In the context of the animal industrial complex (AIC), shearing is to remove the wool from sheep through the use of ‘handpieces’. The humans shearing the sheep are referred to as ‘shearers’. 

The process of shearing not only negatively impacts sheep through the removal of their wool keeping them warm for winter and the human handling involved, but also has implications on the health of humans.

Image: Photo from the University of Melbourne as part of their research into lower back injuries of shearers.

Manual Labour & Physical Risks

The manual labour involved in handling and moving sheep into the area and correct positions for shearing can cause a variety of injuries, including strains, sprains and broken bones. The discomfort and fear sheep experience in these situations causes them to try to escape, leading to a significant amount of manual labour required to keep them still. It is also important to mention that shearers typically have a large number of sheep to shear, and therefore have to rush jobs, leading to poor ergonomic handling practices. Machinery and tools used in this type of work pose hazards for tripping, slipping, as well as significant impact injuries from unguarded machinery faults, like belts and pulleys.

In 2019, an article on the ABC was released about the working conditions for shearers in Australia, highlighting some key issues within the industry. Shearer Rob Harrowfield even came forward with claims that safety within the industry has gotten “progressively worse”. Another worker, Sue Parker, blew a disc in her lower spine pulling a ewe who was stuck in metal grating, and had to have surgery. 

Image: Sheep being dragged for shearing.

As per WorkSafe Vic, shearing is a high-risk job in ways other than those listed above. The noise of the machinery, the chemicals involved and the potential to contract disease from the sheep being shorn are all considered to be workplace hazards.

Other Negative Implications

Aside from the physical injuries that humans are at risk of as shearers, the mental implications of working in a job like this are important to consider. In the ABC article mentioned above, the Australian Workers Union uncovered that some shearers were being paid in cash and drugs. Working with sheep and witnessing their fear and injuries they suffer at the hands of shearers has the potential to create mental health issues within shearers.

Conclusion

Shearers are exposed to a high-risk of injury. The issues made known within the industry are undoubtedly the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the human rights dilemmas.