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Forest safety update and guidelines for safer field days

Julian Bateson, New Zealand Tree Grower August 2015.

What has been happening with regard to forestry safety over the past few months? The news in the various national media has been relatively quiet, which is usually a good sign. Pressure is being kept up by Worksafe with their forestry harvesting workplace inspections and they are definitely having a continuing effect. The trend of around 2.5 infringement notices handed out at each inspector visit, which was the case 18 months ago when Worksafe started, has fallen to an average of one infringement notice for every two or three visits. In other words, forestry companies are complying a lot more which means fewer accidents.

Worksafe say the changes are very much in forestry behaviour but this is not yet sustainable and more work still needs to be done. However, the good news is that there is still a continuing improvement in forestry safety with a 60 per cent reduction in injuries compared with previous long term trends. I have been told that there have been downward trends before which then tailed off and accident rates rose but no one seems to have any figures or research to explain why the rates rose after falling. My simple mind suggest that if Worksafe continue with regular inspections and enforcement, and the forest industry retains its current positive attitude towards safety then it will continue to work.

Detailed information on the fatalities in forestry since 1965 is shown in the graph. The fatalities fell to a low level in the mid-1980s and again in the early 2000s. There was also the recent very significant reduction after the dreadful year of forestry fatalities in 2013 and we can only hope that this reduction in fatalities continues. However, the reasons for the reverse in the previous trends seem not to be available. I have been told that no one is carrying out research on this. I think it would be very useful to find out.

Mixed messages on safety for farm forestry

When it comes to farm forestry and other small-scale forestry some mixed messages about safety are not helping. Unfortunately, while the forest industry seems to be speaking with one voice and making safety a number one priority, the farming lobby is often ‘whinging’ about regulation changes expected from the planned new health and safety laws. Many of you will have read about this in the media.

An example of one of the changes that the farming lobby is trying to get is for the government to reduce the requirement for small companies to have an employee with direct safety responsibilities. This is in direct opposition to what the forest industry needs and wants for smaller forestry contracting companies. Small harvesting contracting companies are a significant concern forWorksafe and their inspectors are concentrating a lot more on small woodlots and fly-by- night contractors. Anything which is likely to reduce standards among these companies is not what the forest industry needs or wants.

Injuries and a fatality

Sadly, even though the accident rate is reducing it is not yet zero and people are still being injured or killed in forestry work. In early June a Northland farmer was killed while felling some trees on his land. He was found by his wife injured under a tree and he died before emergency services arrived. In late June a man had both his legs broken in an accident involving a logging cable, the accident occurred on private logging land.

They are just two recent examples but both of these accidents seem to be linked to small woodlots or farm forestry. As mentioned above, small-scale woodlot contractors are still a top problem for safety and accidents. Worksafe have said that a sustainable change for woodlot operators is needed and have put the ball firmly back with farm forestry and owners of woodlots.

Long-term annual logging fatalities

Incident reporting system

For a number of years corporate forestry has had an incident reporting system with the acronym IRIS. All incidents, accidents or even a near miss, have been recorded and reported to a central point, the information analysed and used to help in accident prevention. The data is anonymised, which means that the identities of those involved are removed. The result is a very useful record of accidents and near misses which can be used to modify behaviour and help prevent more accidents and injuries.

Unfortunately due to past financial constraints, this has not been comprehensive system, but with the benefits of levy money the aim is to bring all forestry into the reporting system. Smaller forestry companies are to be included as well as those involved in small-scale forestry, including farm forestry. How this is all going to work has yet to be determined.

Until now records for injuries linked with forestry activities among farm foresters and owners of small forests is very difficult to obtain. Many accidents involving working with trees are reported as being farming related, and frequently the whole truth is not told. For example a chainsaw injury while thinning trees could be reported as one caused when working on a fence post. The reasons for incorrect reporting or non- reporting of injuries are almost certainly mainly to avoid an increase in ACC levies which are much higher for forestry than for other businesses.

In addition, an accident may not be referred to as being in work place if it is on a woodlot which is not part of a farm or is on a lifestyle property. A mishap on a private property is a domestic incident which is not covered by Worksafe. If you roll a ride-on mower in your garden of 10 hectares, and you are injured or killed, it is not Worksafe’s concern and would not be investigated by them.

New working group

Many of us know about close encounters with trees or machinery which could easily have caused injury but remain our secret. However, knowing what nearly happens may well help prevent future more serious incidents.

A working group, with a farm forestry representative, has now been set up to develop a scheme which can incorporate accident and incident data from a variety of sources such as small contracting companies, woodlot owners and farm foresters. The group has held one meeting to get things going and hopefully there will be a cunning plan before too long. However, if anyone has any good ideas which will help, please let me know.

Fire fighting

Ket Bradshaw throws some interesting light on the problem in the article on page 26. It is good to be able to fight your fire if the firefighters will not do this due to health and safety concerns.

However, it is worth bearing in mind what the current and proposed new health and safety laws suggest. If you are doing it all yourself you are taking the risk. If you are using other people and the forest is classed as a place of work, which it almost certainly is, the current and future health and safety laws will probably apply. That means taking all practicable steps to ensure safety. If someone is injured or dies while helping you fight a fire, the implications could be significant.

I am not suggesting that you do not ask for help. It is that you should be aware of your responsibilities and potential liabilities as ignorance is no defence.

New Forest Industry Safety Council

As this magazine goes to the printer the appointment of the first director of the Forest Industry Safety Council is expected to be announced.You may have heard nothing about progress with the Forest Industry Safety Council. I have heard very little although I was told lots had been happening deciding who will be on this council.

As you may remember in October 2014 it was recommended that such a council be set up and a three year work programme was outlined with the work to begin around the early part of this year. It now seems that the first full board meeting is scheduled for the end of July with the identity of the director to be confirmed. There will also be a full time equivalent ‘assistant’ supplied and funded by Worksafe.The appointments will be for three years.

Funding for safety council is, as most will know, mainly from the levy, with some from MBIE/Worksafe and ACC, mainly in kind. The council will set a work plan and an Operations Advisory Group chaired by Warwick Foran will test the good ideas and carry out a lot of the work. The other real hard work will be by the Technical Action Groups which have yet to be appointed. I hope to have a much better outline of what will be happening, and when, in the next Tree Grower.

Field day safety guidelines

For many years farm foresters have held field days which have become the cornerstone of the NZFFA at branch and national level. In general field days are a safe place to be but as with any activity, there are risks. Many of the farms, woodlots and other places where field days are held are a workplace which means that current and proposed new legislation for health and safety at work will apply.

It does not mean that we have to get concerned about running field days but we do need to have everything to the right standard. Hopefully there will not be an accident and the overall aim is to reduce the number of accidents to zero. But if there is one which causes an injury, the organiser and owner of the land will have nothing to fear if all the proper procedures have been followed. However, if workplace rules are broken, Worksafe will get involved and at the worst there could be a prosecution. With the proposed new legislation it could involve hefty fines.

Working drafts

To help everyone involved in planning and running a field day the NZFFA is preparing guidelines for safety at farm forestry field days. The first draft has been written and is getting close to field tests.

The aim is to make it all as easy as possible for land owners to know what to look for and to prepare to make sure the field day is as safe as is reasonably practical. Here are a few of the introductory paragraphs from the draft which will give you a bit of a flavour.As you will see it is all written in clear plain English.

If you are planning a field day on your land it could be your first, or you may have had a number. It is almost certain that you will have been to other field days and have seen what they have done. Hopefully, you will also have read the guidelines for field days which you can find on the NZFFA website.

The first thing to consider is if the field day is a good idea. It may be that someone else suggested it and you felt you had to go ahead with the field day. On the other hand you could be keen and want to encourage people to make the visit. It will probably make a quite a difference to how you approach the planning. If you are not happy having a field day for safety or other reasons, say so in plenty of time. ‘No, I do not want to run a field day on my land’can be the right answer for you.

If you definitely want to hold a field day, your first stop should be to go to the NZFFA website as mentioned above. Look at the events page where there is a copy of guidelines for running successful events. This was produced from the experience of running a number of farm forestry field days over a period of two or three years. It is well worth reading before you start. On page five there is a brief reference to a risk assessment and safety. This is where these guidelines start.

Identifying risks

The above introduction is followed by a number of tables outlining potential risks to be assessed and recommendations on the actions required to minimise, mitigate or eliminate these risks. This is a significant improvement some of the forms supplied by other organisations which are mainly blank and the individual has to decide what a risk might be. My experience is that people’s perception of risk varies substantially.

For example, there are those who think that transporting people on trailers or in the back of a ute is an acceptable practice. I doubt there is anyone reading this who has not at some time ridden on the back of a trailer or ute. However, it is totally unacceptable to do this at a field day because it is dangerous.

I have spoken to Worksafe about this and have yet to get a definitive written answer which they will approve. But they have said that if anyone in a workplace arranges for people to travel on the back of a ute or trailer and there is an injury, it could well end up with a prosecution.

On the other hand I have been to field days where every slight bump or hollow in the ground had a warning label because the owner thought that these were risks to be mitigated. They are very different attitudes from different people and the guidelines should give everyone a standard to work to.

Any help or even comments about the guidelines are welcome as well as feedback when the guidelines are released for testing. The people to contact are myself and Allan Laurie of Laurie Forestry. We have drawn the short straws to get these guidelines written.

Julian Bateson is the NZFFA health and safety representative.


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