Where safety is central to forest work

29 July 2015

For Les Bak, forest safety is about respect, sharing knowledge, keeping it simple and getting workmates to look out for each other.  It's a formula that's working. In the 10 years since he joined Nelson Forests, productivity per man has jumped 30 per cent and the lost time injury rate has fallen 80 percent.

A decade ago Bak was managing health and safety for international forest company Weyerhauser over an area of Canada the size of the South Island when his bosses asked him to head to New Zealand to sort out safety issues across its 78,000 hectare Nelson/Marlborough estate. When Global Forest Partners bought Weyerhauser's Nelson/Marlborough forests and Kaituna mill in 2007 Nelson Forests Ltd was born and Bak was made the company's health and safety manager.

Bak fits the role like a glove. He knows loggers, the industry, the pressures and, in the last ten years, has helped transform forestry skids into work places where safety is not just a manual in the corner of the smoko shed - it's part of every action.

The new culture has increased production and safety. It now takes 30 to 40 percent fewer hours to produce the same wood. Ten years ago the company was losing 300 to 400 hours a year to accidents from a workforce of 700. That's now down to 40 to 50 hours, he said.

More importantly it has given loggers a boost. "People are getting excited about what they can do in the bush when you treat them as professionals," Bak said. "It all comes down to getting what you ask for. If you engage you get a better result."

It's not a great day at Fraser 740's skid site. A skidder has hit a stump and a digger is bogged to its cage. Machinery down, the crew's packing up for an early knock-off.

Crew manager for Fraser 740, Mike Green,  said safety success was about putting all the skills together and making them work - and in the midst of it all was safety. "If it wasn't for the hard work Les has done a lot more guys would have been hurt, and worse." "

Source: Fairfax story by Helen Murdoch, Nelson Mail. To read the full story >>