“You just keep walking into the pen to get your next sheep...” An exploration of sheep shearer’s experiences and responses to heat in the sheep shearing industry.
Cotterill, Lucy Eleanor
Heat in workplaces is a hot topic due to the projected increase in global temperatures from anthropogenic climate change with workers being recently recognised as a vulnerable group due to excess heat exposure. New Zealand provides a unique environment to study the impacts of heat in the workplace due to our dependence on physically active industries such as agriculture, forestry and the construction industry. These occupations are exposed to heat through different sources including the environment (outdoor workers), the physical nature (metabolic heat generation) of the work and are often paid by output. One seasonal, physical occupation, paid per output is the sheep shearing industry. This thesis is the first qualitative study of the industry internationally, it aims to explore sheep shearer’s experiences of heat and how they respond to it. Purposive and snowball sampling techniques were used to gain a maximum variation sample (age, sex, geographical location and experience) of knowledgeable participants. Sixteen current and ex-shearers were interviewed face to face or over the phone, using an in-depth study guide about the experiences of heat in the workplace. The interviews were transcribed and analysed using a constructivist thematic analysis of the manifest and latent content. The overall results suggest that sheep shearers will continue to work, and tolerate symptoms when exposed to excess heat, due to how they are remunerated for their work. All participants could give an example of tolerating symptoms of heat stress at work including; sweating, cramps and of the more extreme, fainting and heat exhaustion. Five themes were identified from the interviews as influencing workers experience of heat; ‘shearing culture’, ‘lack of control’, ‘we’ll be right’, ‘self regulation’ and a ‘want for change’. The identified themes influence how shearer’s currently respond to heat exposure at work, with their self regulation of behaviours and ‘we’ll be right’ attitude being at the centre of the tolerance of symptoms. However the results also suggest that current responses to heat are insufficient as there is a want for change from the younger generation of shearers. This want for change focused on a standardisation of wool sheds and their facilities, which implies a call for a more proactive response to heat. This proactive response to heat in the face of the projected increases in temperature due to climate change would be a way for the industry to sustain its current productivity and reduce health related consequence of heat. A standardisation of woolsheds would modify the variables that expose shearers to heat and reduce the need for a tolerance of heat within the industry. In conclusion, shearers will continue to work when exposed to heat due to how they are paid for their work. If there is no change in the industry to modify the working environment the projected future increases in temperature would pose potential health risks which in turn lead to a decrease in productivity.
Advisor: Hales, Simon; Bierre, Sarah; Kjellstrom, Tord
Degree Name: Master of Public Health
Degree Discipline: Wellington
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: sheep shearers; workplace heat; Occupation; heat; experiences; Qualitative; thematic analysis
Research Type: Thesis