PAL paves the way for safer livestock unloading

Some 18 months after trials began at meat processor Kilcoy Global Foods at Kilcoy in Queensland, the Parallel Access Landing (PAL) has proven an overwhelming success as a reliable and effective way to dramatically increase safety of personnel engaged in the unloading of livestock.

Traditionally the driver needed to climb up on the sides and tops of the crates to open the gates and coax cattle to exit.

With PAL, they can safely walk along the platform to perform their duties – on upper and lower levels corresponding to the two decks of the stock crates.

After the truck is backed up to the ramp the driver simply presses a button which activates the wheel motors and within 35 seconds the PAL is in position adjacent to the crate.

With personnel working on both levels to open and shut gates at the rear and between the crates, the cattle file off from both decks simultaneously within 3.5 minutes. Another 35 seconds to return the PAL to its parking spot and the driver pulls away from the ramp less than five minutes after docking.

As the name suggests, PAL – built by ProWay Livestock Equipment at Wagga Wagga – moves directly towards and away from the crates and features guidance sensors which position it perfectly parallel with the sides of the crates to ensure a consistently minimal gap that needs to be stepped across from the platform to the truck.

The PAL trial was a joint initiative of the Australian Livestock and Rural Transporters Association (ALRTA) and Kilcoy Global Foods (KGF), with the support of the National Heavy Vehicle Regulator (NHVR) and financial input from the Federal Government’s Heavy Vehicle Safety Initiative program.

It was initially available for use on a voluntary basis with a user charge which started at $15 and reduced by $2.50 each fortnight until it was removed completely.

Kilcoy Global Foods wanted to make PAL available free of charge to ensure every livestock truck driver that unloads at the facility could avail of the safety benefits.

“Driver acceptance of PAL has been very good and from our perspective we couldn’t be happier with how it is working,” said KGF General Manager – Livestock, Craig Price.

“We made its use mandatory and free of charge and virtually every driver that uses it has nothing but praise for it,” he said. “They tell me it should be everywhere.”

Price said the unit, which is propelled by four electric wheel motors, has proven largely trouble-free, and while its manufacturer ProWay was instrumental in early maintenance, KGF’s maintenance team is now sufficiently experienced to keep it running smoothly.

“ProWay came up with this PAL system that works really well on our site and they put a lot of effort into ensuring it works reliably and efficiently,” said Price – adding that most stock crate manufacturers build their crates with the gates on the right-hand side which suits the PAL installation at KGF.

Price mentioned that the standardisation of stockcrate design among all of the manufacturers would enable systems such as PAL to provide the ideal safe unloading environment for all users.

One of Australia’s largest livestock carriers, Martins Stock Haulage, unloads a number of B-doubles at KGF on a daily basis and according to the company’s Manager, Compliance & Inductions & Associations Representative, Graeme Hoare, the PAL has done wonders in reducing the risk of injuries to its drivers.

“There’s no doubt it’s a great success – we’ve had no injuries reported by any of our drivers at Kilcoy and it just makes the job a lot easier for them,” said Hoare.

“They can unload very quickly and safely and it’s also better for animal welfare.”

Hoare said early in the piece some drivers were sceptical about the benefits, however it didn’t take long for them to come around.

“They soon realised how easy it was to use and how much quicker they could unload – now they tell me they would like to have PAL at all the unloading sites.”

Indeed, having been a livestock truck driver for 23 years, Hoare said he wished he could have had this assistance when he was doing the work.

From ALRTA’s perspective, the association’s Executive Director, Mathew Munro, said the successful trial of PAL at KGF fulfilled the initial aim which was to demonstrate that it was viable to install such a piece of infrastructure.

However, he said the unwillingness of other facilities to embrace the PAL has been disappointing.

“Following the trial, we wrote to a list of priority sites that receive more than 15 trucks per day and provided them with the report detailing our findings on PAL,” said Munro. “We asked them if they would be interested in working with us to further expand the use of PAL, but the response so far has been a bit disappointing – given that we have demonstrated that it can and does work.

“We do have one site that is interested, and we are working closely with them to hopefully progress to having a PAL installed there,” added Munro. “It’s really important for us to get another site onboard that has installed PAL at its own expense, in addition to the Government-funded trial unit at KGF, so we can demonstrate that this works in a real-world scenario. After that, we think there will be much better acceptance of PAL.

Munro said if the price for each use of PAL was set at $5.00 more than 75 per cent of operators would be happy to use it, but that there was a percentage that would not want to pay at all, which is an issue for a facility that needs to recoup the cost of installing PAL.

“There is a small minority of operators that are philosophically opposed to paying and wouldn’t want to pay even if it was only 50 cents per use,” said Munro. “But when you look around the roads and infrastructure network with toll roads and truck washes that you have to pay to use, it shows that there are some things that provide worthwhile benefits that need to be user pays in order to be viable.

“PAL is a good example of this,” he said.