The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has turned its attention to the issue of forestry safety, and is holding a Safety and Health Awareness Day to highlight the specific health and safety issues affecting workers in the forestry industry.
The day will cover issues relating to the use of forestry machinery and forestry chainsaw work, directional felling including the use of hydraulic wedges and bottle jacks, hand-arm and whole body vibration, and public access issues.
The HSE warns that forestry is still one of the most dangerous occupations in Great Britain, and treework alone is responsible for 38 work related fatalities over the past ten years.
In the five years up to March 2012, forestry recorded an average fatality rate of 10.4 fatalities per 100,000 workers. This alarming figure is three times higher than that in the construction sector, which is often thought to be the most dangerous sector to work in, and is 15 times higher than the average fatality rate across all industries.
In addition, HSE estimates suggest that over the same five year period, 6,600 people were injured, many seriously, while conducting forestry work.
Speaking about the awareness day, HSE Inspector Iain Sutherland explained that the focus would be on the higher risk activities that are responsible for the majority of serious injuries that people suffer in the forests.
“People will also be encouraged to challenge unsafe practices when they come across them, irrespective of who’s involved,” he added. “Everyone in forestry has a part to play in making the industry a safer place to work and refusing to accept dangerous ways of working will help to improve the industry’s record and ensure that more people get through their working days without injury.”
When safety issues are not taken sufficiently seriously, the consequences for forestry workers can be catastrophic.
In one case recently reported by the HSE, a worker was fatally injured during tree felling operations at Bogrie Wood near Drumlanrig Castle in Dumfries.
The 49-year-old, who had learning difficulties, was struck on the head and body by a 36 metre tall tree, which had been uprooted and knocked over by another tree being felled as he was acting as a signalman between two other workers also involved in the tree felling operation.
When the HSE investigated the tragic incident, it discovered that the company responsible for the felling operation had failed to conduct a suitable and sufficient risk assessment, implement a safe system of work or provide adequate information, instruction, training and supervision for employees who were engaged in the tree felling task.
In his role as signalman, the worker should have been positioned at least two tree lengths away from the tree being felled. However, because of his learning difficulties he did not always appreciate distances and was well within the ‘two tree’ exclusion zone when he was struck and killed.
The investigation also found that although workers were supposed to adhere to the ‘two tree’ rule, the winch cable they were using was only 40 metres long, far too short for felling trees of between 26 and 36 metres.
The company was fined £140,000 after pleading guilty to breaching Section 2(1) of the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974.
Speaking after the case, HSE Inspector Aileen Jardine warned that “a system of waves and nods is not a safe way to manage the felling of large, heavy trees and put all three workers at unnecessary risk.”
“This informal and unsafe way of working had been in place unchallenged and not updated for over 15 years with the Estate making no efforts to follow industry safety guidelines or to even accurately assess the risks its workers faced,” she said. “As a result a vulnerable man has been killed.”
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