A new initiative is aiming to give forestry workers a stronger voice on workplace safety by appointing roving regional safety champions as part of a one-year pilot scheme.
The pilot is aiming to create ways for workers to have an influential voice in health and safety and work design decisions, according to FISC national safety director Fiona Ewing, who says the scheme replicates a model that’s had success in the UK and Australia.
“We’ve done lots of good work with the sector since the establishment of FISC, but we still need to crack the gnarly problem of how to ensure there is a strong workers’ voice,” says Fiona.
It can be difficult for workers to have an influential voice, she says, because the nature of the workforce, crew size, remote locations and the way work is organised make it hard.
“Workers know what makes work successful on a day-to-day basis and they play an essential role in reducing work-related injuries and ill-health. Therefore, good worker participation is critical to successfully managing work-related risks,” says Fiona, of the philosophy underpinning the new role.
While there’s been a downward trend in injuries and on-the-job deaths in recent years, there remains room for improvement in the industry’s record on health and safety with three forestry worker deaths so far in 2019, and six in 2018.
Recruitment starts this month for the Worksafe-funded health and safety champions, called ‘Toroawhi’, which means “collectively we create the momentum for change,” says Fiona.
Worksafe and FISC have worked together to co-design the Toroawhi role, which will report to FISC.
The Toroawhi won’t just be on job sites, says Fiona. They will also engage with workers and their whanau in the community, at events or wherever they are needed.
“They won’t be a WorkSafe inspector or union rep so they won’t have any regulatory powers or be on a membership drive. What they will be doing is working collaboratively to find solutions to health and safety or work design problems. They will be coaching, mentoring and educating workers.
“We’re looking for someone that has an understanding of the culture of the bush and knows enough about health and safety to know what good looks like and what’s not OK.”
While it is hoped that one Toroawhi will be appointed in the South Island and another in the North Island, it will really depend on where successful applicants are based, says Fiona.