OPINION: Dangerous occupation handling livestock

By: John Beer

Farmers are setting the pace in truck-friendly facilities for livestock haulers

OPINION: Dangerous occupation handling livestock
Cattle yards at the Fraser Transport yard in Warwick


October was National Safe Work Month. Well I’m not sure about that, as I haven’t really seen many changes in our industry. The sun comes up and sets each day, but not too much is getting fixed in a hurry.

Two or three years ago, our Livestock & Rural Transporters Association of Victoria (LRTAV) had a meeting with a major saleyard in South Australia to get a refurbishment of their loading ramps. They gave us a timeline of six months.

So far it’s only taken about 18 months and an operator getting hurt. But a new CEO is on the scene and has promised to get the facility up to scratch by November. Let’s hope it’s the start of a new era.

One thing I want to say, without hopefully getting in the proverbial, is that the WorkSafe regulators in all states don’t seem to know much about our industry and don’t really have any technical specialists or inspectors who can load and unload livestock.

 Read about the LRTAV's issues in South Australia, here

It would be such a positive thing for them to hire an expert advisor who could actually check that fixes or new-builds are up to scratch. It takes expertise to see the problems with loading ramps and gates, shiny isn’t always right because it’s new.

Fatality risks

New South Wales lost a truck driver recently, loading livestock out of a rural farm ramp. Unfortunately there are still many operators and drivers and stock handlers getting hurt or having near misses.

We never want to see a fatality but the risks are high in this game. Animals alone are risk magnets but couple that with a broken latch or a ramp without an escape gate or safety gate on end, and you’ve just stepped a bit closer to the danger zone.

The LRTAV held its conference in August and one of our speakers was Senator Glenn Sterle. I’ve been to two industry forums in Canberra and I’m glad to see that he has been successful in getting a Senate Inquiry into Transport.

I realise that he is a Labor Senator and so isn’t speaking for the government, but he is trying to have a crack at asking the important questions. He has made a real effort to get out to operators and meetings and speak to real people.

The cross-bench Senators helped get the Senate Inquiry across the line and I think it’s a bit ironic because it was the cross-bench that helped get rid of the Road Safety Remuneration Tribunal (RSRT) in 2016.

I think we are past the RSRT, or I hope so. Let’s talk about all the things we agree on: like more parking bays, more truck washes, fixing timeslot waits, ensure access for trucks into towns, controlling the costs of tolls and road user fees on small business, over regulation and the burden of bureaucracy.

Train car drivers properly to drive around us and build decent big roads to accommodate trucks. We don’t need to be preached to or ignored or threatened with technology or more cameras or more regulation and training.

We need existing facilities fixed, and new good ones built. And laws that are practical, sensible and enforceable designed to keep people working if they try to comply. And when you build tunnels, make sure they fit 4.6m trailers with live loads!

What we need is Liberal, Labor, independents … all the parties to work together and be bipartisan about fixing transport. There is no argument, there is much to fix and everyone is sick of our industry being used for media fodder or photo opportunities.

If safety is the most important thing then it must be compulsory to work together when there is an opportunity to save lives and make small business and big business thrive. We all eat, we all wear clothes, we all drive cars and have families who travel in cars. Let’s see transport as important, worthy of supporting and respecting. Let’s make fixing transport off limits for political stunts and vote buying and cheap point scoring.

On the nose

Another issue in rural and livestock transport is the number of saleyards that are going private or being leased out.

In my opinion it’s a good excuse for doing nothing to improve safety or accountability. And the standard of toilet facilities in rural NSW is pretty average in some places – well most are best avoided in warm weather because the stench will knock you out. These places where septic water is being used to flush toilets, an old fashioned drop box would be less smelly.

I’d like to encourage drivers that go to good properties and farms with decent ramps and yards to take a photo and share it online and on social media. In Victoria, I will give a big shout out to the Victorian Farmers Federation, especially livestock president Leonard Vallance.

His organisation is working really hard and with us to help educate farmers and encourage good facilities. We want to show people that many farmers are doing a great job and that big commercial facilities where thousands of animals move through every week should be able to do the same.

Let’s encourage and celebrate ordinary people having a real go to make things better, and show government and big business how it’s done.

John Beer is president of the Livestock & Rural Transporters Association of Victoria


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