Clarky's Comment - December 2013, Forestry Must Get Safer

Forestry Must Get Safer

The three forestry fatalities in November and December add to seven previous fatalities classified as forestry sector earlier in the year. This is of course a terrible record and tragedy for the families involved. However in this comment I wish to focus on the initiatives that will help both our industry and others similarly affected by employee harm in the workplace.

  1. Mechanisation is on the increase. There is huge investment taking place by contractors into equipment that gets workers off the ground and into cabs. At least 10 self-leveling harvesting machines have been ordered in recent times in the CNI alone. Tethering machines that can help control another machine operating on steep slopes are being manufactured in both Nelson and Rotorua. Motorised grapple carriages that eliminate the need for men to hook up logs to strops on steep slopes are on the increase. At nearly $1.0 million each for the self-leveling harvesters and hundreds of thousands of dollars for the other items this is no small investment in productivity and safety.

    With on-going support by many forestry firms for the PGP-supported Steepland Harvesting research, smart solutions to enhance the safety and productivity of machines operating on steep slopes will be critical as so much of the increased future harvest is on steep land. One recent example is the Cutover Camera that gives hauler operators visibility of breaking out activity. Contractor uptake is likely to gather pace during 2014 for this practical and relatively low-cost safety tool.

  2. The beefing up of both the capability and activity of the MBIE Health and Safety field inspectorate is helpful. In particular the inclusion of smaller woodlot operators and hopefully also farmers felling trees in these site inspections is positive as this group contributes disproportionately to forestry sector accident statistics.

  3. The government is now clearly very serious about developing a Safety Star Rating System that will motivate and reward businesses to make better decisions. This is in its early stages of development. To work it must not only lower ACC levies for those with a good safety record, but also push work in their direction. As a large buyer of goods and services the government is in a good position to raise the importance of safety in its procurement policies.

  4. An industry initiated review of safety in the forest industry gets under way in 2014. This will assist forest owners, contractors and workers in how best to address underlying root causes of workplace accidents.

  5. Several of the larger forestry owners/managers are undertaking their own independent reviews or audits of safety systems and culture. These can only help to inform decision-makers where to focus resources and effort.

  6. The Business Leaders' Health and Safety Forum has developed a 360 degree safety leadership assessment tool (a world first) and is offering this to CEOs of larger NZ businesses. Many forestry firms are members of the Forum. The Forum is also offering a series of short courses that address the key elements of safety leadership in 2014.

  7. A new Health and Safety Act is to be introduced in New Zealand during 2014. Early signals are that this will place greater emphasis on CEOs' and Directors' responsibilities and also on worker participation and individual worker responsibility for safety.

    The forest industry is an important one for all of New Zealand, and will be even more important as the harvest level increases over the next decade. All those involved must play a part in making it safe for those that work in it.