Taranaki contractor, Tom Valintine, has set an enviable record during his 51 years in the bush – he’s never lost a day’s work to injury. We could learn a lot from his experiences.
AT A TIME OF HEAVY MEDIA COVERAGE OF THE PERCEIVED hazards of working in the forestry industry, veteran Taranaki logger Tom Valintine is a shining light – he’s gone 51 years in the game without suffering a single lost-time injury.
“It’s important to keep what I call a wide eye on things,” the Inglewood man explains of his impressive safety record.
“After a while you develop a sort of sixth sense. So whenever there’s a situation that doesn’t feel quite right, I’ll stop and roll a smoke and think about it.”
This simple method of keeping himself and his staff safe has worked numerous times, says Tom, who owns Valintine Logging with his wife, Marian.
“One time I was tracking with a bulldozer, but I didn’t feel comfortable about it and backed up. Then as I was figuring out what to do, the ground in front of me slipped into the valley below.
“Another time, for some reason I wasn’t happy about the look of a big Radiata we were going to fell, so we stepped away to consider what to do. Suddenly a great big limb came crashing down where we had been standing.
“I don’t know why I didn’t feel comfortable about these situations. I just did. But we needed to step back and think about it – and we were right.”
This simple method of ensuring workplace safety remains just as important today, despite an increasing amount of paperwork
required under modern-day health and safety regulations, says Tom.
“You have to remember that in the timber industry there are a lot of workers who are bright, but who aren’t too literate. Some of them have trouble writing, so it is really important that the safety messages are communicated in all ways.
“For this reason I’m a great believer that workers should start their training right at the basic level, so they can learn everything. Bushmen shouldn’t be treated as all brawn and no brain – they should be valued and properly trained in all ways.”
The industry itself has made good use of Tom’s knowledge. In the 1970s he was asked to contribute to the writing of the first Forest Code of Practice, which required frequent trips to Rotorua for meetings.
And back in Taranaki, Valintine Logging was among the first to write its own H&S Management Plan and wear company-branded hi-vis clothing – which became so popular that even the truckies wanted the tee-shirts!
That’s a major change from when Tom first entered the logging workforce in 1967, leaving school at age 18 to start full-time with his father’s firm, Valintine Sawmilling. Up until then, he’d been crosscutting during the school holidays from age 15.
“I was taken out into the bush and told here’s a chainsaw, there’s some trees – now go cutting,” says Tom.
“If I did something wrong I’d get my butt kicked. I can’t remember
things being particularly tough, but it was a no-nonsense learning experience, that’s for sure.”
The timber industry was always going to be in Tom’s blood. Or medicine.
His grandfather was a doctor (the first Director General of Health NZ) but it was Tom’s great uncle who first took the first steps in forestry and for whom his father Bill worked. Bill was among those to take the very first timber out of Kiangaroa Forest in the 1930s and then spent six years overseas with the Forestry Corporation, cutting timber for use in aircraft manufacture during World War 2, before returning to New Zealand and setting up Valintine Sawmilling in Inglewood.
“Things just grew from there,” says Tom. “Dad went from operating portable mills to establishing yards on Elliot St and then James St. At one stage he had 30 staff and a lot of time was spent cutting native timber in places such as Purangi and Tangahoe. He also cut a lot of construction timber and wood for use as railway sleepers.”
In more recent years Tom has discovered he has other relatives heavily involved in the timber industry in North America and cousins who used to be loggers in Zimbabwe.
When Bill retired and sold his business (the site is now Value Building Supplies), Tom and Marian decided to specialise in the logging business and started Valintine Logging in 1994.
These days the Valintines have their son, Chris, as part of the company, while another son, Blair, runs his own Stratford-based contracting company. The two companies have worked together, building a log bridge for truck access to a forest Tom was logging near Te Wera, east of Stratford.
Tom, who is now 70, is constantly out on the job working with his crew, while Marian is responsible for the administrative aspects of their business. The company harvests around 1,000 tonnes of logs each month, almost all of it in Taranaki.
Company equipment includes excavators (mostly Hitachi), a static de-limber for removing limbs from the stems and a four-axle, eight-wheel drive John Deere forwarder that can transport up to 20
tonnes of logs at a time to a waiting truck. The forwarder can be a vital piece of equipment, as truck and trailer units have been getting bigger and unable to drive on-site for some jobs – so instead of getting the trucks to the logs, the forwarder has allowed Valintine Logging to get the logs to the trucks.
Valintine Logging buys and sells woodlots either direct or through a log broker. It also specialises in share forest blocks, where farmers have supplied the land and Valintines have planted and cared for the trees in 50:50 profit arrangements. The company is involved in 18 such shared forests in Taranaki.
These days, Tom and Marian are dealing with second and third generations of farmer families as successive blocks of trees have been harvested by Valintines on the same properties.
The Valintine family also have their own forestry block at Huiroa, east of Stratford.
Tom Valintine doesn’t know when he will retire. He’s fit and able, he loves his work, so doesn’t see any point in knocking off.
And, says Marian: “Tom’s proud of our business and he’s very proud of the safety record we’ve achieved over all the years. I don’t think he’ll be retiring any time soon.”
A young Tom Valintine working for his father’s company in 1971.
Above: Tom Valintine safely lowers a tree cut down from alongside a Taranaki dairy farm race – his measuredTop approach left: Logging has kept contractor, him injury-free Kerry McCormick, for 51 years. gets to grips with Bdreolonwe :flTyoinmgValintine is expert at building wood bridges, including this structure – note the shipping container underneath, just as a precaution!
Top left: Marian Valintine with the company’s John Deere forwarder.Left: The forwarder has proved invaluable in taking out logs to the trucks that have been unable to get onto the skid sites.Above: The next generation – Chris Valintine chainsawing a big Taranaki log.Opposite page: Marian and Tom Valintine, celebrating a quarter century of business success with their company, Valintine Logging