Forestry injuries

September 24th, 2013 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

The has a campaign underway calling for an inquiry into the sector, due to its high accident and fatality rates. There certainly are an unacceptable number of deaths (any preventable death is of course unacceptable), but I have been unsure if there has been a sudden deterioration in the safety record in the sector. So I asked ACC and MBIE for their data on related deaths and injuries going back to 1990.

ACC has data back to 2002. Their data is:

  • 2002 – 2,340 claims (4 fatal)
  • 2003 – 2,046 (5 fatal)
  • 2004 – 1,642  (1 – 3 fatal)
  • 2005 – 1,543
  • 2006 – 1,259 (4 fatal)
  • 2007 – 1,233 (1-3 fatal)
  • 2008 – 1,142 (1-3 fatal)
  • 2009 – 1,229 (4 fatal)
  • 2010 – 1,374 (1 – 3 fatal)
  • 2011 – 1,384 (6 fatal)
  • 2012 – 1,402 (1 – 3 fatal)
  • 2013 – 858 for 8 months (1,287 pro-rata) (1- 3 fatal)

So the level of ACC claims in the sector is well down on a decade ago. However fair to note that it does appear to have been trending up since 2008. However 2013 may end up below 2012.

The number of claims involving a fatal injury varies, with it ranging from 0 to 6. Note that the data ACC has is based on occupations supplied, so if a truck driver was killed in a forestry accident, they would not record that as forestry sector. However MBIE does, and we’ll now look at their data:

MBIE also has data back to 2002 only. They get notifed of any accidents which involve serious harm, which is of course more seriious that just an ACC claim for minor accidents. So their data set is probably more important and useful.

  • 2002 – 259 serious harm notifications (4 fatalities)
  • 2003 – 214 (6)
  • 2004 – 193 (6)
  • 2005 – 192 (0)
  • 2006 – 166 (7)
  • 2007 – 174 (3)
  • 2008 – 179 (4)
  • 2009 – 161 (5)
  • 2010 – 170 (4)
  • 2011 – 182 (3)
  • 2012 – 188 (6)
  • 2013 – 111 (7) – pro-rata would be 167 (10)

So this also shows serious injuries are lower than a decade ago, but an upwards trend from 2009. However again 2013 may end up lower.

The level of fatalities also appears fairly consistent over the last decade, except of course the horribly high level for the first eight months of 2013.

So is an inquiry the answer? I certainly share the concern of the CTU and others that the level of serious injuries and fatalities is too high.

There is a plan for reducing deaths and injuries in the sector, that was published in August 2011. Also starting from last month the new health and safety inspectorate has started a workplace assessment programme of site visits to all 330 forestry operators. I think the pro-active approach is welcome.

It’s good that the CTU are focusing on a sector with too many accidents. I’m not persuaded an inquiry would be greatly beneficial, and I think the initiatives underway will hopefully make an impact. The level of serious injury is still below that of a decade ago (when no inquiries were being demanded) but the upwards trend is unacceptable and hopefully over the next 12 months that trend will reverse.



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22 Responses to “Forestry injuries”

  1. Ed Snack (1,829 comments) says:

    At least some of the variations will be due to the variation in activity. Some years, when the log price is low, there will be less harvesting. And when the price is very good, the harvest will go into top gear and quite probably there will be quite a few new workers on the job, leading to an increase (potentially anyway) in injuries.

    There have been some significant variations in price over the past 10 or more years.

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  2. Colville (2,237 comments) says:

    I know that total tonneage harvested has been going up for the last few years by around 5 – 10% /yr but I would be interested to see DPFs stats against total harvest going back to say yr 2000.
    Anyone know where to find those stats?

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  3. Kea (11,878 comments) says:

    I always laugh when people claim police work is dangerous. I doubt it is even in the top 100. More people die in a year in construction, forestry and farming, than the entire history of NZ policing. Then there are the injuries !

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  4. wreck1080 (3,853 comments) says:

    Forestry workers tend to be less educated , and probably some have substance abuse issues .

    But, only guesses and I could be wildly wrong. I think it is helpful to investigate the reasons behind each death to find and eliminate common causes but this should be normal practice rather than needing an inquiry.

    And if forestry workers don’t follow safety procedures already in place then making new rules is not going to help.

    [edit] I’ve known a couple of forestry workers over the years and they are rough as guts individuals and I didn’t get the impression they would be the types to respect girly safety rules .

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  5. Colville (2,237 comments) says:


    You are quite right in that workers tend to be less educated or why would you do an outside job miles away from home in all weathers for SFA money?
    The flip side of the argument is that the industry cuts corners when times get tight and recently in forestry times have been tight because of high NZ$.

    I own a fair few trees due to come out in a few years time, great to have them knocked over cheaply but I dont want a death to save a few bucks either.

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  6. profile (13 comments) says:

    In 2002 we were harvesting about 20 million m3 now about 26 million m3. Number of loggers actually decreased between 2005 and 2010 to 3,600 when harvest volumes levelled off- I don’t know what the number are for 2012. So a large increase in harvesting volume in 2012/13, most likely on steeper slopes as these areas came on stream. Logging is the most dangerous job in the US with 62 fatalities of the 34,000 loggers so possibly a worse fatality rate than NZ. The US also had a jump in fatalities last year.

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  7. JC (942 comments) says:

    I’ve been in the industry for 50 years but I find the Yearbook a better guide to memory than me.

    Some weeks ago I looked up forestry deaths and tonnages removed going back 40 odd years..

    Back then the industry lost 7-8 lives for approx 8 million tonnes of wood removed.
    These days we lose 4-7 for approx 24 million tonnes removed.

    40 years ago the logging industry was concentrated on the flat rolling forests of the Volcanic Plateau but now there’s a massive programme covering the steep country of NZ requiring haulers (cable logging) and country marginal for tractors and skidders.

    Costs.. 20 years ago we had a boom and the average price of all logs was over $100 per tonne and the cost of easy country logging was less than $10/tonne. Today we have a boom with log prices over $100/tonne and cost of easy country logging is close to $20/tonne. These are my costs and prices.. others may vary with different circumstances.
    The point to make here is.. all things equal.. there has been a significant increase in logging costs thats directly tied to improved safety consciousness and less to log prices.

    We have indeed made massive safety improvements over the decades even as we have moved into more dangerous logging situations and have done it with scarce capital and some issues with worker education but I accept we have to do even better.


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  8. Kea (11,878 comments) says:

    Forestry workers tend to be less educated

    The are educated…in forestry work. That includes a lot of health and safety training.

    Do you reckon the number of deaths would be lower if we had economists and school teachers logging ?

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  9. ChrisM (103 comments) says:

    I believe that the coroner’s investigations have shown many of the fatalities have drugs in their bloodstream, usually marijuana but sometimes meth or alcohol. It is not unreasonable to see the behaviour of the people that die not that different to that of their workmates.

    Forestry work is bloody hard even at the best of times with the conditions and weather making it even more difficult . It is also a job that a lot of ex-prisoners do and they can be very good employees.

    Training and the right gear is very important but drug use is a personal responsibility thing. The action plan admits it is a serious problem, but doesn’t put any concrete ideas there. Would the CTU support random drug testing for all employees with compulsory stand down without pay for any that fail?

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  10. Akld Commercial Lawyer (165 comments) says:

    Good work on the data analysis. In the course of my day job, I do not encounter any parties involved in the forestry sector who feel comfortable with the track record of serious injuries. There are however a wide range of concerns about the knock-on impact of market fluctuations, a recession and the rising dollar on the foresty sector – with the emphasis on raw log exports (as opposed to value-added timber).

    As other posters in this thread have identified, the rising cost of HSE matters is also making its presence felt on the economics of some types of activities. One such area being concerns about the so-called “wall of wood” coming up for harvest – particularly in the case of small woodlots in difficult areas. In the 80s & 90s many farmers were persuaded to plant small areas of marginal land. At the same time there was an upsurge of investment in forest plantings by small investors. The combined impact of the cost of harvesting some of these plantings – in what is often difficult terrain, at risk to the logging crews, and getting the harvest to a mill or port is playing havoc with the economics of some of these plantings. Some industry experts are suggesting that a number will not be harvested.

    While all of this is going on, some in the industry are concerned that the safety campaign by the CTU is an attempt to re-unionise a sector that went private in the late 80s / early 90s as the big players divested their forestry workforce and contracted the work out.

    IMHO, there is no single right answer here – and many in the industry are OKish with the CTU pushing all parties to work harder on safety issues. Most of the employers of harvesting crews live in the same communities and know their workforce and their families. However, the track record of enquiries makes many nervous – and I detect a preference for industry-led initiatives. This is not because they want a softer ride, but simply because they see this as leading to practical solutions being achieved in a co-operative manner.

    The costs, of course, will be felt by the end-user – particularly in the domestic market. I doubt that, on its own, HSE costs will impact the export market – which appears to be driven by larger cost issues.

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  11. mikenmild (11,246 comments) says:

    Chris M
    Would the industry want the fear of drug testing driving away the workforce?

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  12. JC (942 comments) says:

    “Would the industry want the fear of drug testing driving away the workforce?”

    Already happening. In parts of the country forestry and sawmilling drug testing is failing 14 of 15 applicants.. consequently the workforce is getting older (and often safer).


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  13. Kea (11,878 comments) says:

    failing 14 of 15 applicants..

    Shit a brick !!!

    That seems to suggest a wider social problem too.

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  14. mikenmild (11,246 comments) says:

    Luckily they don’t test for drinking habits…

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  15. Gulag1917 (851 comments) says:

    Forestry work will always be risky no matter how well educated the employees are and how drug and alcohol free employees are.A tree can fall on a person mighty fast no matter how athletic and skilful the workers are.

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  16. duggledog (1,486 comments) says:

    Yep, pot smokers. Same as shearing gangs. If you can find a clean shearing gang that only gets by on the thought of a couple of beers after a hard day’s toil, call the newspapers.

    NZ has a higher rate of cannabis consumption per head (!) than Jamaica

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  17. Gulag1917 (851 comments) says:

    70% of NZ construction workers are regular drug users and most manual work fields will have similar rates. A lot of health and safety practices are cosmetic.

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  18. JC (942 comments) says:

    “A tree can fall on a person mighty fast no matter how athletic and skilful the workers are.”

    We have another safety problem as well, a 25-30 year old tree in NZ can be 10 times the size and weight of a 100 year old Northern hemisphere tree. Its bad enough to have a 200kg NH tree land on you but somewhat more damaging to have two tonnes of NZ pine do the same… nevermind what a 100-200 kg dead branch can do after falling 20 metres.

    This brings up another point.. a fast grown NZ pine might be the same size as a 200 year old Californian redwood but there is no equality in value.. you can afford the time and trouble to be very safe with the much more valuable redwood.

    NZ thus has a more difficult conundrum between costs, values and logging environments than most developed countries when it comes to safety.. I know we’ve improved immensely but we have a fair way to go to match other countries.


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  19. Gulag1917 (851 comments) says:

    NZ has come a long way in safety but because of the hilly/mountainous terrain, equipment and weather there will always be risks.

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  20. TM (99 comments) says:

    The Health and Safety (Pike River Implementation) Bill just introduced will make the cost of any injuries/deaths a lot more. If a company doesn’t have a H&S policy or doesn’t implement it properly, the entire management could be chucked in jail.

    The vast majority of work accidents are preventable, it’s just a matter of how much is spent preventing them.

    I’ve worked in the petrochem industry and also dealt with logging contractors and the difference in attitude is chalk and cheese.

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  21. profile (13 comments) says:

    The petrochem industry is lower personal risk and higher margin to spend on prevention. Logging is outside the ‘vast majority’. Loggers not focused on safety don’t last long due to the increased risk they expose their crew to. The technology is not there yet to reduce risk on steep slopes and these are the areas coming on stream. It is too simplistic to say loggers have a bad attitude and accidents are preventable. Or is it the petro boys with the attitude?

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  22. salt (133 comments) says:

    So why are ACC’s fatality figures lower than MBIE’s?

    [DPF: Because they go on the basis of occupation, not industry]

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