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Change for forestry safety

A major step change must occur to take mechanisation to a whole new level to help improve forestry safety, a forestry safety seminar has heard. Source: New Zealand Herald

Forest Enterprises’ Dan Fraser, who has been involved in the forestry industry in New Zealand for close to two decades said it was time to lift the bar.

Forestry in Europe has been using remote controlled equipment — yarders, skidders and forwarders for more than 25 years.

“On my first trip to Europe, a large-scale German logging contractor said to me ‘Daniel, I feel very sorry for your loggers — you dress them up like popsicles and you call that safety’.

“I was taken aback by that, and he went on to say Europe had problems with the cost of labour being too high, a shortage of people — too many people getting hurt — the same problems as us.”

In response, they engineered new harvesting systems, Mr Fraser said. Here, we were not keeping up.

European yarders have tension-monitoring systems on every rope to prevent overloads, ropes last for six years and are part of the hauler, not a consumable.

“Tethered machines are new technology in New Zealand but every machine you could imagine is tethered in Europe and has been operating like that for many years. Remote control is often the normal, not the exception.” 

Mr Fraser said in Europe, they continue to leap ahead and now have electric operating, based on the original remote-controlled design.

“The power output of electric is phenomenal. It is cheaper to operate and an environmental step forward.

“We are right at the cusp of this technology being available in and suitable for New Zealand.”

However, Mr Fraser said right now it is not a simple step of ordering a machine.

“European logging equipment is smaller and designed for harvesting smaller, lighter trees, so needs development.

“Our Gisborne terrain has often difficult soil types and slopes posing further significant challenges,” he said.

“There is some great innovation and progress with New Zealand manufacturers but many contractors/companies are just hanging back watching.”

In the short-term, contractors needed to be banging on these manufacturers’ doors and showing the demand in New Zealand.

“As forest owners/managers we must be planning and facilitating this new technology, employing only certified contractors who embrace taking these steps quickly as possible.”

Mr Fraser said future training demands should move away from basic chainsaw skills and incorporate sophisticated machine-operator training and teleoperation.

“That is the future of this industry. We need to lift the bar so we are attracting more great people into this industry. Wouldn’t it be great to have more young people finishing university and choosing to work in the forest? A lot of excellent work had been done around safety but more rules and more audits were just another administrative control and in his point of view more “fluff around the edges.

“The real control is engineered systems, mechanisations, teleoperations and it’s not pie in the sky stuff. It’s already happening elsewhere and if we can adopt this strategy, accident rates will come down, the environmental footprint will reduce and forestry can be a highly-respected industry that all kinds of people will want to work in as a life career.”