AMIEU Comment on Draft Guidance Note - Safe Handling of Goats

The AMIEU appreciates the opportunity to comment on the WorkSafe Victoria's Draft Guidance Note on Safe Handling of Goats. We are pleased that WorkSafe Victoria recognises to address the differences between handling goats and other small ruminants.

The AMIEU is aware that Australia is the largest goat meat exporter in the world; but that goat farming (meat or dairy) is a comparatively small industry. This means that a significant proportion of the stock that is slaughtered for goat meat is feral goats.

The AMIEU supports the decision to provide guidance on Goat Behaviour and Yard Design. The fact that many of the goats that are slaughtered are feral, not domestic, means that there are additional risks that need to be addressed.

Avoiding undue noise and Avoiding using dogs in the yards

In the section on Goat Behaviour the sensitivity of the goats to loud noise should be identified, as excess noise creates agitation, and may well cause goats to go over, under, or through whatever stands in the way. Goats should be handled quietly.

In the section on Goat Behaviour there should be another characteristic identified such as:
Nervous disposition - goats do not respond well to loud noises, sudden movements and excessive force. Quiet, calm handling techniques are essential.

Compared with sheep, goats respond positively because of superior intelligence, but they also tend to stress more easily. Working goats is definitely not a "hurry up" task. In fact, the faster you go, the longer it takes. If hurried they tend to balk, or become aggressive toward each other and the workers.

The use of dogs in rounding up goats is also inappropriate and this should be included. “The use of dogs should be held to a minimum” should be stated.  

Yard design

In general the AMIEU supports the advice provided. We note that you do have a paragraph which says:
Incorporate escape routes and safety passes such as gates, barriers, holes or other into facilities so that workers can quickly exit when the need arises (e.g. for handlers operating outside the working race in the event a rogue goat jumps out of the race leading up to the knocking box).

However, our members, who work in abattoirs where goats are slaughtered, advise us that there is not sufficient emphasis on the need for “escape hatches”.

Zoonoses

Many of the goats being slaughtered are feral not domestic. This means that the issue of zoonoses needs far more guidance than is currently in the Draft Guidance Note.
Employees working with live or slaughtered animals are at risk of contracting several zoonotic diseases, most notably Q fever. A range of the zoonotic diseases could occur with goats.

It should be emphasised that the incidence of zoonotic diseases in the meat industry is relatively low and risk is small. However, if contracted, the impact of zoonotic diseases can be profound.

As with other occupational hazards, identification and assessment of the risks associated with the hazard needs to be undertaken and control measures implemented in accordance with the hierarchy of control.

Zoonoses potentially include campylobacter, chlamydia, corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis, toxoplasmosis, Q fever, leptospirosis, orf, ringworm, anthrax, listeriosis, salmonellosis, brucellosis and parasites.

Campylobacter jejuni is bacterium that is readily found in the digestive tract and faeces of many normal goats. The disease can be transmitted through faecal contamination or through handling aborted foetuses and placental membranes.

Chlamydia travels through most small ruminant herds. The disease can be transmitted through faecal contamination or through handling aborted foetuses and placental membranes.  Symptoms of chlamydia in both goats and humans include pinkeye, pneumonia, polyarthritis, or abortion.

Corynebacterium pseudotuberculosis causes an infection of goats, called Caseous Lymphadenitis. It is also referred to as "abscesses" or cheesy gland, because of the peripheral swelling, rupture, and drainage of pus from affected lymph nodes. The prevalence of CL in goat herds may be as high as 30%. If abscesses affect more than one lymph node, the carcass will be condemned at slaughter. In humans the condition caused is human lymphadenitis. The skin contact with the pus from an infected animal, can result in infection of any skin lesions. Lymph nodes can become tender and swollen. There may also be malaise, fatigue and fever.
 
T
oxoplasma gondii is an important cause of abortion in goats, although toxoplasmosis is more commonly associated with cat faeces. Transmission to man has been documented from exposure to small ruminant foetal fluids and milk, and there is risk to workers, particularly (but not only) pregnant women, from exposure to aborted foetuses and placental membranes. If the person is immune impaired the infection can result in encephalitis, retinal damage and altered mental state.

Q fever, or infection with the rickettsia Coxiella burnetii, is not easily identified in the goats as few develop clinical disease other than abortion. These include sudden onset of acute fever, chills, profuse sweating, cough, severe headache, muscle pains and weakness. It is not unusual for a diagnosis of influenza to be made during the initial stages of the illness.

As the symptoms could be the body's response to any number of invading organisms or viruses, a series of laboratory blood tests are required to confirm a diagnosis of Q fever.
Individual responses to this infection, as with all infections, will vary. For some, there will be no illness and a past exposure may only become apparent when antibodies are detected 'in a blood sample or there is a positive skin test reaction. Others may have symptoms for a few days, dismissing the illness as 'viral' or they could just feel 'off colour' and, as such, may not seek medical attention.

Typically though, the fever lasts seven to ten days and is accompanied by excessive sweating (warranting many changes of clothes and bed linen), nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, and anorexia. There is often weight loss of 6 to 12 kilograms if the acute episode is prolonged. For some, the recovery period will be protracted following an acute infection.

On occasions, other patterns of the disease can be so debilitating that hospitalisation is required. As the organism is circulated through the body in the blood stream, any organ system can become involved including the central nervous system, lungs, liver, kidney, testes and heart muscle and tissue. Persons with pre-existing heart valve damage resulting from disease or congenital malformation could be at risk of developing endocarditis. Death from acute Q fever is very rare.

An infected animal excretes large amounts of the organism in its urine, faeces and milk and, in high concentrations in the birth fluids, placenta, on the foetus and newly born and in the uterine discharges following the birth of young. Organisms in the placenta are particularly concentrated; one gram of placental tissue may contain one billion organisms.

The important feature of the organism is its ability to withstand harsh environmental conditions; resisting heating, drying and sunlight to survive for more than a year at 4ºC in a dried state. The organism dried on wool has been shown to remain infective for 7 to 9 months at 15ºC to 20ºC and for 12 to 16 months at 4ºC to 6ºC. Infected tick faeces has demonstrated its ability to remain infectious, in a dried state, for approximately 2 years.

The organism is highly contagious within domestic herds where infection is mostly maintained through inhalation of infected dusts and contaminated droplets liberated from the products of an infected animal. Within a few months of the organism being introduced to a herd, 80% of the stock may become infected. The infection almost invariably spreads to neighbouring stock, native and feral animals and sometimes domestic cats and dogs. Once a herd is infected, it normally remains infected.

Infection could occur via skin abrasions and splashes of infected material into the eye. Inhalation of the organism, as a result of direct or indirect exposure to contaminated aerosols, is the most common mechanism of human infection.

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease, which can affect many species of animals including cattle, pigs, sheep and goats. Animals contract the disease by eating and drinking leptospira-contaminated urine, water, or by direct contact of broken skin or mucous membranes with mud, vegetation or aborted foetuses of infected or carrier animals. Recovered animals and animals with unapparent (subclinical) leptospirosis frequently excrete billions of leptospiras in their urine for several months or years.

Human infection may occur by contamination with infected urine and urine contents. The bacteria may be also found in milk in acute cases. The disease can spread to humans by skin, oral nasal or conjunctival contact with urine or inhalation of airborne droplets. The bacteria may be also found in milk in acute cases. Potential risk areas include stock transport vehicles, yards and pens, kill floor and skin shed.

Orf or Contagious ecthyma is a viral disease which is caused by a poxvirus that produces a 'chicken pox' type lesion on the skin of sheep, goats, and people. The virus is very resistant to disinfectants and drying and may persist in the environment for years. which produces scabby lesions on the skin particularly around the mouth of the goats known as Scabby mouth. It occurs in some goat herds causing crusts around the lips of young stock. Lesions may also occur on the teats and udders of does nursing affected kids and may be a source of infection for slaughterers.

In humans it is known as Orf and involves developing blisters on hands and arms that progress to welts and raised painful plaques. It is possible to develop severe, life-threatening pneumonia if diseased kids cough in the face of the handlers and there is contact with mucous membranes of the eyes, nose or mouth.

Ringworm occurs in goats but is not common. Fungal skin infections are seen during the late spring and summer months. Ringworm is readily transmitted to man.

Brucella melitensis from goats is common in other sections of the world but is not known in Australia. There have been human infections with Brucella melitensis notified in humans but it was thought to have been contracted out of Australia.

Anthrax is a serious disease, which can lead to rapid death in sheep and goats and other livestock species. Humans can also become affected and die from the disease if not treated promptly. Anthrax is caused by bacteria known as Bacillus anthracis. Animals acquire the disease from the soil when they graze in areas previously inhabited by an infected animal.

Cryptosporidium is a single-cell, disease-causing parasite, that lives in animals such as cattle, sheep, swine and goats. It can be can be transmitted to man through faecal contamination.

Prevention of Zoonotic Infection

The prevention of zoonotic infection will involve a range of control measures. The sequence of control options, or hierarchy of controls should be followed.

The general principles which apply to the prevention of zoonotic infection include:

  • design of the workplace and individual work stations to reduce the risk of contamination and infection;
  • systems for the treatment of suspect stock;
  • laundering of all work clothing on site or by a professional off-site laundry;
  • work practices which minimise the risk of contamination and infection;
  • adequate personal hygiene facilities and proper use of these;
  • an occupational health program which includes relevant vaccination and first aid facilities;
  •  provision and use of equipment including personal protective equipment designed to minimise the risk of contamination and infection; and
  • training for all employees on the risks of zoonotic infection and possible control measures, and for those employees engaged in high-risk tasks, skills training to assist them in identifying and controlling the risks.

Design

The employer should ensure that:

  • Hand washing facilities are provided to be readily accessible to all workers at appropriate intervals. The water supply should be delivered via a single outlet at a temperature of 35ºC to 40ºC, and a hand washing basin with foot or thigh pedal activation provided.
  • At the exit door, a liquid soap dispenser, a paper hand-towel dispenser and a wastepaper bin is provided.
  • Ventilation in slink rooms or condemn rooms is monitored to detect the formation of still pockets of air. If still pockets of air occur, the ventilation should be modified to prevent this.
  • Air conditioning and ventilation systems minimise air exhaust from areas of high risk to be dispersed through other parts of the abattoir, for example, separating intakes from exhaust vents.
  • Chutes for offal, slinks and carcase remnants are properly fitted with flaps or covers to deny the escape of aerosols from slink or condemn rooms or screw conveyors to other parts of the abattoir.
  • The abattoir, including yards, rendering areas and skin sheds, is designed and maintained to ensure efficient drainage and prevent the formation of puddles.
  • Where stock affected by mud, dags and caked manure are regularly submitted for slaughter, any work station where such are removed from the hide should, where necessary, be equipped with ventilation and exhaust systems to reduce the dispersal of dust.
  • Yards and holding pens are designed and maintained to ensure easy cleaning and quick drainage of urine. Minimising dust and mud problems can be addressed with with paving and good drainage.
  • Liquid soaps contain a bacteria-static agent and an additive to prevent hands from drying and cracking.
  • Floors in change rooms and amenities are cleaned daily with a fungicide/germicide and showers have rapid drainage facilities.

Program to Control the Spread of Zoonotic Diseases

Vaccination Programs

Vaccination programs should form a part of a health surveillance program. As vaccination is to prevent infection the employer is responsible for the costs. The following are important considerations which should be taken into account by the employer:

  • medical practitioners employed to provide such vaccinations should have adequate practical knowledge in the process of administering Q fever vaccinations;
  • the vaccination program is made available to all employees, at risk working in an abattoir or knackery; and
  • he vaccination program should include advice to employees of all factors relevant to such vaccinations, including the benefits of being vaccinated and the risks and potential hazards of not being vaccinated.

First Aid Programs

In the meat industry, it is necessary to maintain a high standard of hygiene in the workplace.

Availability of first aiders trained to a standard that will ensure that they have the skills to manage injuries common in the meat industry, such as lacerations, and access to appropriately equipped first aid rooms/kits, should encourage prompt, appropriate and effective first aid. Assessments to establish appropriate first aid provisions need to take into account the nature of the hazards in the work.

In the meat industry, particular plans may need to be adopted to ensure that:

  • prompt cleaning and dressing (with waterproof bandages) of all lacerations is carried out;
  • employees who are splashed with animal products in the eye, nostril or open mouth are:
  • trained to ensure that they immediately wash their faces and rinse their mouths, and
  • have access to facilities to do so.

Work Practices

The employer should ensure that:

  • The work methods for handling animals are such that there is negligible contamination of the carcase, employees and equipment, hide or fleece by urine, faecal material, intestinal contents, milk or birth fluids.
  • Work practices are such that the unnecessary slicing of lesions of potential infection is avoided.
  • Every effort is made to ensure that employees do not contact urine or urine-contaminated material unless wearing personal protective equipment.
  • Contamination of any type is removed from carcases to prevent contamination of employees further along the production line.
  • Livestock identified as potential zoonoses carriers are slaughtered at the end of the work day, with particular care being taken in the handling and disposal of reproductive and other organs.
  • Personal and soiled work clothing are not stored together in lockers, and that laundering of work clothing be conducted by the employer with a view to minimising the risk to employees who would normally launder work clothing at home.

Personal Protective Equipment

The employer should ensure that:
All employees are provided with personal protective equipment appropriate to the tasks to be performed. PPE must be personally fitted and maintained by the employer. Some examples are:

  • all tasks—non-leaking boots,
  • or eviscerators—anti-fogging goggles and surgical masks, and
  • for the bleeding and skinning of slinks—plastic aprons, gloves and eye protection.

Employees bleeding and skinning slinks should change into a clean set of clothing before breaking for smoko or lunch, if there is any contamination of their clothing by blood or birth fluids.

Training

The employer should ensure that relevant training is provided for employees who may be exposed to occupational diseases in the course of their work before that likely exposure.

Training should include:

  • an overview of the nature of occupational diseases, sources of infection, modes of transmission likely to be encountered and preventive mechanisms;
  • relevant policies relating to biological hazards;
  • task-specific risk control procedures;
  • the use and limitations of personal protective equipment;
  • first aid procedures; and
  • personal hygiene practices.