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Stockyard design

Stockyards are equipment used in stock handling, but if poorly designed or maintained can increase the risk of injury to both handlers and stock. Good stockyard design and maintenance can help minimise the risks.

What do we mean by stockyard design?

Stockyards are large pens in which livestock are received, kept temporarily, and sorted. Other activities carried out in stockyards can include:

Good stockyard design and maintenance helps to make animal handling safer and more humane. It also keeps workers safe and improves productivity.

Good stockyards include features that:

  • take advantage of livestock’s natural circling instinct and milling behaviour
  • always let the livestock think they are escaping
  • don’t make the stock run towards threatening and foreign things
  • avoid sharp corners and dead ends
  • include new technologies such as RFID scanning and weighing, and automated drafting.

What are the risks of poor stockyard design?

New stockyards require a large investment. The site you choose for the yards, the yard design, and the materials used for construction all contribute to the safety of workers and livestock, yard efficiencies, and ongoing maintenance requirements and costs. So, it’s important to make good choices and decisions from the very beginning.

Some of the risks associated with poor stockyard design include:

  • more worker injuries, including limb fractures, contusions, abrasions, crush injuries
  • more worker deaths
  • less efficiencies in livestock handling and a need for more workers
  • more stress and bruising on stock, and more stock injuries
  • delayed animal husbandry and restrictions on more intensive husbandry
  • reduced animal welfare.

How do I manage the risks?

Workers and management can work together to reduce the risks of stockyard design.

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 (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 is to identify the hazards.

Ask yourself:

  • Is the stockyard fit for purpose?
  • Are workers trained in managing stock in stockyards?
  • Are the stockyards in need of maintenance?

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 and something organised 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) .

Further ways to control the risks centre on stockyard planning and design. You should consider:

  • the current and future workloads of the stockyards
  • their flexibility to cater for various stock handling operations
  • whether they offer sufficient clear space ahead of livestock
  • how to reduce distractions that draw livestock through yards and races
  • the installation of self-latching gates, and ready access and escape points
  • the slope of the site
  • the floor or ground surface, and the use of surfaces that reduce the risk of trips and falls
  • access to the stockyards, including the flow of livestock trucks and farm utes, as much as how livestock and workers will access the yards
  • proximity to powerlines, other structures, and houses
  • yard construction materials – whether the stockyard is manufactured from steel or timber will largely depend upon available materials, cost, ease of construction, access to labour, and ongoing maintenance; ensure gate latches, hand and knee rails, and kick boards meet Australian Standards.

Risks can be further controlled through timely stockyard maintenance, including.

  • fixing protruding nails, bolts, wire, broken rails
  • ensuring that gates swing freely
  • keeping the crush and bail head in good working order.

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.

Use the following checklist to help you to review the risks.

Are receiving yards big enough for expected mob sizes?   
Are there any blind spots in the yards which could cause stock to baulk?   
Are all gates in good working order, swing clear of the ground, and able to be secured while both open and closed?   
Are gate latches in good working order, mounted at an appropriate height, and designed so they don't cause pinching or crushing?   
Are there any projecting bolts, nails, or wire that could cause injury to workers or stock?   
Are there any uneven or boggy areas that could cause slips or trips?   
Are there escape routes or safe areas for workers in the drafting and forcing yards?   
Does the gate into the round yard/forcing pens swing easily and can be secured quickly?   
Is the yard and appropriate size for the classes of stock being handled?   
Does the rail spacing allow safe access to animals for tasks to be undertaken such as vaccinating?   
Are the race and gate caps secure and at a safe working height so as not to interfere with handling operations?   
Are all sliding gates sound, easily operated, and capable of being secured so that they will not open if kicked or struck?   
Do sliding gates have handles and guards to prevent the operators hand entering any gaps between the slide gates an support posts, which could be nip or crush points?   
Are there any excessive gaps between the slide gates and support posts which could be crush points?   
Is there safe access to the work area to remove animals that might go down or become jammed?   
Does the ramp have an apron of 1–1.5 metres at the end to allow the opening and closing of truck gates?   
Is there a sliding gate at the top of the ramp that can be accessed safely to secure animals on the truck once it is loaded?   
Does the ramp have a catwalk of 1–1.5 metres minimum width on at least one side of the ramp?   
Are watering points and troughs in sound order and positioned where they don't pose a trip, slip, or fall hazard?   
Are there options for dust control including water for sprinkler or irrigation systems?   
Are water pipes buried, or placed overhead or along railing systems so as not to create a trip hazard?