AUSTRALIA’S sheep shearers and wool handlers have been warned to observe COVID-19 restrictions after industry workers made contact with people who had tested positive to the coronavirus or were from affected families.
Shearing Contractors Association of Australia president Michael Schofield today the industry will only be able to continue to operate through the COVID-19 crisis if every individual mad their best efforts to stay distanced, maintain ‘over the top’ levels of hygiene and avoid contact with others and their equipment.
Last week the SCAA worked with other industry peak bodies such as WoolProducers Australia, the Australian Wool Exchange, Sheep Producers Australia, the Western Australian Shearing Industry Association and the Australian Workers Union, to assemble a guidelines for the industry to operate under, in these current circumstances.
“The uptake of these procedures has been tremendous with no reports of any shearing operations not making their best endeavours to implement these procedures immediately.
“Wool growers have been highly supportive and are doing their best to ensure safety of workers is paramount,” Mr Schofield said.
“That said, it has come to our attention, that individuals are having significant ‘lapses’ in being able to maintain these distancing and hygiene practices.
“From the moment they wake up, through to the time that they go to bed each day, all of us need to be mindful of how we interact,” Mr Schofield said.
“It is one thing for employers to set-up systems and work procedures that comply with the new standards, however the strength of the system is only as good as the weakest point so.
“Therefore, when you hear of people sharing cigarettes, lighters, teaspoons at smoko, going home and visiting a mate on the way, are all things that will bring the industry unstuck,” he said.
“We have already seen ‘near misses’ in Hay this week and in parts of South Australia last week.”
SCAA secretary Jason Letchford said the ‘near misses’ included a case in New South Wales where a shearing worker made contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case, but the worker and their contractor’s team were subsequently tested negative. In another case, a team worker in South Australia whose family member was in contact with an affected family was also tested for a negative result.
The SCAA said both instances involved a shearing worker socializing or similar, with a person from their country town, who had tested positive to COVID-19. As a result, the equivalent of four shearing teams had to get tested and isolate until the test result was known in 5-7days.
Mr Schofield said the shearing and wool industry is quite concerned with ensuring they are regarded as an essential service.
“But the more important aspect that we have overlooked up until now, (is that) we will not be able to work for weeks at a time, if just one member of a shearing team has been in contact with the virus directly or indirectly.”
Mr Schofield also reminded industry workers that there is no limit to how many times this winter and beyond, that a shearing team might have to stop and be isolated, before a vaccine is on the market.
“This inconvenience and economic cost are not even accounting for the stress of contracting it and life-threatening potential this virus will have on families and communities, if we all don’t stay mindful,” he said.
Click here for COVID-19 shearing protocol details.