The Forest Industry Safety Council What is it up to?
On March 16 at the Forestwood conference in Auckland, on behalf of NZFFA, I signed the charter for the Forest Industry Safety Council. This was signed on behalf of the government, by Associate Minister for Primary Industries, the Hon Jo Goodhew. The rest of the board also signed at this milestone event.
The charter commits all, including the NZFFA, to work towards the aims and objectives of the charter. The mission statement has the words ‘together towards zero’ which in itself is a tough aim, but does highlight the multi-party approach. The council has the specific mission ‘to partner with all stakeholders in the forest industry to achieve safe outcomes for all forest industry workers through working collaboratively and implementing operational excellence’.
Overseeing the Review
The development of the Forest Industry Safety Council and the evolving programmes arose out of the Independent Forest Safety Review which was carried out in 2014. The NZFFA was one of three sponsors of this review and many branches contributed financially to this worthwhile review and report.
The review was instigated after the devastating accident rate and deaths in 2013. At the time there was considerable pressure on the industry from the government, the unions, media and general public. Something had to be done to stem the tide of fatalities and serious injury in the forest industry, so at the time the NZFFA was more than willing to takes its place and contribute and support the review.Among the extensive recommendations was that a multi-party group be established to oversee the recommendations of the review and carry on the work of the review panel.
An important recommendation of the review was ‘to change the culture’, an intangible one but a very important one.The message was that the forest industry needs to step up and make safety paramount, a sound message for all industries particularly agriculture. Health and safety requirements will not go away and every worker deserves to be safe in the workplace. The Forest Industry Safety Council’s objective to achieve this are highlighted in its charter and has the mandate to work across the whole plantation forestry sector representing one voice in health and safety, a first for a multi-party industry lead body in New Zealand.
The Forest Industry Safety Council has two representatives from the large forest growers, representatives from Worksafe and ACC, two worker representatives, two from the Forest Industry Contractors’ Association, and a union representative, along with me representing the small-scale forest grower and the NZFFA. With this make up of members, the group is representative and can act on behalf of the industry.
A major feature of the last two years of activity has been the growing confidence and respect of government agencies for the proactive way the forest industry has handled this situation, from recognising there was a problem and then tackling the issues head on. Worksafe and ACC are now major funders of the Forest Industry Safety Council and provide considerable support. In fact, the forest industry is now being seen as a leader and an example in developing health and safety programmes. This major turn-round has happened in two years and the NZFFA has been in there from the start. Many may say progress has been slow. However, it has taken time to establish the legal structure and gain the confidence of government bodies enough to make a financial commitment.
Million dollar budget
The Forest Industry Safety Council has a budget of just over $1 million dollars, half of this coming from the Forest Growers Levy Trust and the rest from government agencies. One of the first objectives of the board was to get the legal documentation produced, establish it as a charitable trust and appoint a National Safety Director. Last September Fiona Ewing was appointed to this role, a person with a long history of working in the health and safety area.
It is important to note that the Forest Industry Safety Council is the governance authority which will oversee the implementation of the independent review recommendations. The structure is based on the successful British Columbia model implemented several years ago. Within that model there was an overriding governance group, an Operations Advisory Group and a number of Technical Action Groups. We now have these same groups up and running.
The Operations Advisory Group
The Operations Advisory Group, of which the NZFFA member Alan Laurie represents the small grower and brings a lifetime of experience to the group, is required to instigate the various programmes needed in response to the independent review. The Operations Advisory Group will oversee and direct the Technical Action Groups in their many work streams.
The Operations Advisory Group will ensure that the work is in the appropriate areas and done in a concise and co-ordinated manner. It will be responsible for the work programme and plan in the main focus areas and is made up of forest industry experts in the health and safety field and as such is well placed to carry out the role.
Technical Action Groups
Here is a summary of the main focus areas of the Technical Action Groups established so far to implement the recommendations in the independent review.
This is a group focusing on the intangible elements of frontline leadership programmes where the industry takes charge of getting the health and safety message across all sectors of forestry though active involvement. A primary aim will be to introduce a safety culture across the entire forest industry.
This group will work closely with the business leaders’ health and safety forum. It is important that all workers know and have faith in the industry leadership and that they know that the well-being of all workers is paramount. This group initiates one of the main reforms in the new health and safety legislation where an owner or operator is responsible for taking all reasonably practicable steps to ensure the health and safety of workers.
Many ways to communicate the health and safety message are available and it is this group’s role to develop and implement the communication strategy. This will include media releases as well as events to get the message across. The website Safetree was initially established before the Forest Industry Safety Council, but the website has now been taken over and will be a primary means of communicating the health and safety message. ACC provided the bulk of funding for the development of this website but will now be under the Forest Industry Safety Council umbrella. The website is very worker friendly with a strong emphasis on video presentation rather than using large amounts of text.
The review recognised that there was a lot to be learned from incident and accident reports and as such this performance management group is looking at ways to get reports from as wide a range of sites as possible and present them in a coherent manner. This will help produce a database that can be presented on the Forest Industry Safety Council and Safetree websites. Currently the Independent Recording Incident System is the recording method but is confined to reports from the larger forest owners.
It will probably be modified to report at the contractor level and it is imperative that incidents in smaller woodlots are reported. The resultant database will hopefully allow for analysis of trends and highlight areas of concern and future resolution. An underlying issue for this group is the privacy act and legal issues. Julian Bateson is a member of this group.
This group will look at the whole issue around individual competency and skills for the task, particularly around safety critical roles such as tree felling and breaking out. This encompasses the possible certification of individual workers, how they should be trained, assessed the standards required, as well as a database to incorporate the individuals.
Contractor company certification
The review observed thatthere are manyvery good contractors who have excellent health and safety programmes but there are, as in all industries, the rough end who are not up to standard. However, in the forest industry there is no room for inadequacies when it comes to health and safety.
This group is required to implement a contractor certification scheme for those who meet the standard and it will most likely be run through the Forest Industries Contractors Association. There will be an initial pilot scheme established. I see this move as being good for small-scale growers who have very little knowledge of logging requirements, in that they may take some reassurance that they have a certified contractor harvesting their woodlot.
Health and safety legislative reform
With the advent of the new Health and Safety at Work Act, which came into force on 4 April, there is a need to evaluate the implications of the new legislation, as it relates to the forest industry and then to communicate the main concepts. There is a need for purposeful site induction procedures to be developed, as well as worker involvement, participation and representation. These are all the duty of care for employers and owners.
The group will also focus on the regulations laid down in the Approved Code of Practice. The code seems to be continually being revised or rewritten and as such a watching brief is needed to ensure the regulations are fit for purpose.
This group will evaluate if current training is fit for the task and investigate improvements that may be required to equip workers with the skills to operate safely in the forest. Training was an area highlighted in the review, where there is a clear need for streamlining of training providers and aims to improve the quality and level of training provided. If workers are not adequately trained then they cannot operate safely in the workplace.
More representation needed
Health and safety is uppermost in the thinking of many at present with the new legislation just being enacted, while the forest industry is in the forefront of reforms that are underway. The NZFFA have been very active in the process so far.
However, we need to maintain the momentum and be well represented in the Technical Action Groups where the real work will happen, decisions will be made and programmes will be developed. We need more willing members to participate on these groups so that we have an effective voice for the small forest grower and our unique factors are considered.
Ian Jackson is the NZFFA representative on the Forest Industry Safety Council