Worker fatally injured in cattle yard incident

WorkSafe is issuing a reminder about the risks of handling cattle in yards.



Two employees were moving cattle from a forcing yard and loading them onto a truck. One employee was standing behind a partially open slam-shut gate. A cow turned back through the partially open gate and the gate struck the employee. The employee sustained life threatening injuries and later died in hospital.

Safety issues

Agriculture makes up only 2% of Victoria's workforce, but 14% of workplace deaths. Cattle handling is one of the top three causes of fatalities on farms.

Cattle have a large weight advantage, great memory, are unpredictable and can move quickly. Handling them safely requires skill and practice.

To handle cattle safely it is important to understand animal behaviour, use well designed yards and work as a team.

Do not become complacent. Always keep risks front of mind no matter how experienced you are.

Recommended ways to control risks

It is essential to understand the risks involved in handling cattle and your safety responsibilities as a business owner, employee or contractor.

Yard design

  • Plan your yard design to allow a smooth flow of cattle through the yard.
  • If possible, completely separate people and cattle during the drafting process. Drafting without races that separate cattle and people is more risky, and requires more cattle handling skill.
  • Include escape routes and use them when needed. Ensure anyone in the yard while drafting cattle is aware of the escape routes.


  • Never stand behind an open gate – there is risk of the gate being kicked or pushed by cattle, which can cause serious injury or death.
  • Prior to handling, ensure yards are properly maintained, particularly surfaces, gates and latches.
  • Position gates to enable safe operation of the yard.
  • Once cattle have moved into the yard, ensure the gates are securely closed before applying pressure to the cows. This will prevent animals from having the opportunity to escape.

Information, instruction, training and supervision

  • Train employees to understand the safety features of the yard, how they work and what to do in an emergency.
  • It is good practice to have documented training records.
  • Consider yearly refresher training to maintain knowledge currency and prevent complacency.

General handling of cattle

  • Understanding cattle behavior is the first step in safe and efficient cattle handling. Every animal is different and will react differently to handling. Consider breed, temperament, behaviour history and whether you are dealing with bulls or cows.
  • Understand the signs of stressed cattle. Agitated cattle are unpredictable and difficult to handle. If needed, allow cattle time to settle before working them.
  • Be aware of your position in relation to the cattle.
  • Ensure all cattle handlers understand how to pressure cattle - influencing their movements by utilising their field of vision, flight zone and point of balance.
The illustration shows an overhead view of an animal in the middle of a circular 'flight zone' noting the blind spot and optimal handler positions when moving cattle.

Team work

  • Avoid working alone. Where possible, work in a group of two or more people.
  • Ensure everyone understands how to operate equipment safely.
  • Discuss roles and responsibilities of each person involved before undertaking work.
  • Communicate with your work partner and work together as a team. This is critical to safe and efficient cattle handling.

Legal Duties

As a farmer you may be self-employed, employ people, or manage and control a farm. You have responsibilities under the Occupational Health and Safety Act 2004, which include ensuring, so far as is reasonably practicable:

  • you provide and maintain a farm that is a safe working environment without risks to the health of your employees and contractors
  • where you can't eliminate risks to health and safety, you reduce the risks so far as is reasonably practicable
  • you provide information, instruction, training or supervision to employees and contractors to enable them to perform their work safely and without risks to health
  • your farm activities don't expose other persons, for example, family or visitors, to health and safety risks
  • that people, including people making deliveries on the farm, can enter and leave the farm safely, and without risk to their health
  • you consult with your employees and contractors on occupational health and safety topics that relate to your workplace and directly affect them

Further Information