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Clarky's Comment - September 2014

It is too early to determine whether NZ plantation forest safety and the focus by WorkSafe and forest owners/managers over the past 12 months is yet impacting on the forest industry's safety performance. While we have had fewer fatalities so far in 2014 than in 2013, the fatality statistics have always been lumpy year to year. Incident metrics (such as LTIFR and TIFR) are more consistent year-on-year lag indicators than fatalities. Ironically both of these indicators, as measured by the forest industry IRIS database, actually declined in 2013, but have been creeping up again in 2014. It would be hard to conclude that there has been any step-change in the safety of the forest workplace yet.

The Independent Forestry Safety Review panel is expected to release its report in October. This report and its recommendations will be studied carefully by the larger forest owners and hopefully also by smaller ones and contractors. We are not anticipating any "silver bullets" but recommendations for a series of changes and initiatives that will all contribute to improved safety culture and performance over time.

Regardless there is a lot of effort and good work going on. Some examples include:

  • Widespread contractor investments in equipment that can reduce human exposure to harm in forests. This includes tethered falling machines, grapples on yarders to replace strops, in some cases on mechanized carriages, electronic chokers and mechanised heads for log-making.
  • Research and development and implementation of new technologies such as GPS locator beacons for workers, cutover camera, CTV cameras on grapple heads, remote operated digger and felling head.
  • Increased focus on safe loading protocols, safe driving and use of clear radio communications.

Once the new Health and Safety Reform Bill is enacted the concept of shared safety responsibility across principals and contractors, that has long been practiced by major forest owners, becomes enacted as law under the Person in Charge of a Business or Undertaking (PCBU) concept. With much of the harvest expansion occurring in partnerships, farmer and smaller forests owned by individuals rather than corporates, we can expect an increased need for agents such as PF Olsen to manage the bulk of the forest owner's duties and responsibilities and for independent auditing of those agents to ensure they are doing the job well. Smaller forest owner's understanding of their increased principal responsibilities will likely be reinforced by a few highly publicised cases of clear breaches by such forest owners (should they be unfortunate enough to occur).