THE new Forest Industry Safety Council (FISC) signals the contracting industry's continued commitment to raising the bar for workplace safety, says John Stulen, chief executive of the Forest Industry Contractors Association (FICA).
FICA had worked with forest owners and managers to help put in place the new group, following an independent sector-wide safety review and its recommendations for forestry, one of the Bay of Plenty's key industries.
FISC has engaged Dame Alison Paterson as independent chairwoman and has just appointed Fiona Ewing as national safety director. Ms Ewing was most recently group manager, health safety environment and quality for Powerco.
The new body has come into operation as the Government's Health and Safety Reform Bill is going through the legislative process, with some critics suggesting the bill in its current form had been watered down by removing the requirement for all small businesses to have elected health and safety representatives.
However, the Government has said industries considered to be high risk would not be exempted. Workplace Safety Minister Michael Woodhouse indicated forestry would be one of those industries likely to be deemed high risk. It remains unclear how the Government would define high and low risk industries to determine how many small businesses should comply with the new law.
Glen Mackie, technical manager of the Forest Owners Association, said the association had been concerned that small businesses may have been given a loophole in the legislation.
"However, the bill as it has been reported back does appear to have addressed the major issues we were concerned about," he said.
Mr Mackie added that statistics indicated an improving trend for forestry fatalities, though he cautioned that as the numbers tended to be small they could vary quickly. But he said the serious harm rate was also tracking down significantly.
"That reflects the fact we have put an awful lot of work into different initiatives while we've been setting up FISC," he said. "The other thing is that health and safety has been a very topical issue in the industry."
Mr Stulen said the contracting industry was already well ahead of what was being asked by the legislation.
"The bar is already set high for large contractors working for large forest owners and we'll be making sure in our industry that we raise the bar for all contractors," he said. "We'll be enforcing to a much higher standard in the future."
FISC would use incident reporting systems to look at the major causes of forestry accidents.