Forest safety council underway

14 February 2015

 The forest industry has established a safety council to make forests safer places to work. This was a key recommendation of the Independent Forestry Safety Review Panel that reviewed forest workplace safety in 2014.

The Forest Industry Safety Council will formally get underway in early April. But in the meantime a working group representing forest owners, contractors, workers, unions and the government is putting the building blocks in place. An independent chair and national safety director are being recruited.

There were 10 workplace deaths and 169 serious harm injuries in forestry in 2013. This led to the industry establishing the review panel which reported in late October 2014.

"Since 2013, there has been a dramatic turn-round in safety performance. Last year there was one fatality – one too many, but a huge improvement on 10 – and a 25 per cent reduction in serious harm injuries," says Forest Owners Association president Paul Nicholls.

"There are several reasons for this, including increased mechanisation of harvesting and the successful roll-out of a new Approved Code of Practice. But one of the biggest factors will have been the increased awareness of the need for safe work practice as a result of publicity about the terrible toll in 2013.

"As that year fades from memory, it is essential to maintain and reinforce our safety culture, so that our vision of zero serious harm injuries remains at the top of everyone's mind. For this reason we have deliberately called the new body a 'council', to reinforce the status it will have in the industry."

Nicholls says the industry is totally committed to improved safety and to the review panel's mantra that "if a job can't be done safely, it shouldn't be done at all." It is also reflected in record registrations for the Forest Industry Safety Summit being held in Rotorua in early March.

The safety council, jointly funded by industry and the government, will have triple the resources that were previously deployed by ACC through their injury prevention programme, says Ian Jackson, president of the NZ Farm Forestry Association.

"Its first priority will be to agree on a work plan for its first 12 months. But its focus will be on practical tools and systems for improving safety in forest workplaces, including farm woodlots," he says.

"Many farmers and farm staff are handy with a chainsaw. But harvesting forestry blocks, especially on steep hillsides, is specialised work that must be carried out by people with appropriate skills and safety credentials."

Forest Industry Contractors Association (FICA) director John Stulen says both corporate and farm forest owners have worked closely with contractors to improve safety for all workers on the forest floor.

"Several years ago forest managers recognised that manual tree felling was becoming too risky in steep country. So the steepland harvesting research programme was set up with industry and Primary Growth Partnership funding, with the vision of having 'no worker on the slope, no hand on the chainsaw'," Stulen says.

"This work, supported by innovative engineering firms and contractors in Nelson and Rotorua, has borne fruit, with the development of a new generation of harvesting technologies.

"More than $50 million has been invested in the last 18 months in new feller-bunchers that replace men with chainsaws on steep slopes – the biggest area of risk. These machines are also supported by other innovations, such as on-board GPS-based navigation and camera-assisted grapples for log extraction."

For more information, please ring Paul Nicholls, Tel 027 595 8708; Ian Jackson, Tel 027 283 9030; or John Stulen, Tel 027 275 8011