Shed designs to bolster shearers

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Inside the shearing shed at Dubbo.
Camera IconInside the shearing shed at Dubbo. Credit: AWI

Picture this: a shearing shed with its floor 2m above the ground, let out pens and holding pens underneath, and no raised boards — instead, there are sloping catching pens, short pen doors to stop shearers knocking their elbows, level boards, and catching pens with a straight drag to the shearing stand.

A six-stand shed with these details was unveiled in Dubbo on Saturday, as a blueprint of best practice for wool producers to take into account for shed modifications and construction.

WA Shearing Industry Association president Darren Spencer made the trip to Dubbo for the Australian Wool Innovation-organised tour, with the hope of bringing back some of his learnings to wool producers and shearers in WA.

He said the shed marked the first real deviation away from shearing sheds designed during the wool boom in the 1950s.

“One of the defining features was the instead of dragging sheep from the pen and turning around to your stand, you drag straight back,” Mr Spencer said.

“The point of this is to reduce the stress on your back by turning and dragging the sheep.”

Arrow Park owner Hilton Barrett with WA Shearing Industry Association president Darren Spencer at the open day.
Camera IconArrow Park owner Hilton Barrett with WA Shearing Industry Association president Darren Spencer at the open day. Credit: AWI

Mr Spencer said other concepts including placing the large let out chutes marginally to the side, rather than directly behind the shearers, to get the sheep down easier and the catching pens being made of wooden panel boards, rather than rails, to stop the sheep from seeing each other.

The shed was originally the brainchild of Hilton Barrett, a shearing contractor based in Dubbo, who took a proposal for a new industry-leading shed to AWI more than a year ago, before the organisation approved it.

After consulting with industry, a reference group of shearers and shedhands inspected six sheds on a tour in the central west in NSW.

These professionals looked at the different designs, picked the eyes out of what worked and what didn’t and put together a checklist or review sheet, which they completed at each shed then workshopped all of those ideas.

After two prototypes, trialling different angles and different stand positions, a third version has now been approved.

“We have been working in old floor plans developed in the 1950s, which haven’t changed much since,” Mr Barrett said.

“We’ve now got the catching pen right, a really good front-fill (downward) gentle sloped catching pen.

“We have minimised a shearer’s turning and (sheep) drag, which optimises efficiency and welfare of the shearer.”

Australian champion shearer Jason Wingfield, from Victoria, said sheep were now bigger and designs would make it easier for people to move them.

“Changing the angles of catching pens so we are dragging (sheep) out to the board in a straight line and when finished shearing drop the sheep straight down a wider chute takes the big corners out,” he said. “When you’re pulling on a 100kg sheep, twisting as you go on old designed boards, then obviously your hips and knees will get a hammering. But this new design minimises those health risks.”

The shed was a hive of activity on Saturday.
Camera IconThe shed was a hive of activity on Saturday. Credit: AWI

Project facilitator Peter Schuster, of Schuster Consulting Group, in Dubbo, said an online survey ahead of the project’s creation was polarised when it came to raised or not raised boards.

“Some people loved it, some hated it,” he said. “So we are recommending a modular design of one stand, and people can then turn that into any number when building into an existing shed or a brand new shed. It will be a blueprint and if people want a raised floor, they can incorporate that into their own design.”

Mr Schuster said what suited the wool handler may not necessarily suit the shearer, or may not suit the person filling the bins.

“But in the process, we worked out the most efficient compromise in the design.”

Mr Spencer said WASIA, AWI and CGU Insurance were working on a shed safety assessment program, to improve safety in shearing sheds and reduce injuries, and workers compensation.

The organisations plan on releasing the results of their recent shed safety survey, which asked dozens growers and shearers about potential and identified risks in the workplace.

From there, WASIA will be seeking funding for the shed safety assessment program.

The program would allow certified shed safety assessors to complete occupational health and safety assessments at farmers’ sheds to help improve shed safety.

This is an industry based initiative, which was run previously by WASIA.

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