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Leadership, not blame, is the solution

Leadership, not blame, is the solution

This week’s workplace death is a tragedy. Everybody in our industry acknowledges this – one death is too many. These people are our workmates and family members.

We know many forest workplaces are in need of serious reform. The reform needs to start at the top. It is too early to know what caused David Beamsley’s death. The problem is complex. There is no single simple solution. Many of our members already operate with proactive and employee-owned safety measures.

For two full days this week we gathered over 400 forestry leaders to see possible new directions for forest workplace safety. Our main focus was on steep slope wood harvesting. FICA invited international experts to objectively inform our problem solving. Ultimately many more people across the forest supply chain MUST become part of our solution.

One proactive leader and his grieving family from Rotorua were among those who addressed the Forest Industry Safety Summit. Many delegates sought inspiration from his message. He shone a light on the path out of this tunnel.

“His message to the conference was clear - we can only make a difference if people are prepared to STAND IN THE GAP. Otherwise, any person – be they a manager, director or worker – who walks past an unsafe action or workmate is condoning an unsafe workplace,” says John Stulen of Forest Industry Contractors Association.

At leadership level all forest asset owners, be they local or off-shore, must be held as accountable as our men who spend each day at the felling face, or on the hill breaking out logs. The ultimate owners of the forests, in particular, need to look at themselves. How are they rewarding their contracted forest managers here in New Zealand? Only their safety leadership will lead to empowered workers in the bush STANDING IN THE GAP to call fellow workers to account over unsafe conditions.

Contractors must not be penalised for shutting down production to remove unsafe conditions. Inspectors must back them more. Workers must not be afraid to call their workmates to account over unsafe conditions. Only by STANDING IN THE GAP will be risks identified and removed.

Otherwise the harm and human toll will continue. Inspectors can’t be everywhere. But for the three years since Pike River, our bush inspectors have spent more time being restructured by government managers than they did doing inspections in the bush. Inspectors suffer the same fate as forest workers – they are not paid enough and they are all time-poor.

We all know the biggest risks are for our people falling trees and breaking out logs for yarding. New technologies, developed here in New Zealand are now being commericalised and put to work. However in many small forests on farms manual work will continue as the dominant harvest method. Whatever the case, strict adherence to ACoP rules must be built into contractors’ rates by the farmers, managers, traders or brokers who engage them.

More of our members have gone out of business in the past year more than in past decade. It came amid 22% production growth this year alone for forest exports. Earnings targets by the asset owners on their local forest managers – must be subordinate to safety targets. Safety measures must count more than earnings targets.

Leaders have the answers in their hands. It is what the leaders say; what they do and what they measure – that is what counts every day. Are they counting on safety as often as they are counting on earnings? Only the boards of directors of the asset owners know this answer.

We call for everyone in our forest industry from board chairmen to tree-fallers and breaker-outs to STAND IN THE GAP. Then we will stop the human toll.


Ends

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