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The Forest Owners Association response to the safety review

David Rhodes, New Zealand Tree Grower February 2015

The Forest Owners Association welcomed the results of the Independent Forest Safety Review released at a launch in Rotorua at the end of October. The report and its summary were circulated widely throughout the forestry industry. Since the launch the Forest Owners Association it has been working to make the first recommendation, the establishment of a forestry leadership action group, become a reality.

In early 2015 it is expected that this action group will be ready to direct the work required to meet the recommendations of the panel and improve the unacceptable rate of accidents and deaths attributed to the forest industry. This work will involve the overall culture and approach to safety within the forestry industry, enabling the change to a ‘can-do safely’ attitude.

Changing the culture

In 2014 forestry had one fatality and significantly fewer accidents. This lowered rate is likely to be a reflection of the focus which has been placed on health and safety in the last year and the industry must not become complacent and believe that the problems have been solved. One forestry worker did not get to return home from work last year, one family lost a member of its own, which is unacceptable.

Changing the culture of the industry, applying policies and procedures which will further protect the workforce and developing a effective training strategy will take time and may be challenging. The industry will have to work together to make a real difference. This means that all parts of the sector, including all forest owners, forest managers, corporates, stumpage operators, contractors and their workers must be involved with the intervention, training, guides and enforcement accompanying the response to the review report.

The review made 10 recommendations. Some are already very close to being implemented, such as the formation of a forestry leadership action group and forestry sector health and safety action plan. Other recommendations will take much longer, such as developing and putting in place a regulatory environment for the implementation of competency standards for high hazard and safety critical roles. Of particular concern are operations not carried out by corporate forestry, the small-scale forestry. In 2013 this contributed under 20 per cent of the harvest but was responsible for over half of the fatalities. It can be challenging to ensure they receive appropriate regulatory oversight, as many of the operations are in remote areas and for relatively short periods of time.

Proper representation

One of the major challenges for the small-scale grower and harvester will be to ensure they get suitable representation on the groups which will be developing the responses to the review recommendations. It is essential that not just the growers, but the non-corporate contractors and marketers servicing the small-scale forest sector become involved in the development and implementation of the initiatives.

Responding to the recommendations, combined with the changing legislative environment with the new health and safety legislation being introduced in 2015, will put considerable pressure on the resources representing farm foresters and the small-scale grower in general. For example, the Approved Code of Practice for Safety and Health in Forest Operations will require major modifications with the requirements of the new health and safety legislation along with the review recommendations. The challenges of a smaller operation, combined with the greater difficulty in communicating to a widely spread diverse group of small-scale forest owners means a targeted strategy is required to ensure their requirements are incorporated and the results communicated.

The management structure around the forestry leadership action group should be in place in the first quarter of 2015. This structure will include facilities for industry input to develop and implement the individual projects to respond to the review recommendations. It is essential the whole of the forest growing sector contributes.

David Rhodes is the CEO of the Forest Owner’s Association.

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