Good health and safety should – and can – run alongside good business.
This was according to safety experts who championed the forestry industry for doing just that – making investment in new equipment and technology and, in turn, fuelling improvements in health and safety.
UK head of agriculture for Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank, Brian Richardson, said this type of investment in the forestry sector was turning around the sector’s poor safety record – something he admitted agriculture had ‘not been quite as quick to keep up with’.
He said: “Forestry is a very focused industry in terms of making sure they are efficient – they have to do that in terms of the margins they are working with.
“In making an investment in equipment and having the foresight and future-proofing that business, it has enabled health and safety to improve and run alongside that.”
Mr Richardson said by making sure the business is up-to-date, workers deal with up-to-date equipment and therefore the risk factor becomes lower.
“And that is done with an eye on health and safety at the same time,” he said.
Health and safety is often seen as bureaucracy and ‘having to spend money for the sake of it’, but it can very much run in line with the development of the business and making the business more efficient, Mr Richardson said.
“The two should not be seen as separate,” he said. “When you talk about health and safety in isolation, people’s eyes tend to roll over a little bit, but it is actually, how do you make your business efficient, secure and ready for the future?
“And that runs hand-in-hand with keeping people safe; making sure the environment is working and using up-to-date equipment.”
And if one thing is to come out of Brexit, it would be a new wave of investment from long-term players on the agricultural side.
Mr Richardson added: “A lot of the changes will pay for themselves quite quickly. It is fairly glim sitting here saying you need to make those investments but it is all relative scale.
“The new regime with more environmental payments and less direct support payments will be a drive to making our businesses as efficient as they possibly can be.
“Hopefully that will drive some focused investment that at the same time will improve the health and safety regime on farm.”
Since 2012, the Forestry Industry Safety Accord (FISA) has vowed that each organisation, and the sector at large, will work to raise the standard of health and safety in their workplace in response to a challenge from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
FISA aims to lead by example, with a steering group made up of 20 industry chiefs who believe that all fatalities and injuries are preventable.
It vows to ‘learn from failure and not assign blame’, with a motto that: “We are not retraining you; we are refreshing your skills.”
One of its pioneering aims is to encourage the workforce to report not only fatal injuries, but also near misses – so that improvements can be implemented and the community can prevent the likelihood of the same type of incident happening again.
The scheme requires individual technical skills which are tested, marked and recorded, and if trainers expect the safety of the operator or third parties could be compromised, retraining within one month is required.
Clearer guidance for landowners
UK FISA chief executive Gillian Clark said it could be difficult to differentiate between sections of the industry and the crossover between agriculture and forestry was often tight.
She said the forestry industry was in the process of refreshing its main guidance on managing health and safety in forestry document, to make it clearer for the landowner to understand their duty when forestry work is to take place on their land.
“This is a connection which often seems to be badly understood, and we are working hard to improve this,” she said.
“The landowner needs to consider forestry work as they would with any other work – have they checked what the work entails; and have they checked the competency of those they have engaged to undertake the work?”
FARMER’S son Oliver Dale, managing director of Safety Revolution, which specialises in a three-year safety management programme for farms and agricultural contractors, said it worked to increase farmers’ knowledge of their highest risks and how to deal with them effectively.
The risk assessment is broken down into short, bite-size to-do lists with simple recommendations, running through an A to Z to make sure the business is running an effective management system.
Mr Dale said: “We have two objectives – firstly, that we get out on the basis that we reduce the likelihood of injury or death, and that secondly – and completely compatible with the first – that the employer has a body of evidence which enables them to prove they discharge their duty of care as detailed in the Health and Safety At Work Act to provide a safe working environment.
“In terms of purpose, if you strip back all the negativity and the bureaucracy, it is about people going home in the same condition that they arrived in.
“If we could call it that, instead of health and safety, it would be a lot easier. Because if you ask a group of guys to put their hand up if they are interested in health and safety, guess what – nobody does.
“But if you ask if they are interested in their own safety and keeping all of their fingers and toes in good nick, everybody puts their hands up.
“It is all about perception and that is the problem we have.”
CHAINSAW incidents remained a major concern for the sector, Ms Clark said, ‘and also continue to be of major concern in agriculture’.
FISA recommends workers undertake training and certification, with mandatory five yearly chainsaw refreshers and competency training for those at the forest workers manager level.
“I have real concern that the same level of competence for chainsaw use is not pushed for in agriculture,” she said.
Iain Sutherland, HSE inspector of health and safety and lead for forestry, sits on FISA’s steering group and said while the sector still had a way to go, workers in forestry had larger opportunities to better manage health and safety than smaller farms where maintenance was difficult.
He said while there had been a fall in the number of fatal injuries in recent years, it was indicative of the size of the industry.
FISA, which about 80 per cent of the industry is represented through, was launched in 2012 because the industry was failing to see improvements, he added.
“We still have the same accidents happening each year, it is just different people in different places,” Mr Sutherland said.
“There is an element of ‘I have been doing it this way for years and nothing has happened to me so it has to be safe’ – but it is not safe.
“The statistics are difficult because there continues to be under-reporting of major injuries.”
Agriculture, however, was in need of hierarchical staff to set the precedent on safe practice and challenge those who have been in the industry for years, he said.
“You need that confidence in management staff to challenge health and safety risks,” he said.
“That would make a difference.”