PROGRESS has been made on a long-standing push to standardise safety when loading or unloading stock, with hopes a national standard could be in place within 24 months.
Representatives from the red meat and transport industries met with Standards Australia last month in the first step towards developing a national standard - AS5340 - for safe design of livestock loading ramps and forcing yards.
Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association vice president John Beer has welcomed this progress, after many years of campaigning for change.
He said transporters had been asking for a standard for at least two decades but the campaign began in earnest in 2013, following an inquest into the death of livestock carrier Chad Lynch, who died after a ramp hoist failed.
Victorian Coroner Rosemary Carlin recommended Standards Australia consult with relevant stakeholders about establishing a single Australian Standard applicable to the construction, inspection and maintenance of livestock ramps.
Mr Beer said there needed to be a consistent standard about what safety requirements were in place to ensure all workers could return home safely.
"In 2019, we've got to be right up with it or the industry is stuck in the past," he said.
"We've got modern, up-to-date trucks but we're working with facilities that were built in the 1950s."
The new standard would include the movement of livestock and the facilities used from the time livestock are drafted into forcing pens, negotiating loading ramps and entering the transporting vehicle - or the opposite when unloading.
It would apply to farms, feedlots, spelling yards, saleyards, import and export terminals and abattoirs.
For the past 18 months, the ALTRA has developed its own guidebook on best practice for loading ramps and forcing yards.
"We've spent a fair bit of time doing that, and it's been hard going, but the biggest problem is, it's just a guide," Mr Beer said.
We've got modern, up-to-date trucks but we're working with facilities that were built in the 1950s.
"There is no enforcement behind a guide but at least it gives an idea of how to fix the problems and can assist in the assessment of existing facilities and aid in the design of new ones."
Mr Beer said the potential danger from poorly designed or constructed loading facilities impacted most people moving livestock but was under-reported.
"They only report the bloke who gets carried away in the helicopter but owner-drivers don't tend to report so there is no data," he said.
Mr Beer said two of the biggest requirements for safe livestock handling was a catwalk along the outside of the ramp and an exit gate at the top of the ramp.
"You've got to be separate from the cattle, that's the main thing," he said.
"People can get caught in forcing yards or on ramps and with exit gate, they've got to clear a six-foot (1.8 metre) fence, maybe multiple times.
"A lot of the driving pool are older people."
RELATED READING:National loading ramp standard on way
Other recommendations in the guide specify a "smooth flow" of livestock, constructing ramps appropriate to species and vehicles, aligning ramps north-south to avoid loading into the sun and minimising noise and visual distractions.
It also specifies adequate overhead lighting for any facilities used at night, use of non-slip, easy clean and non-bruising materials in construction and high standards for any winches for hoisted ramps.
"It's not a lot of money to tidy up these yards," Mr Beer said.
He said ARTASA would also like to see recommendations for people to not load or unload stock alone, so there could be someone in place to raise the alarm if there were injuries.
This has been backed by the Victorian Farmers' Federation.
Mr Beer said poorly designed or lower quality facilities created stress and added to fatigue.
He said any prolonged time spent having to load or unload stock in poorly designed yards added to the working time of drivers.
"If you want animal welfare, you've got to have driver welfare," he said.
Mr Beer said another option for high density facilities, such as heavy use saleyards or abattoirs, was a new style of double-decker unloading ramps.
A prototype pivot access ramp had been installed by ProWay at processor MC Herd at Geelong, Victoria.
Mr Beer said the ramp meant a B-double load of cattle could be unloaded in less than 10 minutes, with no risk to the worker.
A similar, parallel access ramp is being installed at Kilcoy, Queensland, as part of an ARTASA 12-week, opt-in, user-pays trial.
If you want animal welfare, you've got to have driver welfare.
If the model proves viable, the association is hopeful it might encourage other facilities to install the frame.
"I know there is cost but it's cheaper than a worksafe claim," Mr Beer said.
ROUTINE JOB TURNS DANGEROUS FAST
MCARDLE Freight managing director Brian McArdle, Burton, South Australia was unloading cattle at a local saleyards, like he has done for more than 40 years, when an issue with a back gate suddenly turned dangerous.
The cattle had jammed the gate and stopped it opening so he decided to try and force it from within the loading race.
"When a steer came at me, I had nowhere to go," he said.
Mr McArdle said the distance to the closest exit gate, at the bottom of the loading ramp, was too far for him to get to quickly so he took his chances in the crate.
"Had there been an escape route at the top of the race, I could have got away," he said.
"But I had nowhere to go so (the steer) threw me around the back of the crate for a little while."
The incident resulted in a compound fracture of his L1 vertebrae.
"It was a long way walking down the ramp after," he said.
Following the attack, Mr McArdle finished unloading the truck and started to drive home before the pain got too much and he had to pull over and call his wife.
He did not report the incident to any authorities.
Had there been an escape route at the top of the race, I could have got away.
But as a manager of other drivers, Mr McArdle said he was concerned about this happening to others.
"Our biggest worry is safety for our drivers," he said.
He would like to see easy exit gates near the top of the ramp and for drivers to not be forced to load or unload stock on their own.
"If they get knocked over, there is no one to raise the alarm," he said.