Safety on outback stations – a snapshot of the Northern Territory’s cattle industry

Safety on outback stations – a snapshot of the Northern Territory’s cattle industry


(GUITAR PLAYS CAREFREE MELODY) The cattle industry has
a significant economic impact throughout
the Northern Territory. The industry was one of the first
established industries in the Territory, and is made up of a mix of
long-established family stations through to large
corporate organisations that operate on several
pastoral leases at a time. Unlike any other industry, the cattle industry has a footprint covering around 45%
of the Territory’s total land area. It is an industry providing
significant employment opportunities for regional and remote areas
of the NT. Nationally, agriculture,
as a broad industry group, has been identified
as a priority industry due to the high numbers
and rates of injury and to the hazardous nature
of the work. NT WorkSafe has commenced a campaign
to assist station owners to reduce the frequency of injuries
in the industry. From the stations visited so far, the industry has demonstrated
awareness and commitment to work health and safety. This snapshot provides an overview
of two station managers on the hazards facing the industry
in the Territory and their interaction
with NT WorkSafe. BADEN CRITTLE: I’m Baden Crittle. Station manager at Tipperary,
with AA Company, and been with them for… Been here for six months,
and been with AA for five years. I started out as anyone,
as a station hand on a property. I’ve been through a few
different areas of the industry. As I said, I’ve been into the part,
tanning hides and that sort of thing, in that sort of area. Building machinery and that
for the agricultural industry, and moving through
onto a head stockman role, overseer, and a station manager. The opportunity was given to me as a
station manager in Central Queensland on a smaller property, to move to the bigger property, and really go forward in my career
and take on a bigger role. AA has at least 12 properties
in the Northern Territory, from Brunette on the Barkly,
right up to the Darwin region here, and obviously the abattoir
just out of Darwin. We are a vertically integrated cattle
supplier, into the beef industry. We obviously
have a lot of station managers, so we, collectively, between us, there would be hundreds of years
of experience between all the station managers, the general managers
that have been in the business, and right up to the CEO. Turn-off here, so, live export was probably
one of the main ones last year. This year, we’re just turning off
weaners to Brunettes, so, this year, we’ll probably turn off 8,000-10,000
weaners down to Brunette, where they’ll background
on the lakes of Brunette. So, yeah, it is very vital
that our staff are trained and manage the cattle
in a safe manner. I think, going into the company
side of things, you focus on safety. We want to create a safety culture,
and that’s from the ground up. So our staff telling us
what they think, what is the risk, what is the hazards, and they have the opportunity
to voice that to their manager, or the next-in-line manager. And that comes through
to the station manager and onto the GMs and onto the board. The board obviously
takes it very seriously and they are implementing things
for us, the station managers, and we communicate down,
but we also, from a site perspective, we want the communication to come up
from the guys on the ground, the station hands to tell us. Right at the beginning, doesn’t matter what AA Co
property you’re on, you do an on-boarding program
the moment they sign up, so that will start a week before
they actually arrive at the station. We spend three or four days
with them, we’ll go right through
all the safe working procedures and everything that we have. We’ll actually take them to the yards
and we’ll work them with the cattle. We’ll spend a day on the horses,
we’ll shoe horses, and we’ll do
the quad bike assessments and the motorbike assessments, and we’ll have all that ticked off, and we’ll have them assessed
in the first week. And then we work through the training
and what we need to go forward with. We go through that
first initial assessment, we will set a review date on that. That’s done by myself,
or the operations manager. I made a very apparent point of, we will talk about safety and
we will have toolbox talks weekly. So that’s the head stockman
to his staff, and that’s on an issue
that I’ve risen, or something that I’ve seen,
as the manager, that I want dealt with the, to something one of the station staff
have actually brought to me and said, “Look, I need this communicated up.” Toolbox talks
go up to a safety meeting that we will generally have
once a month. And then we have a bigger, broader… You know, with 27 staff, we have a full safety meeting
every three months. I think outside the box. I’m only young,
and I look for things. Since my management here, I’ve identified a few areas
that I need to work on. This year, I’m offering
a safety incentive to the staff, so if they come to me
with near-misses, any incidents and anything
that they want to bring forward, there is an initiative there
for them. We understand the policies and
procedures coming from NT WorkSafe and we’re identifying the issues
and seeking ways to limit them. Mainly, and this is what
we’ve identified, with AA Co, is the cattle, the horses
and the motorbikes and the mustering as our main areas, but we certainly don’t forget
about the mechanics – the cook, the gardener,
the maintenance manager. They’re all involved
in what we do here for safety. We have the low-stress stock handling that all station staff here
have been through, and that is something that everyone
is aware of and does very well. When you’re talking about
the weaners, we handle the weaners
with low stress, and we keep them heifers. They come back next year
as joiner heifers, so they’ve been handled properly. They come back the next year
as a wet cow. Because they have been through the
yards properly, low-stress handling. The staff know
how to handle them properly because we put them through
the low-stress handling schools. But does it actually stop incidences when you’re working with
a live animal – it would be very hard to say,
well, just that alone, and a set of standards alone,
would work in every case. We have a cattle-handling procedure. We go through it with them – how to shut the gates properly,
how to yard up properly and all that. That is something we do
and we tick off, and all our staff are aware
of what our risks and hazards are involved around the cattle
and around the cattle yards. Back, back, back. So this is where we go back… We did need to get the training
and the horsemanship skills to a better level here at Tipperary. We felt we had the expertise
to do it, instead of getting someone external
and paying for that. We felt we had the expertise
and we’d share that with our staff. So we went from first round
to young green riders. All the staff have gone from that,
from that level to the next level. I’ve initiated this year
that we’ve bought a new quad bike, and it’s speed limited to 35km/h. They do have rollover
protection systems on them. I’ve made a conscious decision that myself, the operations manager
and the head stockmens are the only ones allowed
to muster on quad bikes. Other staff are allowed
to fence on them. AA Co policy is that all riders
of quad bikes and two-wheelers have to have a helmet on. They are assessed and
they are reassessed every six months. To get their attitude right
on a quad bike is what I am after. But part of it is slowing
the bikes down and the training. And we haven’t had a quad bike
incident this year. Mustering out in a lot of thick scrub
country and in a remote area, I’ve implemented GPS units
that actually – it uses two ways on GPS,
if they get lost. Something happens,
they fall off a horse, they press a button on the GPS
and we know their exact location. Definitely, retention is one of the
biggest things we’re identifying and we’re working with at AA Co. Obviously, we keep someone here
understands the property and he understands our policies
with the motorbikes and horses, all that’s at a level
that we want them to be at. To keep them here,
we are looking at offering incentives and getting that retention rate because the cattle industry
and, in general, the ag industry is an industry that can only
keep people for one year, two years. I have a budget and I have to report to
general managers on what my budget is and what I put my money into. But looking at the safety side
of things, there’s things
that you don’t compromise. You measure, what is it going to save
me in lost time, staff incidents, all that sort of stuff. But when you look outside this box
at a few things, you weigh up your options and most of the time it’ll tell you
you’re better off doing it no matter what the cost is. NT WorkSafe coming up a month ago. I found it very interactive,
very positive, so it wasn’t about
what we were doing wrong, it was just about identifying things,
looking at areas that we can work on. The positive for me
was it was just an open discussion. Some of the issues that were raised, just minor ones that was
just off-the-cuff conversation. I’ve gone and addressed them and I think it’s that
outsider’s perspective, that second set of eyes,
that just shows you, “Look, this is something
that you could work with.” The regulations and that,
do I fully understand all of them? We have people that do that for me. As a manager for AA Co,
I have someone that does that for me. But on the ground, the helping and the communication
from NT WorkSafe is what we need. While we may not always be able to get out there to assist
the guys on the ground and have a look and that
at their location, we are still contactable via phone and obviously,
we’ve got email, website as well. A lot of information on the website
that can assist stations and that, but, by all means,
they can give NT WorkSafe a call and ask to speak to an inspector, and we will provide whatever we can
to assist business and better understanding
of work health and safety. CAMERON KRUCKOW:
My name’s Cameron Kruckow. I am the manager
at Manbulloo station. I’ve been with CPC
for about 13 years. Growing my role through the ranks,
starting as a first year jackaroo through to head stockman,
and becoming an overseer, now station manager
here at Manbulloo. Previously to that, five years
before, I ran a stock campy. I was the head stockman
for 2.5 years. I came across here when I was 17. Running away from home
and wanting to get into the industry. That’s all I know,
all I want to ever do. Consolidated Pastoral Company
has 17 places across Australia, through the Territory,
the Kimberley region and WA, and through Central Queensland
and in North Queensland. Its operations are cattle to export
to Indonesia from Wyndham and Darwin. And then domestic markets
through Queensland. Manbulloo’s part in CPC – historically, it was CPC,
it’s just been a breeding facility. But in the last couple of years,
we’re starting to transition, so that’s a value-adding place. Cattle coming here
to grow value, add kilograms, to then to move them out
over the wet season when there’s a shortage of cattle
to go to market. On Manbulloo, we have 11-13 staff
throughout the year, starting with myself as the manager. Below me, we have a head stockman
and a leading hand, a couple of second years, and a couple of first years to keep fresh blood
coming through all the time. Other stuff we have is a boreman,
a cook – he provides meals,
keeps everyone fed, keeps everyone toeing the line
in the kitchen, keep them on side. My wife,
she’s the administration person, and as well, she also takes
a wider role on in the company as a training coordinator. Our youngest people,
our new recruits each year, they seem to be the ones
getting hurt the most. It’s wider
across the whole industry. I think it’s a little to do with ego,
and straight out of school, getting away from your parents
and getting full of confidence, showing off in front of your mates. We, basically, that’s why
we’ve gotta train our people, we’ve gotta to get them going
and get them thinking right, get a culture developed so they’re
thinking about what they’re doing and not just racing into things
and getting themselves hurt. At the end of the day, that’s where
safety really comes into its own. It can be very tough to handle. I was young like that once, myself.
I know exactly what I was like. But basically, I think
you just gotta work through it. Your first couple of weeks
are your hardest. You just gotta work through it
and really get them thinking. All the training we do,
and constant reminders. Toolbox talks each month. And having meetings. Just making them aware, you know. We might have been lucky
and not had any incidents, but making them aware
the incidents that are happening. When the employees first start
with the company, we run them through
an induction process. It takes place out at the Charles
Darwin University, Katherine campus and some of it
on Manbulloo itself, here. At the real college,
they do their first aid certificate, chemical certificates,
some maintenance training. They have qualified mechanics. So they’re experts in their field,
so they provide us with that service. Then horsemanship side of it,
this year we had four groups ranging from beginners
to more experienced riders. They came out here to Manbulloo and then we basically
just stepped them through some basic horse riding. We asked them to do
a self-assessment of their riding, and we had a couple of horses around,
fairly reliable horses. You know they’re quiet and nothing’s
going to go wrong with them. We got them catching them
and riding them, and safely handling. Basically getting them
to take their hips away so the horse is not kicking,
and working with the animal. They do about three days of that. Mind you, they’re not totally right
to go for the job, but they’ve got to start and they
know how to keep themselves safe, so they can improve from there. And with
the low-stress stock handling, they go right down to basic stuff – opening, shutting gates,
moving cattle, making sure cattle have water, and
moving cattle around the yard safely. So everything can be
as safe as possible. We’re trying to basically
develop a culture here of just having an understanding
and an awareness for safety. But because we basically
all live here together, it’s their home
as well as their workplace, I think we’re just trying to develop
an awareness and understanding and start to take responsibility
of where we are, when it comes to safety. It’s a joint effort for all of us, not just me barking down the shops
to my staff. Our risks would be
cattle, horses and motorbikes. After the induction-training program
with horses, myself and my head stockman, we assess our own staff
here on Manbulloo again and just watch them ride
and allocate horses to their level and then just step through
their training. That’s ongoing,
the horsemanship training, all year. It’s a constant improvement. Like, I still have improvement.
We all do. With motorbikes, we do some training
with Charles Darwin with their motorbike experts and then, basically,
they come out here. The only try to allocate one or two
people to ride a motorbike and we step them through,
make sure they’re alright, they know how to ride safely. Motorbikes are big risk because
you can be out in the paddock, riding around a lot of cattle and there’s a log laying in long
grass, and that’s all it takes. You might only be idling along and
you can fall off and injure yourself. So just try and get awareness
into them, just understand that there could
be an issue and try and avoid it. I believe low-stress stock handling
definitely takes away a lot of the risks. It’ll never totally take it away,
because we’re dealing with animals, at the end of the day. They can be unpredictable. I think it’s a huge advantage. Our stock only come in to the yard, some twice a year,
some only once a year. I notice a small percentage
only every couple of years. So using low-stress techniques, as
long as we stick to it all the time, each year, the temperament
of the cattle just improve. They’re used to be handled
in a good way, they can become easier
to put through the yard, become a pleasure
to put through the yard. I remember when I first started in
the Northern Territory chasing cattle and I used to see – you’d be in the stockyard
and gates would fly back open, cattle would run back
over the top of you. I’ve heard of incidents
in the last five or six years but I haven’t actually seen
a cow run back and smash the gate in the last five years. We’ve been using quad bikes
for as long as I can remember, there’s been quads around. At current stage, because they’re
being identified as such a danger, I think they’ll become phased out. The side-by-side ATV we’ve got, it’ll probably take over
and replace the quad bikes. Be an alternative use,
and seem to be a bit safer – a seatbelt and has a roof on it. Rollbar protection and that, so I think, I definitely feel
that’s the way things will go. All our staff are run through
chemical training at CDU. They do their chem cert,
or the other equivalents, because chemicals are a part of it. But we’ve got a process where
everyone goes through that training and when they come on to the station and they have to undertake
some chemical handling, we’ve got records there
we have to keep. They’re recording what they’re doing,
where they’re doing it and what they’re doing it for. In our chemical shed, we have the MSDS sheets on hand
for all our chemicals that we use. They’re provided there for the staff. If an incident happens,
they know how to treat it, how to use it, what PPE they need to use for it. We also have it on hand in the office
so there’s a second copy available. WorkSafe NT were out
earlier this year. They basically just did…
had a visit, and just had a look at things and what we’re doing
to try and mitigate our risk. It was fairly daunting,
expecting them to come, because from what you know
in the industry – and we’ve heard of other places, and in the past, they’re coming
to kick your bum, really. That’s what the general fear was. But when they turned up,
it was really good. We just stepped through
the paces of it. First, we did a bit
of a basic induction with them and then talked about our policies
and procedures and just walked around
and they had a look at things. It was fairly smooth.
I think it was good. Mainly peace of mind and knowing,
maybe they’re not so bad. They’re probably
just trying to help too, and do their job,
rather than bully us into things. Definitely having WorkSafe
coming on board this year, and the role of being there
as an adviser and being there to help us
rather than hammer us. We got all the policies
and procedures in place and them coming on board
and supporting what we’re doing, it gives you a lot of confidence knowing that what you’re doing
is right and your people – people are the key,
at the end of the day. We do make money out of cattle, but you can’t do none of that
without your people. So, at the end of the day,
if they’re able to come home safe, and our policies
are helping that happen, I definitely think it’s better
rather than worse. Definitely moving forward. I don’t believe it’s got to be
an expensive task. I believe that some of the systems
that can be implemented on site are rather simple, and can be
maintained with minimum of fuss. I think, by doing so, you’re gonna reduce
the number of incidents rates on your farm or your station, and at an industry-wide level, if those incident rates
begin to fall over a period of time, that can only be good
for the industry, both in a productivity sense
as well as the bottom line. STEWART E COX:
I’ve been involved in insurance
in underwriting and broking for the last 40-odd years. Of those, spent many years
offering services to the Cattlemen’s Association
in the Northern Territory. When you do a health and safety,
there’s not immediate returns. It’s a long-term plan program. You need to implement it and then
reap the rewards as you go forward. It’s not instantaneously. Because whilst you might have had
five years of bad claims and implement the
oc health and safety service program to get a better WorkSafe situation, the problem is that you’ve still got
five years of really bad record. So you’ve got to get rid of that,
so you’ve got to have one year good one year maybe a bit better,
or not as bad, and then the insurance company
can then work with you and see that yes,
you’re on the right track. Then the benefits
of the savings will come. If anybody is looking
for a quick fix, it’s not gonna happen that way. It’s going to be
a long-term situation. Obviously, given that
the Northern Territory does have a vast land mass and that and some of these stations
are quite remote, it’s not just restricted to us
coming out there and visiting them. While we intend to try to do that
as part of the campaign, if they require
any advice or anything in relation
to work health and safety, then obviously
we have the ability to, through our website and telephone
and everything else. The hotline. So give us a call and say hi,
let us know what their concerns are or whether they require
any further information, and we can provide them
with whatever we can. Just because
they make contact with us doesn’t mean that they’ve caught
our attention or anything like that. We encourage people, if they want to find out more
about work health and safety, then by all means, contact us. It doesn’t mean that you’re gonna
have an inspector on your door the next day,
or anything like that. We’ll do whatever we can to try
and help them with their concern or provide them with what information
they require. I think there needs to be
more of that. I’d welcome them back and I would
walk them through anything and say, “Look, where can you help me here?” Instead of saying,
“What am I doing wrong? “Where can you help me?”
And then you know.

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