Worker input on safety is needed for the forestry industry

Press Release – First Union

Worker input on safety guidelines and funding for safety training is needed for the forestry industry

FIRST Union is deeply saddened by the death of Shannon David Omlo of Tapawera in a forestry accident near Nelson yesterday.

FIRST Union extends its condolences to the family and friends of Shannon. Our statement below does not comment on this death but answers media enquiries to FIRST Union on the more general issue of health and safety in the forestry industry and the recent rise in forestry deaths.

The work that Helen Kelly led in the forestry industry until her death has been taken up by FIRST Union which, through its President Robert Reid, sits on the Forestry Industry Safety Council.

One aspect of Helen Kelly’s legacy, and shared by authors of the 2014 Independent Forestry Safety Review, that has not yet been adequately addressed by the Forestry Industry Safety Council (FISC) is the need for genuine worker health and safety participation systems. Helen Kelly, the Review and the new Health and Safety at Work Act saw worker participation as a key part of any health and safety strategy.

Following the urging of FIRST Union and the CTU, at its last council meeting the FISC agreed to launch an action group to devise and implement appropriate worker participation systems across the forestry industry. Guidelines for this action group are being drawn up in Auckland tomorrow to develop such a worker participation system.

FIRST Union has also been building a Forestry Workers Network (see editor’s note below for more on this) as a key component to an industry wide worker participation system.

Mr Reid says he’s expecting the new worker participation system will ensure workers concerns on health and safety are heard.
“We expect it will be effective if workers are genuinely able to participate in the making and implementation of safety guidelines on the job. If workers feel a part of the process, rather than just being told what to do, they are much more likely to understand the rules and guidelines.”

He says while all employers are quick to say they like feedback and employee engagement, genuine worker participation is much more than that. It often means workers telling employers what they don’t want to hear and that there may be even safer ways in which to operate.
“The communication needs to be more than post-it notes; it needs to include a ‘ground up’ approach from independently elected health and safety representatives.”

He says it’s also evident there needs to be a new approach to managing forestry operations across the supply chain.
“The cost of logs, tight production schedules to meet the deadline of an export order, and low contract prices for contractors also contribute to a poor health and safety record.”

Mr Reid adds that unfortunately funding has also been an issue for some time.
“The changes to ACC and MBIE funding over the last decade has meant fewer rather than more resources going to unions to enable them to play their required role in building health and safety systems including good worker participation systems. Under the previous government the CTU has lost its ACC funding to provide health and safety training for worker representatives.”

FIRST Union was also unsuccessful in obtaining funds under the Employment Related Education Fund to coordinate the required training of elected forestry health and safety representatives.

“This has meant a reduction, rather than an increase in resources available to the union movement to carry out this vital role of identifying, facilitating and training workplace representatives in the forestry sector,” he says.

In February 2018 WorkSafe convened a workshop to discuss worker participation across all industries. Those attending included representatives from business and the CTU. There was feedback given to WorkSafe on what is required for effective worker participation in the forest sector. The feedback recorded the introduction of roving representatives or advisors; a national register of HSRs in the sector; facilitation of networking for HSRs; training of HSRs; building worker participation requirements into forestry supply chains.

One of the key learnings from the meeting was that there were key enablers for effective worker participation. One of the 6 key enablers identified was union support, training and information for worker representatives; and the development of knowledge activists – ie competent representatives.


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