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Making progress with safety

2 February 2016

Although there were fewer deaths and serious injuries in forestry last year, a safety group says there's still got a lot of work to do to reach the goal of zero fatalities.
WorkSafe figures show serious injuries halved to 78 in 2015 from 160 in 2013, with three forestry workers dying last year.

"The trend is going in the right direction but we can't rest on our laurels," the Forest Industry Safety Council (FISC) says.

Ten workers died in 2013 while just one 201,4 but national safety director Fiona Ewing says the only acceptable number of fatalities and serious injuries in forestry is zero.

FISC was set up last year in response to the high death toll in 2013 and has been working to ensure sustained safety improvements in all areas of forestry.

"There's a risk that with fatalities dropping from their 2013 peak people will think we can tick safety off as being sorted," she says. "Experience tell us that the minute we take our eye off the ball those fatality and serious injury rates will start climbing back up again."

This year FISC will focus on ensuring industry players understand what's required of them under the new Health and Safety at Work Act, which comes into force in April.

Forest owners led a massive overhaul of the industry in 2014 after funding an independent investigation into the industry's accident record. The investigation found forestry was the most dangerous industry to work in, with more than 1000 serious injuries and 32 deaths between 2008 and 2013.

Forest Industry Contractors chief executive John Stulen said with the help of new technology, forest owners and contractors have since led positive safety changes, including the establishment of the Forest Industry Safety Council.

"Our production has gone from 19 million cube in 2008 to over 30 million cubic metres, so the rate of serious harm is actually now a third of what it was in 2008.

"We've gone way ahead and our members have led the pro-active change to identifying risk more actively, getting a mind set in crews that safety is the most important thing. We've had a huge growth in steep slope harvesters. There's been $70 million invested in these new harvesters.

"They put a man in a cab and they put them on steep slopes where we couldn't fell before and those machines have taken a lot of the harm out and allowed us to produce more wood safely."

Sources: Radio NZ and TV One News (edited)