Forestry learners in safe hands

March 18, 2021

The forestry industry has often hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons, traditionally leading other industries in the number of workplace incidents.

However, there’s been a turnaround and the number of injuries and deaths related to forestry in the past year has decreased significantly, which the industry is putting down to a positive shift in the culture of safety and attitudes towards training within the sector.

Competenz has approximately 2,500 learners in the forestry industry, enrolled in a variety of programmes including Workplace Health and Safety training.

Christine Ewart, Competenz account manager says the number of people in forestry training is increasing.

“Forestry learner numbers have risen over the last few years and in higher risk sectors such as forestry, proper health and safety training is crucial. We welcomed the news last year from Worksafe and ACC reporting a 15% decrease in injuries across the forestry workforce in 2020, and importantly, fatalities have fallen by 71%, which is significant.”

Risk Management Group (RMG) has been the training provider for Competenz delivering Workplace Health and Safety training and qualifications in the forestry sector for the past nine years. Peter Archer is the founder and MD of RMG, which provides accredited investigative, regulatory services and risk management training across a number of industries.

“Competenz asked us to write a training programme specifically for the forestry industry designed to reduce the number of workplace incidents. We have been delivering a Level 3 qualification for many years and this year we’ve had a number of learners, including those on management pathways, enrol in Level 4. The key outcomes of the qualifications are to provide NZ workplaces with people who have health and safety skills and knowledge to meet legislative requirements and responsibilities. Level 3 is about understanding the risk, while

Level 4 is more about managing the risk.

“There is risk associated with machines involved in machine felling and extraction including mobile plants, mechanised processors and all-terrain vehicles. There are also environmental factors – the terrain, weather and isolation. From a risk management point of view there are multiple hazards and all are significant. Keeping people safe is the priority.”

Peter puts the improvement in workplace safety in the sector down to a change in culture.

He says incidents at work often happen by people taking shortcuts, thinking they are benefitting the company.

“Often people make decisions that they think are the ‘right thing to do’, with pressure to finish a task quickly in order to start another. There’s been a cultural shift in the forestry industry. Business owners and employees are realising they want to return home safely to their families and if that means finishing a job the next day, then so be it. That’s a huge turnaround in thinking around health and safety.”

A new focus on the importance of planning has also contributed to the impressive drop in the number of incidents.

“When we first got involved with forestry we were surprised at how many companies had already taken big steps to address health and safety issues. They were doing things like installing GPS in their vehicles to minimise speed in certain areas. It’s not one fix, it’s a multiple culture change in the way they do business and planning is a huge part of that.

“Planning how activities such as harvesting will proceed and what safety precautions are needed and what hazards need to be identified before they start is lifting the game even further,” says Peter.

For Competenz, the results of focused health and safety training across the sectors it represents including forestry, are pleasing and proof that the industry is moving “in the right direction”.

Says Christine “Through our priority for health and safety training, we’re confident the forestry industry will continue to improve its practices and workplaces and will become even safer, which is fundamental for business owners, staff and learners alike.”