Mechanisation puts more strain on loggers
THE MOVE TO REPLACE PEOPLE ON THE GROUND WITH machines for safety reasons is having some unintended H&S consequences that the industry needs to address.
That’s what Paula Nordstrom has discovered after recently completing research as part of her Graduate Diploma in Occupational Safety & Health into whether mechanisation has actually made New Zealand forests safer.
Ms Nordstrom, who owns the Taupo-based Safe T Works consultancy, told the Forest Industry Safety & Technology 2018 conference in Rotorua last month that more focus needs to be placed on the long-term effects of mechanisation on workers.
She says that while mechanisation can assist by bringing down injury and fatality rates international studies show that it places different physical, mental and psychosocial demands on operators.
For instance, mechanical felling machine operators on steep slopes suffer more discomfort and pain through constant activity and less muscle rest. As many as 30% suffer from back pain through operating their machines, whilst many suffered neck, shoulder and wrist pain, and up to a quarter report feeling numbness or tingling.
Ms Nordstrom says operators feel pressured to push themselves and their machines to work on steeper slopes and ground-based crews are increasingly working in steeper blocks designed for hauler crews.
Putting machines onto ground that is less stable is a challenge and operators say they also need consistency about the maximum slope level they should be working on – something they expect the regulator to set.
A lack of proper training for machine operators has also been identified as a concern, with added pressures to get up to speed in high production crews.
She also says her research identified that forestry crews appear to be working longer hours and that travel times need to be taken into account, adding that whilst there are guidelines for truck drivers, who have to keep log books, there is nothing covering harvesting and silviculture workers. Some are working 12-14 hour days plus travel.
Ms Nordstrom identifies fatigue as a common issue in forestry, with 78% of workers reporting that they experience fatigue at some time during the day.
The industry needs to do more to improve working conditions and the health, as well as safety of frontline loggers and silviculturists, she says.
These range from including annual health checks and how to manage and eliminate pain/discomfort. Ms Nordstrom suggests machine manufacturers could develop rest break reminders that can be set for prescribed intervals when machines are in constant use.
And more research is needed into the use of machines on steep slopes and better guidelines need to be developed.