19 Jun 2015

Praise for forestry safety council

10:33 am on 19 June 2015

A forestry safety council has been set up to try to combat the high number of deaths in the industry.

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Photo: 123rf

Its creation was a key recommendation of the Independent Forestry Safety Review Panel which was established to assess the sector, after the death of 10 workers in 2013.

Since then improved safety measures have seen that number drop to one fatality in 2014 and one death so far this year.

The new Forest Industry Safety Council will be chaired by Dame Alison Paterson.

Forest Owners Association president Paul Nicholls said the council would be able to influence safety on the forest floor and add to safety initiatives already implemented.

Mr Nicholls said it was a deliberate strategy to name the new body a 'council' and to appoint a chair who was highly respected both in the rural sector and wider community.

"We are proud to have someone of the calibre of Dame Alison as chair, as well as a board made up of all those who can influence safety on the forest floor. We all have a responsibility to each other, to ensure that safety [is] ahead of all other considerations, economic or otherwise.

"By reinforcing the status of the council, we also reinforce the importance of improved workplace safety.

He said its aim is to ensure that everyone who works in forestry returns home safely to their families at the end of each day.

Mr Nicholls said the industry is totally committed to improved safety and to the review panel's mantra that "if a job can't be done safely, it shouldn't be done at all."

The owner of a Māori forestry company, Jacob Kajavala, said many tāngata whenua work on the forest floor and the council's make-up is the most balanced and inclusive that he's seen set up in the industry.

"The council is being set up with solid representation from all levels and sectors of the industry, independent of some of the larger groups that have run [it]. It's really balanced and people on the forest floor have a voice.

"Tāngata whenua definitely have a voice, more so than ever before in this industry, which is a great thing."

He said the sector had changed, as demonstrated by their participation in the Forestry Safety Review Panel and involvement with other new safety initiatives.

"In the past contractors and workers often felt isolated and left in the dark, but that's no longer the case and they're feeling very optimistic about what the future holds for them.

"The Forest Industry Safety Council will entrench what's already happening - it's part of the revolution that is happening in our industry. The council will do a good job of co-ordinating and structuring the improvements that the industry is already undertaking."

"The set-up of the safety council is a real victory. There was a lot of activity last year in relation to our woeful safety record, but the safety record has improved and we've not taken the foot off the gas.

"The recommendations from the independent review are being picked up and the Forest Industry Safety Council is evidence of that."

Mr Kajavala believes Dame Alison Paterson is the right person to chair the panel.

"I've met Alison Paterson and was impressed, she's got the credentials for the job, and also the puku [stomach for it] to call it as she sees it and that's exactly what we need. My impression is that she's very pragmatic and calls it as she sees it- so if it's spin, she'll call it that."

Unions, forest owners and Worksafe New Zealand will also be represented on the Forest Industry Safety Council.

Funding for the council will come from the Forest Grower Levy and from the Government, ACC and Worksafe.