Work is about to start on developing the first Australian standard for the design and construction of livestock loading and unloading ramps and forcing yards.
A new Australian Standard, AS 5340, is expected to be in place within 18 months, after years of lobbying from groups like the Livestock and Rural Transporters Association of Victoria (LRTAV).
The new standard will apply to all yards and forcing pens, in abattoirs, saleyards and on private properties.
LRTAV executive committee member Mick Debenham said he believed the new standard would improve safety for everyone in the livestock industry.
"It will also improve safety when a regulator is involved," Mr Debenham said.
Standards are voluntary documents that set out specifications, procedures and guidelines that aim to ensure products, services, and systems are safe, consistent, and reliable.
- Victorian livestock transporters frustrated at poor saleyards design
- Restricting access to saleyards raises safety, chain of responsibility issues
Mr Debenham said the LRTAV believed regulators didn't have enough knowledge about the specific issues around livestock to make informed decisions as to whether or not an upgrade was required
They could also be reluctant to use their powers, without the backing of a standard.
"Instead of regulators having to make their own assessment of the issue, they will have a standard to compare the site with and will simply ask, or demand, the site be upgraded to meet it," he said.
An Australian standard would also improve animal welfare, significantly reducing stress on animals and risk of injury.
Standards Australia has prepared the groundwork for the new code, which covers the design of livestock loading/unloading ramps and forcing yards.
An expert committee, which will include members of the LRTAV, will meet next month, to discuss the development of the standard.
Mr Debenham said he didn't envisage the new standard being very different from any of the guidance information that was currently available.
All sectors of the industry - farmers, saleyards and manufacturers - have backed the introduction of an Australian standard.
ProWay Livestock Equipment director Bill Thomas acknowledged the push had been driven by livestock transporters.
"They want their workplace to be as safe as possible," Mr Thomas said.
"There are ramps out there that are being churned out without much thought for animals, or the operators - they are basically pieces of junk."
He said ProWay already adhered to one of the most used Australian standards, AS1657, which covered fixed platforms, walkways, stairways and ladders.
"Safety is often about efficiency and ease of use, they go hand in hand," he said.
And Norton Gates managing director Tom Russo said a national standard could only be good for the industry.
"Safety for owners, staff and contractors and animal welfare is of paramount importance," Mr Russo said.
"It won't increase the costs for the farmers that are purchasing higher-end products now, but it will increase costs if you are buying at the bottom-end of the equipment that is available for loading ramps and forcing yards."
Australian Livestock Saleyards Association (ALSA) executive officer Mark McDonald said the organisation was supportive of the new standard.
"It will be quicker, easier and safer for transport operators," Mr McDonald said.
He said ALSA's main concern was that not every yard would be able to be upgraded overnight.
"As long as there is acceptance of the fact it's got to be done within the bounds of financial capacity, it will be good to move that way," he said.
Horsham Regional Livestock Exchange manager Paul Christopher said it had taken a long time to finally get the standard across the line.
"As long as all industry has been consulted, and have something to work towards, it's good," Mr Christopher said.
"If you have a hymn sheet, it's easier for everyone to sing the song."
He said new developments would be built to the Australian standard.
"When you are building something new, you want it built to a standard, then you know it's right," he said.
Victorian Livestock Exchange managing director Wayne Osborne said the company agreed, in principal, with the development of a national standard.
"When you look at the history of road transport of livestock in Australia it's evolved in a very ad hoc manner since the 1960's," Mr Osborne said.
"As a result we've got quite a spectrum of infrastructure that transporters nowadays have to cope with.
"The difficulty will be in finding a suitable level of consistency in infrastructure as well as allowing a sufficient level of flexibility to cater for the various circumstances that need to be dealt with."
He said it also raised the issue of the need for a standardised training program of livestock truck drivers.
Victorian Farmers Federation livestock councillor Steve Harrison, Giffard West, said all parties were at the table, trying to find the best way forward.
"The last thing we want is an elderly truck driver climbing over fences in the middle of the night on substandard loading ramps," Mr Harrison said.
He acknowledged there would be a cost to upgrading facilities.
"But you can't put a cost on someone's life, commodity prices are not too bad at the moment, so for a lot of producers it's a good opportunity to upgrade," he said.
The push for an Australian ramp loading and unloading standard came from a recommendation by Victorian Coroner Rosemary Carlin, after the death of a young livestock transport driver in October 2013.
Chad Lynch was 36 when he died from head injuries, sustained in a workplace accident at the Frewstal Abattoir, Stawell.
Ms Carlin recommended Standards Australia consult with relevant stakeholders as to the feasibility and desirability of developing a single guide for the construction, inspection and maintenance of livestock ramps.
She also recommended an induction program for premises containing such ramps.
"The law is clear that is is an employer's responsibility to inform itself of applicable safety standards and comply with them," she said.
"Where the relevant standards come from a variety of sources, consolidation into a single document would assist in that process."
Following Mr Lynch's death, the Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association and Livestock and Rural Transporters Association of Victoria (LRTAV) developed a guide for the safe design of livestock load ramps and forcing yards.
The inquest followed Frewstal's conviction in the County Court on May 15, 2015.
Frewstal was convicted and fined an aggregate of $250,000, after pleading guilty to three breaches of its obligations under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
The charges related to failures in respect to design, maintenance and instructions for the use of the loading ramp.
At the trial, Her Honor Judge Gabriele Cannon expressed concern ramp guidelines were a "hotchpotch of standards, which must be drawn from information and requirements of other more commonplace pieces of equipment".
She said the fact ramps were constructed by individual abattoirs, rather than in factories, heightened the need for expert design, construction and periodic inspection.
Standards Australia strategy and engagement general manager Adam Stingemore said current LRTAV guide would be used as the basis for the new code.
"We don't have any technical expertise, in any of the areas we work in," Mr Stingemore said.
"Our job is around the process and development of the standard."
Once a draft standard was devised, it would go out for public comment for eight weeks, with interest groups then voting on a final standard.
"There's a lot of value in having one set of rules for people who build or import ramps," he said.
One Australian standard would replace different sets of rules in every state and territory.
"For businesses, it's really good to have a national standard they can comply with, which meets people's obligations, under occupational health and safety laws," he said.
"If you have one set of kit, it's much easier to train people than if everyone has a different set of standards."