Shearing contractors seek support for safety changes

Terry Sim, May 26, 2021

SCAA secretary Jason Letchford.

AUSTRALIA’S peak shearing contractor body will petition industry support for state regulators to mandate the national use of anti-lock technology in wool sheds.

Shearing Contractors Association of Australian secretary Jason Letchford said the petition will call for the prohibition by state work safety regulators of shearing equipment that isn’t fully guarded and equipped with anti-lock technology.

“We are going to go to industry and get some signatures, and see what industry comes back with.”

Anti-lock technology is fitted to many modern shearing machines and effectively stops the equipment if the machine comes up against any obstruction.

The SCAA action follows what Mr Letchford has labelled as “pathetic” responses to association calls for stronger action against the use of older shearing machines without anti-lock technology, including unguarded overhead shaft-driven gear, similar to that which scalped New South Wales woman Casey Barnes in 2017.

New South Wales shearing contractor Steve Mudford was recently fined $16,500 in the Downing Centre Local Court in Sydney and outlayed court costs of $40,000, after Ms Barnes visited the shed and was scalped by the overhead shaft driving shearing machines, while she was tramping wool.

Mr Letchford said the SCAA will call on workplace regulators to prohibit shearing equipment that isn’t fully guarded or equipped with the latest anti-lock technology. He said the use of shearing equipment without anti-lock technology has proven to be fatal, with a South Australian man dying in 2011 after a handpiece struck him in the neck.

When Sheep Central recently asked SafeWork NSW what it had done to ensure further shearing accidents with overhead shaft driven machinery did not occur and why it did not support calls for the banning of overhead shaft-driven shearing machines or the mandating of anti-lock mechanisms, an unidentified SafeWork NSW spokesperson said: “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.”

However, in contradiction of this statement, and despite an SCAA request that a revised SafeWork NSW document ‘Shared responsibilities in shearing’ document stipulate ‘shearing plant must be fully guarded and must include anti-lock technology that completely stops the shearing plant’, the final version stipulated that overhead gear be either guarded to comply with Australian Standards or decommissioned in lieu of electric plant, “which preferably includes anti-lock technology.”

Mr Letchford said the revised ‘Shared responsibilities in shearing equipment’ was not consistent with SafeWork NSW’s claim that it updates its workplace safety policies, guidance and current practices based on industry consultation, learnings from incidents and injury data.

“That’s not adhering to their policy at all.

“We are the industry and we could be pushing back on them telling us what to do, but we are saying to them ‘you are not setting the bar high enough’.”

Although SafeWork NSW chose not to pursue the owner of the wool shed in which Casey Barnes was injured, Mr Letchford said NSW Farmers should be advising its members that they could be sued and have criminal records if they are not using anti-lock equipment if someone is injured.

“Because that is what happened to Mudford.”

Mr Letchford said SafeWork NSW focused on why Mr Mudford was not using fully guarded anti-lock equipped shearing machines – available for hire at about $20 a day — when it prosecuted him in the recent court case.

“There is no answer for that and that is the basis that he was convicted on.”

NSW Farmers’ response ‘pathetic’ – SCAA

NSW Farmers has said it does not have policies specifically addressing the issue of anti-lock shearing gear and overhead shaft driven shearing gear, but does have a clear policy to encourage the adoption of best practice shearing shed facilities. NSW Farmers has also said it also supported the roll out of the SafeSheds program and had called for a State government rebate in successive budgets to assist the industry transition to newer and safer shearing equipment.

“Politically it’s a good line, but it’s pathetic isn’t?” Mr Letchford said.

He queried why NSW Farmers would not recommend that sheep producers purchase anti-lock equipped shearing machines for $1500-$2000 each to avoid injuries and potentially save someone’s life and pointed out that employers could be fined up to $300,000 if found to have to have contributed to a worker’s injury or death.

Mr Letchford said the results of the petition would be used to lobby each state work safety regulator to effect change by prohibit the use of any shearing equipment that is not fully guarded and contains anti-lock technology.


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  1. Peter Small, May 28, 2021

    And yes Donald, also corruption. And sadly it’s not confined to NSW agri-politicians.

  2. Donald Cameron, May 28, 2021

    It appears NSW gets the agri-politicians it deserves. When we replaced ours with anti-lock machines they were about $1500 each, so hardly a deal breaker. Besides being safer, shearers also love them as their finer-splined gears are softer on handpieces, thereby extending the life of the shearer’s expensive handpiece.

    Re NSW agri-politicians: it’s time the media trawled through the last decade or two’s pantheon of heroes. There is plenty of material for a jaw-dropping exposé of greed, gluttony and worse.

  3. Peter Small, May 26, 2021

    Come on NSW Farmers, are you really dinkum about asking for a government subsidy for safety equipment? You already get a 100 percent tax deduction. Have you no pride left?

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