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Improving safety for farm foresters

Julian Bateson, New Zealand Tree Grower November 2010.

The risks in the business of forestry have been known for a long time and ACC has been targeting the industry for the past few years. As a result they have managed to significantly reduce the number of accidents to professional foresters. They expect that this downward trend in forestry accidents will continue, apart from one key area − farm foresters or owners of woodlots.

One serious accident each week

It is difficult to separate out serious injuries that have happened to farm foresters compared with professional foresters or farmers. However ACC have worked out some rule of thumb figures. The accident rate for professional foresters is just over 300 a year. The accident rate for what they judge to be farm foresters is approximately an additional 50 a year, or around one each week. This figure could easily increase as farm foresters start the more dangerous tasks of harvesting small woodlots planted from the early 1990s on.

ACC can see the downward trend in the accident and injury rate for professional foresters, but not farm foresters. Some clever people may have already worked out that if there are about 2,000 members of the NZFFA, that 50 accidents a year is one in 40 and they know 40 members who have not been injured for quite some time.Are the figures suspect? In fact there are around 15,000 farm foresters out there, perhaps more, and the NZFFA only has about 15 per cent as members, so the accident rate is closer to one in 300.

What next?

The next phase is good news but requires a bit of work. ACC managed to reduce the professional forestry accident rate by working closely with the industry and producing a series of cunning plans. These plans were based on knowledge gleaned from research they carried out using a small series of workshops involving professional foresters.

They want to do the same with farm foresters and are prepared to fund this, so that eventually the farm forestry accident rate will plummet, ideally to zero. ACC worked out that that there is a strong correlation between good safety systems and good overall business management. Conversely those who are careless about safety are usually bad at almost everything else. If ACC can facilitate good overall management and forest practice it will also reduce the accident rate.

They need information which they will get from special workshops and the first of these has already been planned for 30 November in Palmerston North. It will involve a maximum of 20 farm foresters from the southern part of the North Island. The workshop will be run by Dr Hillary Bennett who ACC use as an expert in teasing out the information required.

Volunteers may be needed

Some members will have already been asked to come to this full day workshop. By the time Tree Grower is published, about two weeks before the workshop, we may have a full complement, but possibly not. If you think you can handle a full day of being put through the mill, figuratively speaking, helping Dr Bennett get a full picture of farm forestry, then please contact myself at or Hamish Levack at as you may be needed.

Once the first workshop information has been analysed ACC will decide if they need one or more of these workshops in another part of the country. Whatever the outcome, by the middle of 2011 they want to have a system for farm foresters up and running by the NZFFA to significantly improve safety.

Reductions in the ACC levy

We all know that the ACC levy has to be paid, it is the equivalent of an insurance premium. The ACC system in New Zealand is admired around the world, in spite of the fact that we always seem to find ways of complaining. One main problem of ACC is that individual small companies who are very safe and have no accidents do not get a reduction in premiums in the way that a safe driver gets a reduction in motor insurance.

ACC intend to rectify this and are busy discussing the options available, which they intend to have in place by the end of March 2011. Nothing is confirmed, but they currently envisage three options.

There would be the standard payment for those companies or individuals who have a ‘standard’ number of accidents over a set period. There will be a higher payment for those who have significantly above average accidents. Finally, the good news is that for those who have significantly fewer accidents, the premium would be reduced.

Not only would fewer accidents mean less pain and misery, it would also mean less expenditure when those ACC levy envelopes arrive in the post. As mentioned earlier, this is all in the discussion phase and nothing is definite, apart from the start date of 1 April 2011. It means the sooner we start on being safer, the cheaper it may be, as well as fewer accidents.

Julian Bateson is the NZFFA health and safety representative


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