refers to the work involved in activities such as:

  • lamb marking and mulesing
  • jetting, dripping and drenching
  • mustering
  • lifting
  • shearing and crutching.

What are the risks of sheep handling and shearing?

Many of the risks of handling sheep are common to all animal handling.

Sheep handling and shearing risks include:

  • physical injury from trips, falls, crushing, dust, motorcycles, dogs, noise, knives, shears, pliers and self-vaccination
  • manual handling injuries from hazardous manual tasks, especially lifting and moving sheep. These include strains and sprains, broken bones, degenerative joint and muscle damage and back injury
  • exposure to hazardous chemicals during jetting, dipping and drenching
  • diseases that can be passed from sheep to humans, such as Q fever, Campylobacteriosis, scabby mouth, Yersinia, Salmonella, Listeriosis, Anthrax and hydatid tapeworms.

How do I manage the risks?

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

Employers can manage sheep handling and shearing risks by doing a risk assessment, putting suitable control measures in place, and maintaining and reviewing the control measures. For more information on risk management refer to How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB) .

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. Use equipment properly, follow safe work policies and procedures, and attend training.

For businesses

For employers or persons conducting a business or undertaking (PCBU), you have a legal responsibility to manage sheep handling and shearing 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 (WHS) 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 in the risk management process is to identify the hazards. This means finding all the relevant things and situations that may contribute to an incident.

Inspect the workplace

Look at:

  • how tasks are done
  • how work is designed and managed
  • the tools, equipment and objects being used
  • 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.

Review information already available

You can read the acts and regulations, codes of practice, and standards relating to animal handling and sheep handling and shearing.

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

Read information 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.

Once you’ve identified possible risks, put control measures in place. 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
  • using engineering controls or equipment.

Control measures

Along with control measures common to all animal handling, below are some key control measures when handling and shearing sheep:

  • Be careful around rams as they can be aggressive. When working rams in a race make sure you are protected from the rams behind you. Use a well-positioned drop gate to decrease the risk.
  • When you are restraining lambs by hand, hold them firmly. If you can, use a cradle. Catchers should wear protective gloves.
  • Set up a system along the cradles so that operators are not cut, sprayed with chemicals or jabbed with a needle.
  • Sterilise all knives, shears and ear pliers. Make sure operators know and observe hygiene practices.
  • Secure shearing equipment. Make sure that belt drives and grinders are properly guarded.
  • Plan the muster carefully, as sheep movement is affected by wind direction and location of water. Allow plenty of time for the muster so you don’t have to rush the sheep. Communicate the plan to all workers involved.
  • Use dogs to control the mob. Make sure operators can use off-road bikes. Check that brakes and suspensions are regularly maintained. Wear a helmet and appropriate protective equipment. If using horses, make sure the riders are competent.
  • Keep the board clean and dry. Keep shed hands off the board and clear of the shearers unless they’re needed. Keep dogs clear of the work area when they’re not being used. Don’t tie dogs in a place where workers can trip over them or their leashes.
  • Manage lighting, ventilation and noise in sheds. If you have electricity, fit electric motors to the wool press to decrease air and noise pollution.
  • Check fire-safety equipment. Make sure the correct fire-fighting equipment is installed in sheds and quarters and that it’s working properly.
  • Manage sheep movement. Allow sheep to empty out in the holding yard before moving into the shed.
  • Lift wool bales safely. Use mechanical aids to move bales whenever possible or get help to lift, stack or load bales. Good work design prevents injuries.

Risk management is an ongoing process. You should review your control measures regularly, not just when something goes wrong.

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.

How to manage work health and safety risks code of practice 2021 (PDF, 0.65 MB) includes a list of questions to help you identify any issues.