Skills, Training and Exposure
In many industries, attention to safety in the design of equipment, workplaces and work methods can go a long way toward reducing occupational safety and health hazards. In the forestry industry, exposure to risks is largely determined by the technical knowledge, skill and experience of the individual worker and the supervisor, and their commitment to a joint effort in planning and performing the work. Training, therefore, is a crucial determinant of health and safety in forestry.
Studies in different countries and for different jobs in forestry all concur that three groups of workers have a disproportionately high accident frequency: the unskilled, often seasonal, workers; the young; and new entrants. In Switzerland, fully 73% of the accidents affect workers with less than one year in forestry; likewise, three-quarters of the accident victims had no or only rudimentary training (Wettman 1992).
Untrained workers also tend to have a much higher workload and higher risk of back injuries because of poor technique (see “Tree planting” in this chapter for an example). If training is critically important both from a safety and a productivity point of view in normal operations, it is absolutely indispensable in high-risk tasks like salvaging windblown timber or firefighting. No personnel should be allowed to participate in such activities unless they have been especially trained.
Training Forest Workers
On-the-job training is still very common in forestry. It is usually very ineffective, because it is a euphemism for imitation or simply trial and error. Any training needs to be based on clearly established objectives and on well-prepared instructors. For new chain-saw operators, for example, a two-week course followed by systematic coaching at the workplace is the bare minimum.
Fortunately, there has been a trend towards longer and well-structured training in industrialized countries, at least for directly employed workers and most new entrants. Various European countries have 2-to-3-year apprenticeships for forest workers. The structure of training systems is described and contacts to schools are listed in FAO/ECE/ILO 1996b. Even in these countries there is, however, a widening gap between the above and problem groups such as self-employed, contractors and their workers, and farmers working in their own forest. Pilot schemes to provide training for these groups have demonstrated that they can be profitable investments, as their cost is more than offset by savings resulting from reductions in accident frequency and severity. In spite of its demonstrated benefits and of some encouraging examples, like the Fiji Logging School, forest worker training is still virtually non-existent in most tropical and subtropical countries.
Forest worker training has to be based on the practical needs of the industry and the trainee. It has to be hands-on, imparting practical skill rather than merely theoretical knowledge. It can be provided through a variety of mechanisms. Schools or training centres have been used widely in Europe with excellent results. They do, however, carry a high fixed cost, need a fairly high annual enrolment to be cost-effective, and are often far from the workplace. In many countries mobile training has, therefore, been preferred. In its simplest form, specially prepared instructors travel to workplaces and offer courses according to programmes that may be standard or modular and adaptable to local needs. Skilled workers with some further training have been used very effectively as part-time instructors. Where demand for training is higher, specially equipped trucks or trailers are used as mobile classrooms and workshops. Designs and sample equipment lists for such units are available (Moos and Kvitzau 1988). For some target groups, such as contractors or farmers, mobile training may be the only way to reach them.
Minimum Competence Standards and Certification
In all countries, minimum standards of skill should be defined for all major jobs, at least in forest harvesting, the most hazardous operation. A very suitable approach to make sure minimum standards are defined and actually met in the industry is skill certification based on testing workers in short theoretical and practical exams. Most schemes place emphasis on standardized tests of workers’ skill and knowledge, rather than on whether these have been acquired through training or long experience. Various certification schemes have been introduced since the mid-1980s. In many cases certification has been promoted by workers’ compensation funds or safety and health directorates, but there have also been initiatives by large forest owners and industry. Standard tests are available for chain-saw and skidder operators (NPTC and SSTS 1992, 1993; Ministry of Skills Development 1989). Experience shows that the tests are transferable without or with only minor amendment. In 1995 for example the ILO and the Zimbabwe Forestry Commission successfully introduced the chain-saw test developed in an ILO logging training project in Fiji.