Clarky's Comment - June, Principal's Duties


Principal's Duties and How it Affects Forest Owners

In November last year WorkSafe NZ released an amendment to the Approved Code of Practice for Safety and Health in Forest Operations (ACOP). This document clarified the duties of forest owners and contractors when it comes to managing the health and safety aspects of forestry work - refer to the new Section 18.

The Health and Safety Reform Bill is likely to become law in New Zealand later this year, replacing the current Act. This Bill further reinforces the role of the forest owner as a Person in Charge of a Business Undertaking (PCBU) in engaging contractors and workers to ensure that forestry work is planned, organised and carried out in a safe manner.

At PF Olsen we observe that some forest owners are adapting to these new requirements, whereas others are taking a more "hands-off" or "wait and see" approach, or are simply assuming their agent has these matters in hand.

The ACOP amendment makes it clear that forest owners cannot contract out of their liabilities under the current Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 simply by engaging an agent to manage their forest or harvesting operations. The forest owner needs to satisfy itself that its agent really is managing the Principal's duties as prescribed in the ACOP.

What we have learnt is that to meet the new legislative environment and to really make an impact on the goal of eliminating harm in the forestry workplace, real money has to be spent and real resources have to be committed. As the CEO of PF Olsen I estimate that around 25% of my time in the past 18 months has been dedicated to health and safety management. In addition we have a dedicated, specialist Health and Safety Manager and a dedicated, specialist Environmental Manager. In addition, safety is integrated into almost all our business and communication processes - everyone's involved. This investment goes a long way to giving forest owners confidence that PF Olsen is effectively discharging their principal's duties.

A forest owner, as principal, will be expected to have an active and conscious role in recruiting a forestry manager who is suitably experienced, qualified and capable of fully discharging the principal's duties (both in safety and environmental management). At a minimum, this is likely to involve, firstly an assessment of:

  • what qualifications its key people have to manage health and safety and environmental risks, including those associated with roads and skid site engineering
  • what, if any, independent certifications the manager holds for its processes and systems
  • the track record of the manager and key safety and environmental statistics - total incident frequency rates (TIFR) and lost time incident frequency rates (LTIFR) and any prosecutions or abatement notices
  • processes for engaging, inducting and auditing of staff and contractors
  • the role of the manager in respect to facilitating and monitoring contractor and crew skills and training
  • reporting of safety and environmental issues.

The selection criteria should have sufficient weighting on safety and environmental management to demonstrate that the principal is valuing, recognising and selecting for this competency.

Finally, there should be a well-drafted engagement agreement that outlines each parties' respective duties and responsibilities. In addition, prior to commencement of operations, the forest owner should also identify and communicate any known hazards or issues related to the land or site.

Without demonstrating this approach it would appear likely that a detailed investigation and prosecution of a serious safety or environmental incident could leave the principal (the forest owner) quite exposed to legislative breach.

PF Olsen Principal's Duties Statement

Peter Clark visits Blackhawk Logging

The CEO, Peter Clark, discusses safety and environmental performance with a harvesting crew (Blackhawk). At PF Olsen, executive staff crew visits, Safe Start events and Safety Champion's meetings, training days, drug and alcohol tests, incident and near miss reporting and audits are all treated as lead indicators that help to improve safety culture and compliance with best practice.

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