13 Oct 2016

Making forestry safer and more productive

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 1:26 pm on 13 October 2016

Forestry is one of the most dangerous industries in New Zealand to work in, but what can be done to make it safer?

According to Statistics New Zealand, it's the third-least safe for fatalities – behind the agriculture and construction sectors – although an industry overhaul in 2014 is helping to reduce deaths and accidents.

”The biggest challenge our workers face is the completely unpredictable and uncontrollable environment. They’re interfacing every day with a situation that can change at the drop of a hat,” says research scientist Briony Hooper.

Briony is a human factors scientist at Christchurch company Scion, which specialises in worker safety in high-risk industries.

She tells Jesse Mulligan her end goal is worker health and safety, with a focus on how individual workers think and behave within the system.

After experience with workers in aviation, military, the police, transport, utilities and even casinos, she says her favourite are the “salt of the earth” forestry workers.

The increasing automation of their industry – which allows for more night work – is a double-edged sword. While automation takes workers out of the high-risk environments physically, it can also slow down human response at times when immediate action is imperative, says Brionny.

“The uncomfortable truth is when you’re working in an environment like forestry, errors and mistakes are an inevitable by-product”

Scion is developing training systems with virtual reality technology so workers can hone their reactions and intuition in a realistic, but safe environment – fast-tracking experience that could previously only be gained by years on the job.

Brionny Hooper ,  was named the inaugural winner for young scientist, at the 2016 Forest Science Awards held in Napier last night.

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