A three-year plan to reduce injuries and fatalities in the forestry sector is being launched in Rotorua today.

The Independent Forestry Safety Review was announced in January in response to the industry's poor safety record. Since 2008, 32 lives have been lost on the forest block. The injury rate is double that of other sectors and the fatality rate is 15 times the overall rate for all sectors.

After months of consultation, the review panel is today presenting its recommendations in front of industry stakeholders and forestry workers at Rotorua's Distinction Hotel.

In a statement released today the Panel said:

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"The Independent Forestry Safety Review has recommended a three-year action plan to drive improvements in the forestry sector. The action plan will leverage the commitments to a new safety culture and a better safety record made by the forestry sector during the review process. It will be a document against which the actions of the sector - at all levels - can be measured.

"The Panel Review believes the first action that needs to be undertaken is the development of a Safety Charter and an agreement by leaders across the industry to meet the mandatory health and safety and employment standards already in place.

"In the 21st century being unable to achieve these basics is simply not acceptable and has a negative impact on the culture of a workplace and the ability to work safely. It sends terrible signals to workers about how they are valued and the priorities of their employers. It also has a direct impact on safe working practices.

"The Panel Review believes all participants in the forestry sector need to make a concerted effort to improve the basic standards on the forest block to reduce the numbers of serious injuries and fatalities. If there are industry participants at any level that cannot or will not meet the standards, they should consider exiting the industry.

"We agree with WorkSafe New Zealand when it said, if you cannot operate safely, you should not be operating at all. Safety is a cost of doing business, but one that will bring productivity gains.

"The Review has seen and heard from many examples of good forest owners and managers, contractors and crews during our consultation process. The challenge is to take the good culture and practice, and roll it out across the industry. It is possible. The Review Panel has a vision of a safe, sustainable and professional forestry sector by 2017, achieved in partnership by government, industry and workers.

"We believe a Forestry Leadership Action Group should be convened to deliver the recommendations from the Review and to support long-term, system wide changes in the forestry sector. There is no silver bullet to reducing the rate of injuries and fatalities.

"The Review Panel wants to see the advisory group convened by WorkSafe. This is critical to ensuring the momentum from the Review is maintained and the first steps towards a new safety culture are quickly put in place. Over time, WorkSafe can take a lower profile, but the nature of New Zealand's health and safety environment means that government, industry and workers will always need to work together.

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"With rapid implementation of the Review's three key recommendations, the Forestry Leadership Action Group and the Forestry Sector Health and Safety Action Plan, we believe rate of serious injuries and fatalities can be lowered quickly and dramatically."

A copy of the Review Panel's final report can be found at www.ifsr.co.nz.

Union response

Robert Reid, general secretary of FIRST Union, said the report was a wake-up call for all stakeholders in the forest industry, including unions.

"Together with the Council of Trade Unions, FIRST Union has been vigorously campaigning over the last three years to make New Zealand forests a safe place to work.

"The Forest Safety report pulls no punches and puts the responsibility on all forestry stakeholders including workers and unions to work together to bring a sea change of safety improvements in the industry.

"As the wood sector union, FIRST Union is willing to play a full role in the creation of the tripartite Forest Leaders Action Group (FLAG) that the report recommends be established over the next three months.

FLAG's role is to develop a Forest Sector Health and Safety Plan and deliver the recommendations that arise from the review.

"FIRST Union is also willing to play its role in developing the network of worker health and safety representatives that is called for in the report. FIRST Union and the CTU have wide and deep experience in developing and training workplace health and safety representatives in other parts of the wood industry and in other sectors over the last couple of decades.

"For far too long there has been an antipathy against worker representatives and unions in the forest sector. Only two years ago, the forest contractors and MBIE locked the union out of a series of Health and Safety briefings for forestry workers. The tragedy was that a year later in 2013 we saw the worst ever fatality rate in the forests of 10 deaths.

"We are wanting to learn from these dark years but also put them behind us. Just last week FIRST Union reached an agreement with one of New Zealand's biggest forest management companies to facilitate our union to meet up with and talk to all forestry workers in the crews contracting to it. We hope this is indicative of a more collaborative approach through the whole industry; an approach called for by the Independent Forest Safety Review report," Mr Reid said.

The CTU also welcomed the findings.

"These recommendations must be implemented to ensure that everything possible is done to make forestry safer," CTU president Helen Kelly said.

"It is fantastic to see the acknowledgment of mandatory standards including the rights of workers - that these standards are necessary and non-negotiable. Clear competency standards are critical in ensuring workers are trained to perform their work.

"We completely agree with recommendation that - Government should not shy away from forestry specific regulations because of the burden of the current legislative change programme, or because it may set a precedent. Such regulations should be seen as simply a part of the system-wide and integrated suite of changes needed to improve health and safety outcomes in the forestry industry.

"It is heartening to see that the panel have recognised the real value of strong worker participation in health and safety development and implementation at work. Commitment to this is paramount."

The CTU said it wished to thank the panel for all its work.

Background to the Independent Forestry Safety Review

Since 2008, 32 lives have been lost on the forest block. The forestry industry is the most dangerous industry in which to work in New Zealand. The injury rate is double that of other sectors and the fatality rate is 15 times the overall rate for all sectors. This is disproportionate and unacceptable. This needs to change to prevent further loss and devastation and for the industry to be sustainable.

In response to the industry's poor safety record, the Independent Forestry Safety Review (the Review) was announced on 29th January 2014 by the Forest Owners Association, Forest Industry Contractors Association and Farm Forestry Association (the Review Sponsors). It was supported by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, WorkSafe New Zealand (WorkSafe) and the Accident Compensation Corporation.

Three Panel members were appointed to undertake the Review; businessman George Adams, health and safety lawyer Hazel Armstrong and safety expert Mike Cosman. Biographies of the Panel members can be found on the Review's website - www.ifsr.co.nz.

The purpose of the Review was to identify the likely causes and contributing factors to the high rate of serious injuries and fatalities in the New Zealand forestry sector. The Panel was expected to take an independent approach, was given a broad mandate and received widespread support.

The processes followed to undertake the Review can be grouped into three stages. These are the:

- issues identification stage
- consultation stage where the Review Panel released a consultation document and travelled to regions
- final reporting stage.

Over the course of the Review, the Review Panel heard from over 540 forestry sector stakeholders, received 111 submissions on the consultation document and over 330 completed Forestry Worker Surveys. There was strong engagement from across the sector. There was widespread agreement with the issues identified in the consultation document as impacting on health and safety on the forestry block. These issues included lack of leadership to drive a safety culture; gaps in the standards for ensure safe work and safe workplaces; and inadequate training and supervision of workers. There was also been widespread support for WorkSafe New Zealand (WorkSafe) stepping up its compliance and enforcement visits.

The Review Panel's vision is for a safe, sustainable and professional forestry sector by 2017, achieved in partnership by government, industry and workers.

Summary of recommendations

That WorkSafe convene a Forestry Leadership Action Group made up of government, industry, workers and their representatives to oversee the delivery of a Forestry Sector Health and Safety Action Plan to implement the recommendations in the Final Report, including:

- a charter or pledge for industry leaders to commit to specific actions for change now and into the future and tools and resources to support the development of safety leadership capabilities

- developing effective worker participation and representation schemes and a network of trained worker representatives for the forestry industry

- a review of the Approved Code of Practice for Safety and Health in Forestry Operations and regulations that set out the competency standards required for safety critical roles

- a timetable for developing an industry led contractor certification scheme and supporting systems to recognise those that meet health and safety and employment obligations

- an enhanced approach to data collection and evaluation and information sharing across the sector so that data and accident investigation information is shared and change can be evaluated.

The Review Panel is also recommending WorkSafe:

- enhance their workplace assessments and investigations to look at all underlying factors contributing to serious injuries and fatalities on the forest block

- review their memorandum of understanding with the New Zealand Police so that investigations are undertaken to an agreed standard that will enable prosecutions to progress if appropriate

- develop a communication policy for engaging with victims, families, workers, crew and industry when an accident occurs and during the investigation and prosecution phase.

Questions and answers

What are the next steps for the Review?

The Review has now been completed and the Final Report given to the Review Sponsors (the Forest Owners Association, Forest Industry Contractors Association and the Farm Forestry Association).

The first action is for WorkSafe New Zealand to convene the Forestry Leaders Action Group to deliver the action plan to implement the recommendations in the Review.

How many stakeholders did the Review Panel talk to during the consultation phase?

The Review Panel spoke with over 540 stakeholders during the consultation phase. This included public meetings and private meetings with, amongst others, forestry contractors and workers.

The Review Panel also travelled to Balclutha, Christchurch, Rotorua, Whangarei, Gisborne and Nelson to meet with individual forest owners and managers, forestry contractors, workers and their representatives and other stakeholders.

Did the Panel talk with people injured in forestry accidents or their families?

Yes. The Panel has spoken with some families of those killed in the sector and with some injured workers. We would like to thank them for the time they took to meet us.

How many submissions did the Review Panel receive?

The Panel received 111 submissions.

Will the submissions be published?

Information from the submissions has been included the Final Report.

Who wrote submissions to the Panel?

A wide range of people made submissions including private individuals, workers and unions, forestry contractors, forest management and marketing companies and forest owners. Submissions were also received from research organisations and industry experts and from industry suppliers and manufacturers.

What were the key themes from the submissions?

The high level of stakeholder agreement with the issues identified in the consultation document was evident in both the written submissions and during the discussions at consultation meetings. There were no issues identified that stakeholders did not, by majority, agree were contributing to poor health and safety outcomes on the forestry block. For example:
- a lack of safety culture contributing to poor outcomes - 87 per cent support
- a lack of regulatory oversight and information contributing to poor outcomes - 86 per cent support
- impairment impacting on safety - 83 per cent support
- adverse working conditions impacting on safety - 80 per cent support
- concerns with understanding the new legislation and regulation - 80 per cent support
variable planning and hazard mapping - 79 per cent support
- a lack of worker participation and representation - 72 per cent support
variable infrastructure - 70 per cent support
- a training system that is not fit-for-purpose - 65 per cent support
- varying approaches to the design and maintenance of equipment/machinery/PPE- 62 per cent support.

A high level of stakeholder agreement with the options identified in the consultation document was the further theme to emerge from the consultation process. The level agreement with key options is summarised below:

- the need for a leadership/advisory group - 81 per cent
- the need for a forestry sector intervention strategy - 90 per cent
- investment in research and information about the forestry sector - 74 per cent
- sharing information about forestry accidents in a timely manner - over 90 per cent
- regulatory reform or guidance to bring greater clarity and consistency - over 70 per cent
- reviewing and updating the Approved Code of Practice - 60 per cent
- improve safety management systems - 80 per cent
- setting regulated standards for key infrastructure - 60 per cent
- improve the clarity of employment contracts and ensure all workers have them - 80 per cent
- regulated competency standards for safety critical roles - 82 per cent
- a review of curricula and funding policy -79 per cent
- implement an industry wide certification scheme - 82 per cent
- the need for better regulatory oversight from the regulator - 86 per cent
- the development of a comprehensive set of indicators to support workplace assessments - 94 per cent
- develop enhanced procedures and protocols for accident investigations - 100 per cent.

The importance of planning at all stages of forestry operation was central to discussions regarding infrastructure (roads, bridges, and skid sites) and was also seen as key to developing consistently safe systems of work. Good pre-operations planning and hazard identification and mapping were emphasised by stakeholders as safety critical tasks that must be done and done to a high professional standard.

Differing resources and capabilities of corporate controlled and small and farm forests was an issue often commented upon by stakeholders. However, the Review Panel has not found any conclusive evidence that highlights either segment of the industry as a key concern; injuries and fatalities are occurring in both corporate controlled and small and farm forests. It is the Review Panel's view that the small size of forestry contractors may be a more significant factor impacting health and safety.

Another key theme to emerge in the submissions and consultation meetings was the increased risks to health and safety when working on steep terrain. The combination of terrain and changing environmental conditions (for example, wind, rain and/or snow) can make tree felling and breaking out tasks particularly hazardous.

The need for the sector to have a clear and consistent legislative and regulatory framework backed up by good codes of practice and best practice guidance was made clear to the Review Panel. The industry was very supportive of the Approved Code of Practice for Safety and Health in Forestry Operations (the forestry ACoP). But, it also acknowledged gaps in the forestry ACoP. The Review Panel consistently heard the feedback "tell us what the rules are, so we know what we have to comply with".

How many workers filled in the Forestry Worker Survey?

Over 330 workers completed the Forestry Worker Survey.

What were the key themes from the Forestry Worker Survey?

All the workers completing the Forestry Worker Survey thought that safety at work was important. The survey also found that most workers believed that their boss takes safety at work very seriously. Only 1 per cent of respondents answered in the negative say their boss did not take safety seriously at all.

Fifty four per cent respondents to the survey indicated that they got one break or less during their day. Their breaks were usually short, with 57 per cent having a break of 30 minutes or less each day.

The survey found that many workers do not stop work when the weather is bad. Fifty eight per cent of respondents did not stop work. When they do have to stop work, 40 per cent don't get paid. High wind was the most recorded reason for stopping work.

The survey found that 56 per cent of respondents receive a personal protective equipment (PPE) allowance. The Review Panel has noted that this is an illegal practice. Eighty seven percent of respondents said that their boss checks their PPE.

Fifty one percent of respondents said that their boss did not provide fresh drinking water on site. Seventy seven percent had access to shelter. Almost 50 per cent of respondent advised that they would use a toilet if it was provided on site.

About one quarter of workers said that they knew of people coming to work affected by drugs and alcohol.

Sixty per cent of workers completing the Forestry Worker Survey believed that more training would improve safety. A wide range of training needs was listed, with training on forestry machines a feature.