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Anderton: Forestry sector drug and alcohol code

Hon Jim Anderton

Minister of Agriculture, Minister for Biosecurity
Minister of Fisheries, Minister of Forestry
Associate Minister of Health

Associate Minister for Tertiary Education
17 October 2008 Speech

Forestry sector drug and alcohol code launch

Good morning. It is a great pleasure to be back in Tairawhiti with so many good friends.

As I travel around the country, people tell me they are worried.

The current uncertain international financial market conditions are of serious concern to workers and employers alike.

New Zealand is in a better position than most to weather the storm as markets stabilise over coming months.

Our position highlights the benefits of maintaining strong Crown accounts during the good times in order to help us through the bad ones.

It is critical to maintain a prudent approach to fiscal management and to keep up the focus on savings, innovation and investment.

We entered 2008 enjoying the longest period of economic growth since World War Two.

In the year to March, export earnings for agriculture and forestry grew by 7.8 percent to $23.4 billion.

It is projected that New Zealand's plantation forests could support a steady rise in wood availability increasing up to 30 million cubic metres a year.

For example:

Nelson/Marlborough of 2.3 million cubic metres in 2005 rising to 3.5 million cubic metres per year by 2015;

Hawkes Bay of 1.7 million cubic metres in 2008 rising to 3 million cubic metres per year by 2021;

The East Coast of 1.1 million cubic metres in 2008 rising to 3.4 million cubic metres per year by 2020;

Central North Island of 7.5 million cubic metres in 2008 rising to 10.2 million cubic metres per year by 2016;

Canterbury remaining at 800 thousand cubic metres per year;

West Coast of 233 thousand cubic metres in 2008 falling to 196 thousand cubic metres per year by 2012; and

Otago and Southland of 1.5 million cubic metres rising to between 2.6 to 2.8 million cubic metres in early 2020.

The growing volume of timber means that there will be a similar growth in the forestry workforce, which brings its own challenges.

We all know safety in the workplace is important, that's why we have safety legislation.

But investing in a positive safety culture is about much more than just compliance with the rules; it's about everyone in that workplace thinking and acting safely.

And it brings its own rewards.

Overall injury rates in the forestry industry have been falling steadily thanks to good work done across the industry.

Recent figures from ACC show that new work related claims in the forestry and logging sector have fallen 20 percent over the past 5 years, from over 500 a year to around 400 a year.

But these gains so far have largely been made by picking the 'low hanging fruit'.

Now the really hard work has to start in order to change the attitudes towards safety of everyone in forestry.

Injuries are costly, to the worker and their families, to their employer, to the industry as a whole, and to the community.

That's partly why a safe business is a productive business and why creating an industry-wide safety culture is so important.

Safety at work is a priority for managers and contractors in the forest industry, because it not only protects the employers' most valuable asset - their skilled workers - it makes good business sense as well.

More than simply lost production, an injured worker means trauma and heartbreak for the victim, their family and their workmates.

There is an obvious financial cost for the employer and for the taxpayer.

And injuries, especially those that cause death, reinforce the perception that forestry is not an attractive occupation to be in, which in turn compounds problems associated with worker recruitment and retention.

The industry knows it has an ongoing challenge to attract and retain motivated, skilled and qualified workers right across the employment spectrum.

The bottom line, however, is that we simply do not want to see our workers hurt.

So we seek ways to ensure accidents don't happen, and to raise the health and safety of our workers.

The forest industry has done a lot over the last few years in this area, such as:

Promoting a forest safety campaign;

Developing an industry-wide accident database to identify the danger spots and do something about them; and

Putting health and safety as major elements in industry training programmes.

In some cases increased mechanization has helped lower accident rates by physically removing workers from the hazard zone.

But forestry, and especially tree harvesting, is still an inherently hazardous job.

It involves using sharp tools to cut wood, often on steep slopes in difficult conditions, and often in less than ideal weather.

Forestry and associated industries have decided to do something about these challenges and they have taken the initiative and agreed to work toward the goal of an accident-free workplace.

New Zealand's forestry industry has set its sights on becoming this country's first to build a sector-wide safety culture that will reduce injuries while creating better businesses.

A 'safety culture' is reflected in the collective practices shared by everyone in the workplace as proof of their values.

It's about the way things should always be done in the workplace, whether someone's looking or not.

And an important part of achieving the goal of becoming an accident-free workplace is to eliminate the use of alcohol and drugs both prior to work and in the workplace itself.

It's a 'no brainer' to figure out that the inherent dangers of the forestry workplace are heavily multiplied by having someone working in hazard zones whose reactions are impaired by drugs, alcohol, or both.

Alcohol is heavily intertwined with people's social life.

And sadly, drugs have a grip on many of our people. Through peer pressure, they are often hard to avoid.

I have taken a particular focus on reducing the terrible toll alcohol and other drugs take on individuals and society.

Drug policy is a complex area that requires input and participation from a wide range of government, non-government and private sector interests, to minimise the social and economic harm from drug abuse.

We have taken decisive action and achieved significant advances in many areas of drug policy.

Initiatives range from work by law enforcement agencies to seize illicit drugs, education to highlight the dangers of taking drugs, through to alcohol and drug treatment services.

We have faced a changing illegal drug environment, including a surge in the availability of methamphetamine and other amphetamine type substances, and its precursor substances.

Twenty-nine Community Action Youth and Drugs programmes are now established working with communities to address drug-related harm particularly amongst young people.

While these are accomplishments worth celebrating, there is still much to do in reducing harm from alcohol and other drugs.

A couple of years ago, I got the police additional funds to produce a drug harm index.

The study concluded that illicit drug use caused social costs estimated at $1.3 billion a year to us all.

The police said that illicit drug seizures that year may have prevented about another third on that total again of harm.

And we know that the social and economic costs of alcohol misuse to New Zealand society to be between $1.5 billion and $2.4 billion a year.

The problem is enormous, and every step in the right direction counts.

Building on the success of the Environmental Code of Practice, the New Zealand Forest Owners Association has taken the bold step of drawing up a Drug and Alcohol Code of Practice, designed to assist every forestry business to become drug and alcohol free.

The Code of Practice uses a quality-based programme, focusing on education and rehabilitation.

It is a comprehensive process, requiring consultation and acceptance of practical policy and procedures, education, training of selected staff, drug and alcohol testing, employee assistance, rehabilitation, case management and auditing.

The Code is designed to be comprehensive, practical, and cost-effective.

It is suitable for use by all forestry companies, contractors, independent saw millers and other organisations associated with the industry that wish to eliminate the effects of alcohol and drugs in the workplace.

At its core is a drug and alcohol policy template which can be adopted directly by individual forestry businesses, or can be tailored to suit an individual company's requirements.

The comprehensive Drug and Alcohol Free Workplace Programme, that this Code is part of, will help employees play their part in creating a healthier and safer New Zealand society and assist many employers to enhance their contributions as responsible corporate citizens.

It will also help reduce:

the number, type and cost of accidents;

employee turnover;

the costs of recruiting and training new staff;

absenteeism, especially those morning after 'sickies'; and

productivity loss, where people are at work but not functioning up to scratch.

It will also raise the profile of the forest industry as a safe work environment.

Just as importantly, it will help reduce the suffering of victims of workplace accidents, and their families.

And in doing so, it will help to reduce the terrible cost of drug and alcohol abuse on us all.

The Forest Industry's Drug and Alcohol Code of Practice is an investment in people, in productivity, in profitability, and in the future of the industry.

I invite the industry to apply for a grant towards this project form the Discretionary Fund administered by the Ministerial Committee of Drugs and Alcohol. I am advised by officials that the programme would qualify to apply for assistance although I can give no absolute guarantee that it would succeed because they is usually more applications than money available.

As both Minister of Forestry, and as Minister responsible for this Government's illicit drug policy and Chair of the Ministerial Committee on Drug Policy, I congratulate the Forest Owners Association and its members, for having the guts to confront this problem, the intelligence to design a robust and workable solution, and the strength to care for their workforce and their communities.

Thank you and best wishes for a successful campaign.


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