15 Aug 2014

Forestry needs safety plan - Worksafe

4:03 pm on 15 August 2014

The Government's safety agency, Worksafe New Zealand, says the forest industry should take responsibility for reducing its terrrible accident rate by putting in place a blueprint or action plan for safer forests.

A forestry worker sharpens the chain on his saw.

Worksafe New Zealand is calling for an industry-led safety blueprint for forestry work. Photo: PHOTO NZ

That is Worksafe's recommendation to a panel that is conducting an independent forest safety review.

The agency has identified a range of shortcomings that it said had contributed to the fragmented industry's poor safety record.

It said complex contracting relationships with short-term contracts meant that no-one was taking responsibility for safety; that safety was not a high enough priority and was undermined by non-compliant operators; and that its own performance as a regulator has been lacking.

It said a safety blueprint developed by the industry with the support of Worksafe could be operating within six months.

Forest Industry Contractors Association chief executive John Stulen said it did not agree with all of Worksafe's conclusions.

But he said it had hit the nail on the head in identifying contracting arrangements and short-term contracts in particular as obstacles in investing in equipment that could improve safety.

"If you're going to go ground-based logging, you'll need to spend $2-3 million on equipment and that really doesn't wash with short-term contracts. And if you're going to go harvesting on slopes, you're looking more like $3.5-4 million. So there needs to be, and this is acknowledged by the regulator, that in order to support that type of investment, we need long-term contracts," he said.

"Many of our members have been in this business for over 25 years, and they haven't changed who they work for, so it's hard to discern the need for short-term contracts."

Mr Stulen said forest contractors supported the idea of developing a safety blueprint but Worksafe needed to play a more prominent part in that than it was proposing.

"Worksafe is now getting 8 percent instead of 5 percent of the injury prevention money that ACC collects. And a substantially increased department should be a key player in both the regulations and talking with industry in how we want to make safety a bigger part of everyday bush work."

CTU president Helen Kelly.

The Council of Trade Unions (CTU) also opposes an industry-led approach to improving forest safety. Photo: SUPPLIED

CTU president Helen Kelly said it had failed where it had been tried in the past, in industries including forestry.

"We support the analysis by Worksafe about what the problem is, that the industry's fractured, that the working conditions are poor, all the different things they set out in their submission," she said.

"But their solution, that this industry, that has all of these problems and has failed previously to keep workers safe should somehow step in and lead this development of a blueprint, we think is naive and dangerous and also abrogates their role, which is to ensure regulation and safety standards in the industry."