Topics explained – Agriculture – Livestock loading & transport

Worker health & safety

The health and safety of livestock transport workers is at risk during the loading, checking and unloading of stock and can result in series injuries or death. Between 2003 and 2015 there were 583 work-related road freight transport fatalities (Safe Work Australia).

High risk situations can also occur on farms and roadsides, saleyards, feedlots, spelling yards, abattoirs, and depots.

All workers must either be trained in or have an adequate understanding of animal behaviour and livestock control procedures. This enables handlers to complete animal husbandry, loading and unloading tasks more quickly and easily, with less risk of injury to both the handler and the animal.

There are several risks associated with the management of livestock that workers often encounter. Such risks occur when:

  • checking the welfare of stock
  • checking stock crates
  • loading and unloading stock
  • handling stock in yards
  • accessing truck cabins
  • carrying out maintenance.

These situations may arise on both farms and roadsides, or at saleyards, feedlots, spelling yards, abattoirs, truck wash-down stations and depots.

Work health and safety responsibilities

Everyone in the workplace has a work health and safety duty.


PCBUs are responsible for ensuring that the health and safety of workers and visitors such as clients and customers are not put at risk.

PCBUs obligations are to

  • identify reasonably foreseeable hazards
  • implement reasonably practicable controls
  • provide information, training and instruction.

Those responsible for implementing safety solutions may include:

  • saleyard owners
  • stockyard owners/operators
  • abattoir operators
  • farmers/primary producers
  • feedlot operators
  • stock selling and buying agents
  • livestock transporters
  • drivers, including owner/drivers
  • employers
  • providers of truck wash-down stations
  • designers, manufacturers and suppliers of yards, ramps and gates (including people who repair or modify equipment).

The health and safety risks associated with livestock transport can be reduced by implementing controls such as:

  • reducing the need for workers to be in the same yard or ramp with livestock
  • safe design, installation and maintenance of livestock yards, ramps and gates at farms, stockyards and abattoirs
  • safe design, selection and maintenance of livestock crates and trailers
  • maintaining all plant and equipment in a safe working condition
  • ensuring transport companies possess drivers with appropriate knowledge and skills in animal husbandry to load and unload livestock
  • installing fall prevention equipment with associated safe work and rescue procedures
  • providing a safe working environment, particularly the separation of people and livestock
  • using safe workplace practices
  • consulting with workers when identifying safety risks and prevention measures
  • having an incident/hazard reporting process in place and following up with actions to maintain safety
  • training workers in the use of new or supplied safety equipment
  • using adequate personal protective equipment
  • providing adequate information, training and instruction to workers.

PCBUs must consult and involve workers when identifying and resolving safety issues, as decisions may have safety consequences for them. An incident/injury reporting process must be implemented to enable workers to report any safety issues, hazards and incidents that occur.

Stockyard owners/operators

Stockyard owners and operators (including primary producers and abattoir operators) are responsible for the work health and safety of their own workers, as well as everyone else in the yard. They must ensure that:

  • a safe system of work is in place, including safe animal handling procedures
    • procedures to be developed and adopted in consultation with workers and contractors
  • all plant and equipment is maintained and in a safe working condition
  • a safe working environment is provided, particularly the physical separation of people and livestock
  • information, instruction and training are provided.

To ensure trouble-free loading and unloading of livestock, stockyard owners and operators should ideally provide:

  • ramps designed and built to suit:
    • the type of livestock being handled
    • the type of vehicle being used
    • the fall protection methods used by drivers
  • stairs and walkways with handrails, including along loading races, loading docks and platforms
  • self-latching/slam-shut gates for easy access and escape, and isolation from animal hazards
  • gates that swing freely with the top gudgeon reversed to prevent gates being lifted off
  • lighting positioned to ensure clear vision inside all crates and surrounds
  • tiered gantries with safe access and outlet
  • stockyards designed with good drainage and firm footing to reduce the risk of trips and falls
  • stockyards designed to improve the flow of livestock making the process more productive and efficient
  • the transport operators a photograph of the loading facilities in advance of the trucks arrival.

Drivers & transport

Plan transport routes so that the best roadside sites to conduct stock welfare checks can be used. It’s important to ensure that drivers have a good understanding of how to work safely at roadsides.

When performing roadside inspections, drivers should:

  • ensure that the area is well lit
  • park on level surfaces
  • use traffic control devices
  • be aware of other traffic.

Selling and buying agents

Agents are responsible for ensuring all workers, including their contractors, have:

  • undertaken an induction into the stockyard’s safe working procedures
  • been provided with adequate information, training and instruction.

Worker responsibilities

Workers are reminded of their obligations to:

  • take reasonable care for own health and safety
  • take reasonable care that their acts or omissions don’t affect the health and safety of others
  • comply with reasonable instructions given by the PCBU
  • cooperate with reasonable policies and procedures relating to their health and safety.

Designers, manufacturers and suppliers

Designers, manufacturers and suppliers of yards and loading ramps are responsible for designing safe plant and equipment, which includes purpose-built platforms, walkways, stairways and ladders, separation of workers from livestock, and designed to improve the livestock flow.

Anyone carrying out modifications and retrofitting is also responsible for ensuring the safety of this equipment, and PCBUs must inform, train and instruct workers regarding any changes.

Animal loading and handling

Gentle handling of herd animals (cattle, sheep and goats) benefits both the animals and farm workers.

Distracting and inattentive behaviours while working in close proximity to livestock, including chatting, smoking and using mobile phones, may lead to reduced awareness and a potential increase in the risk of injury.

All workers must have an adequate understanding of animal behaviour and livestock control procedures. All workers must be properly trained in animal husbandry so there is less risk of injury to both the handler and the animal.

Wherever possible, separate workers from livestock.

Loading and unloading

Use transport companies who have drivers with good knowledge and skills in animal husbandry to load and unload livestock.

Before loading, drivers need to undertake a visual check that all ramps and equipment are safe to use.

When loading and unloading livestock check that:

  • reversing alarm is fitted and working
  • mirrors/visual aids are positioned correctly
  • ramps are designed and built to suit:
    • the type of livestock being handled
    • the type of vehicle being used
    • the fall protection methods used by drivers
  • stairs and walkways have handrails along loading races, docks and platforms
  • self-latching or slam-shut gates are designed for ready access and escape, and that they swing freely
  • all areas, crates and surrounds have adequate lighting
  • tiered gantries have safe access and egress
  • there are no gaps between the ramp and truck that workers can fall or escape through.

Stockyards need to have good drainage and a firm footing to reduce the risk of trips and falls.

Workers need to keep a safe distance from livestock and have a planned escape route before getting close to animals. Any animals displaying restless behaviour should be identified and treated with higher level controls.

When unloading is complete, secure all gates.

Loading yards

At the loading yards workers should:

  • check the design and condition of the dock before use
  • inspect the ground surface for hazards
  • check there are no overhead powerlines in the vicinity
  • make sure the area is well lit (if loading or unloading stock at night or early morning)
  • ensure the area is clear of people, mobile plant and equipment.

Loading ramp and race

Loading ramp and race areas should ideally be designed and constructed with:

  • raised catwalks enabling work to be done from outside the race
  • non-slip catwalk surfaces wide enough to walk along freely and safely
  • catwalk handrails of sufficient height and in good condition
  • race and ramp height/width and rail spacings appropriate for the livestock being handled
  • ramps with safe access to prevent falls when opening or closing truck gates.

Receiving yards

At receiving yards check that:

  • the yard location enables safe access (in all weather conditions)
  • the yard design enables a good flow of livestock to/from the truck
  • gates are sound, swing or slide easily, and are capable of being secured in both the open and closed positions.

Fences, gates, raised walkways and ramps

Have escape gateways (400 mm wide) with self-locking gate latches located around the yards. These should be solid and blanked out.

Everyone working at the site needs to know and follow the procedures for using, accessing and securing fences, gates, raised walkways and ramps.

If you carry out modifications and retrofitting you need to inform and train workers appropriately.


Safe systems of work

Implementing controls

The WHS laws require a business or undertaking to do all that is reasonably practicable to eliminate or minimise risks. Consider all possible control measures and make a decision about which control measures are reasonably practicable for the workplace. Deciding what is reasonably practicable includes the availability and suitability of control measures, with a preference for using substitution, isolation or engineering controls to minimise risks before using administrative controls or PPE. Cost may also be relevant, but this can only be considered after all other factors have been taken into account.

Engineering controls

Modifications to the design and layout of livestock yards and ramps can greatly improve the flow of livestock and their behaviour. These changes can also reduce the need for persons to be in with livestock, if people are separated from the livestock then the likelihood of an injury is greatly reduced.

Changes to the design of yards and ramps can also have productivity and efficiency benefits.

Install gate handles and latches with minimal obstructions or protrusions. Gate latches should be positive bolt, slam shut, spring-loaded type, especially in forcing yards. Chain and slot-style latches are more dangerous to operators but are a good addition in some parts of the yards to prevent cattle escapes, for example low pressure areas like holding yards. Ensure latches, bolts and chains on gates are in working order and robust enough to contain livestock.

Consider where gates are placed, where to access the opening mechanisms, can they be opened externally?

Install escape gates, bottom rails no less than 300mm and safety barriers if the separation or people and animals cannot be achieved.

Design ramps with suitable walkways, consider walkways on both sides, have the sides of ramps infilled, ensure easy access to ramp gates from the walkways.

Implement consultation and communication process for the inspecting, maintenance and reporting of hazards concerning the yards and ramps to ensure that yards and ramps are repaired and maintained.

Administration Controls

After implementing higher level controls such as engineering controls, use administrative controls to train workers in livestock handling techniques.

Effective handling techniques are vital to ensuring the safety of livestock handlers working cattle, as well as the welfare of the cattle themselves. Provide workers with clear instructions and expectations relevant to the task and layout of the livestock facilities.

Working alone

If you are working alone, check your communication equipment and follow your usual procedures for working alone.

Refer to Managing the work environment and facilities – Code of Practice

Use of plant and machinery

When anyone is operating plant within a stockyard, it is crucial that they follow all safe work practices. Safe systems of work enable employers, stockyard owners/operators and drivers the opportunity to implement effective preventative measures.

The operator needs to be trained in how to use the item safely, with safety checks and maintenance regularly undertaken. If the plant is unsafe, it must not be operated, and the fault reported.

Managing the risk of falls from height

Everyone, including contractors, working at heights must:

  • follow agreed procedures as per their training
  • check the condition of any fall prevention equipment before starting work
  • assess the weather conditions before starting work.

There are ways to reduce the risk from falling from heights through a combination of solutions such as:

  • using crates which are designed, manufactured and sold with worker fall prevention features integrated and installed
  • ensuring any contract requires the transport operator to use fall prevention equipment during the consignment period
  • engaging transport operators who have eliminated the need to work at heights, such as drivers who work from the ground or a solid construction.

People should not walk on top of livestock crates unless there is a fall prevention system in place, such as a walkway with pop-up guardrails.

Existing vehicles can be retrofitted by using the following options (in descending order of preference):

  • install engineered improvements so that work can be done from ground level such as remote control cattle crates
  • install platforms or walkways with protective handrails or side-rails
  • install an inertia reel system (a fall restraint system)
  • install fall arrest equipment with associated safe work and rescue procedures
  • install fixed ladders
  • use portable ladders as required.

Further information

Livestock handling guidelines

National Guidelines for Ramps and Forcing Yards, Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association

Guide to managing risks in cattle handling, Safe Work Australia

Managing the Risk of Falls at Workplaces – Code of Practice

Managing the Risk of Plant in the Workplace – Code of Practice

How to Manage Work Health and Safety Risks – Code of Practice

Work Health and Safety Consultation, Co-operation and Co-ordination – Code of Practice