Sheep and shearing

Sheep and shearing can create many hazards for farm workers as sheep can be unpredictable.

Safe work practices and good training can avoid many mishaps. A safe working environment can minimise the chances of injury and illness. Badly designed yards and shearing sheds present a range of physical, chemical and biological hazards.

Have a plan when you are working with sheep from mustering to drafting to shearing to returning sheep to paddocks and communicate the plan to all workers involved. Well-designed and well-maintained yards make it a lot safer, not to mention easier, to handle sheep. Ensure your shearing shed is sufficiently lit and ventilated, agricultural and veterinary chemicals are used and stored appropriately, and machinery is safe and well maintained.

Hazards associated with working with sheep include:

  • Mustering with dogs and motorbikes/quadbikes
  • Charging and crushing
  • Dust
  • Zoonosis
  • Trips and falls

Hazards associated with shearing, crutching and treating sheep include:

  • Manual handling causing musculoskeletal injuries i.e. back strain and knee injuries
  • Slips, trips and falls
  • Crushing and foot injuries
  • Noise exposure
  • Chemical exposure and self-vaccination

Recommendations when working with sheep include:

  • Design yards, sheds and races carefully to ensure smooth stock flow to reduce the risk of crushing and collisions with animals.
  • Have a good working knowledge of animal behaviour and a positive attitude towards stock
  • Prepare yards (water down) to minimise dust and wear respiratory protection when needed
  • Always wear a helmet when riding a motorbike/quadbike even if moving slowly
  • Use non-slip surfaces to avoid falls and slips in yards.
  • Make sure safety cut-off switches are installed and working on shearing plant and wool presses.
  • Have guards fitted on shearing equipment, wool presses and grinders.
  • Consider using lift or slide swing gates.
  • Minimise the amount of lifting needed, but if you have to lift a sheep, use your legs, not your back.
  • Ensure correct PPE is used and worn including appropriate footwear
  • Maintain loading ramp and race in good working order
  • If electricity is available, have electric motors fitted to the wool press to reduce air and noise pollution.
  • Avoid back injuries by maintaining good posture and using your legs instead of your back.
  • Ensure workers are sufficiently trained in the task being undertaken
  • Fit emergency control/buttons, ensure all are in working order and are prominently signposted
  • When shearing, keep animals close to your body and when you need to lift them, use your thigh muscles.
  • Consider using sedatives when shearing prime lambs or crossbred sires – consult your vet.
  • Know what to do if a needlestick injury occurs

Find out more about this topic on Better Health Channel

Fast facts:

  • Handling sheep can cause strains, sprains and other injuries.
  • Stay fit to maintain muscle strength and reduce your risk of injury.
  • When you work with rams in a race, always watch the other rams behind you.
  • Make sure all sheep handling areas are safe and train all workers in safe handling practices.

References used for this topic

More information:

Shearing Shed Safety

Worksafe NZ
Safe sheep handling guide

Department of Mines, Industry Regulation & safety (WA)
Safety and health in shearing

SafeWork SA
Farmers’ guidebook to work health and safety

NSW Department of Primary Industries
Best Practice Sheep Handling video

National Centre for Farmer Health
Farmer needlestick injuries

Research & reviews:

Primary Industries Health and Safety Partnership
Woolshed Safety: a practical guide (2016)