The forest industry has seen massive change over the past decade with respect to health and safety compliance.
It's well known that in the bad old days the fatality rate (deaths per total number of people working in the industry), primarily in the harvesting sector, was one of the worst of any industry nationwide.
The introduction of the Health and Safety at Work Act in 2015 bought in legislation that forced the industry to raise H&S management standards and as a result the industry fatality rate has dropped from an average of 6.3 per year in 2011-2013 to 4.6 in the 2018-2020 period.
More importantly when we put these figures against total harvest volume we see an average rate of 3.2 million tonnes harvested per fatality in the 2011-2013 period compared to 7.0 million tonnes over the past three years.
As an industry we've worked very hard over the past five years and we are seeing the results of improved systems, personal awareness, training, technology and mechanisation.
In May 2018, the National Environmental Standards for Production Forestry (NESPF) came into force with an intention of bringing all district plans' forestry activities administered by councils under one set of rules for all things environmental related to forestry.
Prior to this, each council had their own rules and enforced environmental compliance to varying degrees, if at all. Although the intention of the NESPF was to align all councils under one rule book, each council has different interpretations of these rules and many are applied and enforced in means not consistent with the original intent.
The upshot of the NESPF is that land is classified into four erosion susceptibility classes: green, yellow, orange and red - the latter two being areas of higher erosion potential.
All activities in red zoned areas require a resource consent and will likely have some very strict rules governing works in those areas. Even planting trees in red zone land requires a resource consent.
As a general rule, in any land class, sediment from road construction and harvesting operations has to be controlled so as not to enter a waterway either directly or via rain events.
Rules around what harvesting debris that can remain in waterbodies such as creeks and streams are significantly more stringent. Forest360 is aware of a number of enforcement actions been taken against management companies and forest owners that have failed to comply with these standards.
These new standards have resulted in increased costs of road construction and harvesting operations and in some cases in challenging terrain those costs can prohibit harvesting all together.
What does all this mean for your average forest investor? Basically, it is imperative your forest manager has a very high level of health and safety and environmental compliance as, if it all goes wrong, you could quite likely end up standing in the dock facing some serious charges (HSWA = $1.5m and RMA =$600k) – even after the harvest is over and done with.
Planning and monitoring are key to ensure any construction activities are compliant and all harvesting activities must be notified to the relevant regional council at least 20 working days before kick-off.
The days of hitting the go button on a harvesting operation and getting logs flowing within a week are gone. This will now take at least a month to get through the red tape.
Once the operation is up and running the councils' monitoring staff will then carry out regular compliance inspections and send you an invoice for the privilege.
Although there are still a few environmental bandits operating in the industry, the vast majority of forestry companies are very environmentally aware and the after-effects of the Tologa Bay incident have kept this front of mind.
There is a view, however, that the compliance pendulum has swung too far the other way and that it is now very hard to practically implement or comply with some of the rules.
Whether it's appeasing WorkSafe with guarding parts of a machine that you would have to be a contortionist to get to or removing every last piece of debris from a waterway that previously was littered with wind-thrown poplars, common sense and practicality appear to have taken a backseat in some cases.
So, while compliance is often seen as a necessary (and sometimes unnecessary) evil, it has saved lives and will ensure our waterways and the environment are protected long term.
Compliance has added a significant level of operational cost, which is ultimately borne by the forest owner.
In the Forest360 business, the level of health and safety and environmental compliance that is now required has reduced the number of individual logging operations that one operational manager can effectively manage from seven down to four in the past five years.
In addition, we have two fulltime compliance managers to complete notifications and consents and ensure our systems are abreast of current legislation.
It is essential that, as a forest owner, you are aware of the legislation governing the industry and your obligations as the crop or landowner. You cannot simply contract your way out of liability or plead the ignorance card and the law is now very clear around where the liability sits.
WorkSafe and regional councils have allowed a grace period and now tend to lose their sense of composure around non-compliance.
Our advice is take this stuff seriously and ensure your forest manager or contractor has their compliance ducks in a row, do the background checks and ask the questions.
No one wants to take their chances in front of the magistrate.