Coronavirus: Worker safety warning as forestry resumes under level 3

Forest owners are urging caution as forestry work resumes under COVID-19 lockdown level 3 saying the sector needs to avoid being responsible for the country returning to level 4.

Forestry was not deemed as an essential service under level 4, however some parts of the supply chain can begin operating under level 3.

Forest Owners Association president Phil Taylor said health and safety on the forest work site went well beyond the COVID-19 protocol observance.

"The lockdown was unscheduled and had to be rushed through in the course of just two days as we went on to alert level 4 and forestry was not deemed as an essential industry. 

"In some places we had to just leave logs on the ground where they were harvested," said Taylor.

He said the worksites were complex operations and, even when a closedown was planned, there needed to be a lot of testing and checking for safe operations before work was able to fully resume

That included checking both the machinery and equipment as well as the earth and roading works in forests, he said.

"We haven't had much rain over the past month luckily, but nonetheless our forests are a natural environment and things will have potentially changed quite a bit while we have been absent."

"A number of forest companies have reported acts of vandalism during the lockdown which is obviously disappointing and we need to check for any sabotage."

He said the biggest change for resuming work would be complying with the COVID-19 protocols to protect workers against the coronavirus. 

"Our Forest Industry Safety Council has worked through the supply chain to develop a refined set of safety protocols, mostly about safe distancing and cleaning down equipment, and we expect those rules to be complied with, for everyone's sake."

Phil Taylor said the forest industry accepted its non-essential status when the alert level 4 lockdown began, in the interests of keeping the forest industry workforce safe and contributing to the national effort to combat COVID-19.

"So, while the whole supply chain is keen to get back to production and workers can start earning some income again, it would be hugely disappointing to be the sector responsible for the disease rate to go back up again and for New Zealand being thrust back into alert level 4."