WA’s Department of Mines, Industry Regulation and Safety recently issued a safety alert highlighting the risks of station hands riding horses without wearing safety helmets following a number of incidents.

Despite all sporting, horse riding industry and education bodies promoting the use of safety-approved riding helmets, some cattle stations are allowing station hands to ride horses while mustering or otherwise handling horses, without the use of a safety-approved riding helmet.

Instead, these riders wear wide-brimmed felt hats which they perceive to be cooler in the hot temperatures of the north west of Western Australia.

In managing their risks, the safety alert noted that some stations have a policy that requires a first year or inexperienced employees to wear a safety-approved riding helmet when riding horses in the workplace.

At the end of that first year, the employee may be assessed as skilled enough to ride safely without a helmet.

“Working with horses is dangerous and the department recommends all workers wear a safety-approved riding helmet at all times,” the alert said.

“Even the most highly trained horses and riders can have incidents which lead to serious injury or death.”

The alert said there are significant safety risks associated with working with horses and these includes but are not limited to:

  • horses, even well-trained ones, may act independently of the rider’s direction, and this may cause a loss of control of the horse. For example, a horse may shy causing it to move unexpectedly, and the rider may potentially fall off
  • a rider’s head may be between 2.5 metres and 3 metres from the ground when on a horse, and a fall may cause their head to strike the ground with force due to the distance involved
  • a kick from a horse to the head can cause serious, even fatal injury.

“Station management should undertake risk assessments for when workers are required to ride or handle horses while undertaking work activities,” the alert said.

“When conducting risk assessments for horse riding in the workplace, hazards must be mitigated as far as is reasonably practicable.”

This means that employers have a responsibility to ensure that employees are not exposed to hazards such as falling off a horse and receiving an impact to the head or being kicked by a horse while not wearing a helmet. A risk assessment should include:

  • a rider’s confidence, skills and ability
  • horse health, reliability and predictability
  • environmental conditions, including weather and terrain
  • work activity, e.g. mustering.

Additional safety considerations include the following:

  • match the horse and rider according to the horse’s temperament and level of experience, and the rider’s skills and experience
  • ensure appropriate PPE is provided and used at all times. Broad-brimmed attachments for safety helmets are widely available and are commonly used in hot conditions
  • check that helmets are safety approved and are in good condition before use. Damaged helmets should not be used
  • train workers to use PPE correctly, including proper adjustment of the chin strap.

The alert also said it is important to note that the life expectancy of a helmet is variable. AS/NZS 3838 states that: “Helmet life depends on the frequency and conditions of use, care and storage. Helmets showing obvious signs of damage or wear should be replaced.

“In general, helmets have a useable life of 5 years. Those used very frequently may require earlier replacement.”


Australian Institute of Health & Safety

September 24, 2020