Shearing workers get COVID-19 warning after ‘near-misses’

Sheep Central, April 6, 2020

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.


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  1. Mark Bailey, April 9, 2020

    I’m a shearer and interested in our ‘working’ outcomes. Have shearers/contractors and all contractor employees been regarded as essential workers? Mr Schofield’s comments in the ‘near misses’ article suggest we aren’t. It seems to me that if we aren’t, and there had been a bad outcome with the situation in Hay (for example) this week, then all contractors will be shut down if we get an unfavourable result in the future. If for example, someone catches coronavirus in a supermarket, they won’t shut all supermarkets down because they can’t. People need to eat and supermarket employees have essential worker status. I don’t think authorities will go easy on the shearing industry if we are caught out, especially when an employee visiting someone infected with COVID 19 on the way home from work is infected. It is interesting to note that wool auctions are regarded as an essential service though. I don’t know how they are going to have a wool auction without shearing contractors? Good luck everyone.

  2. J. Southwell, April 7, 2020

    The protocols disseminated throughout the industry cannot be safely adhered to while there is no designated position within a shearing team (contract or private) where someone has the authority to supervise compliance. Drastic times call for drastic measures, and it is incumbent on stakeholders to perhaps create a temporary position of Health (Covid) Officer. We have fire wardens in other industries, let’s get some sensible action happening in sheds. The wool classer and/or contractor have enough on their hands in a busy shed, owners are also often under the pump. How about some of our levy money or government assistance be provided for these temporary supervisors? The consequence is not just the sheep remaining unshorn, it could well be someone’s, or a member of their family or community’s, life. Full names required in future for reader comments please J. Southwell, as per our long-standing comments policy: Editor

  3. Dave Morrell, April 6, 2020

    Hey people, this is serious stuff. If we don’t adhere to the rules we will all be out of a job. Look after your families first and keep an eye on your mates. You guys are in a great place at the moment to not be affected by this problem. It’s only going to take one stuff-up to stop you all from earning a living.

  4. Anonymous, April 6, 2020

    This post is just blaming the workers. I have been to three properties in the last two weeks and not one had hand sanitizer or paper towels. We all had to wash at one tap and use one toilet. How is that practical? Maybe the question should be: What is more important, keeping the worker’s safe or getting the sheep shorn? How are the wool handlers meant to stay 1.5m away from each other? I mean seriously, the shearer handles the sheep, then shears the wool and therefore is touching and sweating on the wool. The wool handler picks the wool up, throws it on the table, then another wool handler skirts the fleece and the wool classer classes the fleece and puts it in the correct bin. Finally, the presser picks the wool up and puts it in the wool press. So you tell me again how it is meant to work safely?
    Full names required in future for reader comments please Anonymous, as per our long-standing comments policy: Editor

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