Wool Processing

SafeWork NSW and NSW Farmers called out on shearing safety

Terry Sim, May 21, 2021

SCAA secretary Jason Letchford.

NEW South Wale’s work safety regulator and NSW Farmers will have “blood on their hands” if a wool shed worker dies from shearing machine ‘lock-up’, according to a national shearing industry leader.

New South Wales shearing contractor Steve Mudford was recently fined $16,500 and outlayed court costs of $40,000 after a shed visitor, rousabout Casey Barnes, was scalped by the overhead shaft driving shearing machines.

However, SafeWork NSW chose not to pursue the shed owner and there has been no legislated changes to shearing machine requirements, despite the work safety regulator and the state’s peak farmer body NSW farmers recognising that safety is a shared responsibility.

This has left the Shearing Contractors Association of Australia (SCAA) frustrated about the attitudes of SafeWork NSW and NSW Farmers on shearing machine safety, as neither has shown a willingness to support the banning of overhead shaft-driven shearing equipment or the mandating of anti-lock mechanisms in equipment. Anti-lock or cut-out mechanisms stop shearing machinery, potentially avoiding serious accidents.

During the recent revision of SafeWork NSW’s ‘Shared responsibilities in shearing document’, SCAA secretary Jason Letchford said the association requested inclusion of the words: ‘Shearing plant must be fully guarded and must include anti-lock technology that completely stops the shearing plant’ . However, the final document said only that the shared obligation of farmers and contractors to ensure the workplace is safe, in practical terms means that a wool shed’s fixtures, fittings and plant are without risks to the health and safety of any person (including proper maintenance of plant) – for example:

“overhead gear is either guarded to comply with Australian Standards or decommissioned in lieu of electric plant, which preferably includes anti-lock technology.”

Industry needs to fix the problem or face tragedy

Mr Letchford believes the industry, regulator and the farmer body needed to fix the problem or face another tragedy.

“Further to this, NSW Farmers, like SafeWork, will have ‘blood on their hands’ if someone does die from ‘lock-up’.

“Like the SCAA, NSW Farmers was consulted in the drafting of the SafeWork document ‘Shared responsibilities in shearing’ and have pushed SafeWork to not support the call to make it ‘mandatory’ for all shearing (in NSW), to be done on anti-lock shearing gear,” he said.

“When someone is killed by old equipment, the farmer and the shearing contractor will be pursued by SafeWork, the same as (Steve) Mudford was and they will successfully convict them of failing in their duty to look after their workers.”

Mr Letchford said banning overhead shaft-driven machinery or mandating anti-lock mechanisms would be a “once-in-a-generation change.”

“The equipment costs ‘pennies’ in comparison to other farm equipment and the income generation these machine provide.

“It’s not too late for famers and the regulators to support this change before another tragedy.”

SafeWork NSW constantly updating its policies

Sheep Central asked SafeWork NSW what it had done to ensure further shearing accidents with overhead shaft driven machinery did not occur, if it is concerned it would be seen as having ‘blood on its hands’ if someone dies as a result of an accident using such equipment or machines without ‘anti-lock’ mechanisms, and in such a case would the regulator pursue the contractor and shed owner. The body was also asked why it did not support calls for the banning of overhead shaft-driven shearing machines or for all sheep shearing gear in NSW to be equipped with anti-lock mechanisms.

An unidentified SafeWork NSW spokesperson said only that: “SafeWork NSW constantly updates its policies and guidance in relation to workplace safety, and reviews current practices based on industry consultation, learnings from incidents, injury data and a range of other factors.”

NSW Farmers is waiting on updated shearing safety guidelines

A NSW Farmers spokesperson said the association is aware that SafeWork NSW is reviewing its shearing safety guidelines.

“NSW Farmers was consulted early on in the process, which has been more than a year, and has not seen an updated version as yet.

“With regards to the shared responsibilities document, NSW Farmers was not specifically consulted about it; however, the principles of the article accord with the WHS laws,” the spokesperson said.

The spokesperson said NSW Farmers has not lobbied SafeWork NSW not to support the mandatory uptake of ‘anti-lock’ shearing equipment in NSW sheds.

As to whether NSW Farmers’s stance on banning overhead shaft-driven gear or mandating anti-lock mechanisms, the spokesperson said while the body does not have policies specifically addressing the issue of anti-lock shearing gear and overhead shaft driven shearing gear, “NSW Farmers does have a clear policy to encourage the adoption of best practice shearing shed facilities.”

“NSW Farmers has been calling for a rebate to specifically target shearing safety to assist the industry in expediting transition to newer and safer shearing equipment as part of pre-budget submissions for the State Budget in the last two years.”

The spokesperson would not respond to the claim that NSW Farmers would have ‘blood’ on its hands if another accident occurred, but said the association has supported the roll-out of the SafeSheds program.

“This article was in the March/April edition of The Farmer magazine- https://thefarmermagazine.com.au/shearing-reforms-attracting-new-workers/, he said.

NSW Farmers might face legal action

Mr Letchford said SafeWork NSW has been attempting to review and update shearing safety guidelines (lasted updated 2001) for many years.

“Every few years since 2010, they say they are in the process of updating, but it is never completed.”

Mr Letchford said when someone is maimed or killed by shearing equipment that does not have the latest anti-lock technology, the farmer and the employer — who may be the same person — will be liable in exactly the same way as Steve Mudford was with overhead gear.

“It would be fitting for that farmer or employer to sue NSW Farmers for misleading them into thinking that it is OK not to have equipment that can be rented for $20 a day and save someone’s life.

“It’s akin to telling their members that it’s OK to have a tractor without ‘roll-over protection’ or a farm vehicle without a seat belt,” he said.

“It’s ludicrous and shows a sense of entitlement that they won’t be told what to do, whereas every other industry is accepting of safety as the number one priority.”


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  1. William Toon, May 29, 2021

    Safety should be the number one priority for all concerned, no excuses.
    Don’t wait to change before someone is killed.

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