Choice of chair underlines importance of forest safety

26 May 2015

A safety council has been set-up, chaired by Dame Alison Paterson, to make forests safer places to work. Establishing the council was a key recommendation of the Independent Forestry Safety Review Panel that reviewed forest safety in 2014.

The Forest Industry Safety Council (FISC) was launched tonight at a function at parliament. Its board includes representatives of forest owners, contractors, workers, unions and Worksafe New Zealand. Funding will come from the Forest Grower Levy and from government – ACC and Worksafe.

"We are proud to have someone of the calibre of Dame Alison as chair, as well as a board made up of all those who can influence safety on the forest floor," says Paul Nicholls, president of the Forest Owners Association.
"All of us share a determination to build and reinforce a safety culture that embraces everyone in the forest workplace, from the forest owner, through contractors and crew leaders, through to the man on a chainsaw or at the controls of a hauler.

"We all have a responsibility to each other, to ensure that safety becomes ahead of all other considerations, economic or otherwise."

Mr Nicholls says it was a deliberate strategy to name the new body a 'council' and to appoint a chair that is highly respected both in the rural sector and in the wider New Zealand community.

"By reinforcing the status of the council, we also reinforce the importance of improved workplace safety. Our objective to ensure that everyone who works in our forests returns home safely to their families at the end of each working day."

A national safety director is being appointed, reporting to Dame Alison and the board, who will be responsible for ensuring that the council's work programme is being delivered effectively and that this is reflected in a steady improvement in safety performance.

He says Dame Alison Paterson was named a Dame Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit (DNZM) for services to business in the 2014 New Year Honours list. She was the first female director of a producer board and a publicly listed company. She served 15 years on the Reserve Bank board, was a director of Crown Irrigation Investments and chaired Landcorp, Waitemata Health and Abano Healthcare Group. Dame Alison is now a director of GMI Investments, Vector, Stevenson Agriculture, New Zealand Formulary, and Farm IQ Systems."The rural enterprises listed reflect her heritage. She was raised in the King Country, set up her own farm accounting practice in 1971 after studying accountancy by correspondence, before being appointed to the Apple & Pear Marketing Board five years later."

Mr Nicholls says that while the FISC has been under development, safety initiatives based on the recommendations of the independent safety review panel have continued. At the heart of these is SafeTree, a programme jointly funded by ACC and the forestry industry with the long-term aim of eliminating serious harm injuries in forestry.

Its website brings all forest safety information into one point, so if someone wants to know how to do something safely, they will find it on www.safetree.nz.

Mr Nicholls says there were 10 workplace deaths and 169 serious harm injuries in forestry in 2013. This led to the industry establishing the independent review panel that 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," he says.

"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."

Mr 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."

For more information, please ring Paul Nicholls, Tel 027 595 8708

Trevor Walton, FOA communications Tel 021 381 465