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Forest Owners Celebrate Improved Safety Record

15 August 2005

Forest Owners Celebrate Improved Safety Record

Accident rates in forestry have tumbled and forest owners are chuffed.

"This is something the industry has been working on for years. We want forestry to be recognised for its high occupational safety standards," says NZFOA chief executive David Rhodes.

Last year, according to the Department of Labour, there were 46 workplace deaths in New Zealand, but only one of them occurred in the forest industry. There were 23 in agriculture.

"While any fatality or serious injury is one too many, the industry is encouraged by the steady downward trend, and by the dramatic fall in the number of accidents relative to the volume of wood harvested," Mr Rhodes says.

"Ten years ago, there were 45 workplace deaths in New Zealand, including 11 resulting from forest operations, a fairly typical figure for the era. Since then there has been a 70% increase in the annual log harvest, with more of it coming from forests on difficult terrain."

He says the improved fatality statistics reflect a concerted effort by the industry to address its health and safety issues. Injury statistics and figures for logging truck roll-overs appear to confirm this.

"There has been a marked decline in the number of new ACC claims for injuries incurred in forestry, down from 666 in 1994/95 to 455 in 2003/04. Logging truck rollover crash statistics released by Transport Engineering Research show a dramatic and consistent downward trend since 1999."

Association safety committee chair Sheldon Drummond says the potential hazards in forestry have not changed.

"What have changed are our systems and the attitudes of forest staff. Our workforce have stepped up with a concerted and professional approach to safety, out-performing other hazardous occupations."

Five years ago the forest industry took stock of its safety performance and decided that improvements had to be made. Causes of accidents were identified and the Forest Safe Campaign was launched, followed by the People Safe Campaign. The latter was directed mainly at alcohol and drug abuse.

"Thanks to Department of Labour support and clarification of the legal position through a test case, most companies now have reconfirmation drug testing.

"The NZFOA has now agreed to a blanket policy on reconfirmation drug testing. This has done much to increase the safety of those working in the forest. It has also given increased confidence to parents in encouraging their sons and daughters to enter the industry," Mr Drummond says.

"FITEC, our industry training organisation, is highly effective. It works closely with the industry in designing new courses and certification to further improve professionalism and safety performance."

In 1998 there were 7749 persons undergoing formal training in silviculture and harvesting, a figure which has grown to around 10,000 today.

Mr Drummond says the industry is "really chuffed" with what has been achieved, but its target is to have zero fatalities and a further significant fall in the number of accidents.

"To reach even better levels of safety performance will require further efforts from all involved in the industry and the co-operation of government and other agencies such as ACC and OSH, and of management, employees and the unions," he says.

"Underpinning the improved safety performance is a desire among all the industry's players for New Zealand to be a world leader in sustainably managed forests. Sustainability includes not only environmental and economic sustainability, but also taking social responsibility for everyone working in the industry."


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