Stick to your knitting, it's safer

28 July 2017

by Mike Mitchell, Senior Associate

WorkSafe has issued a warning to farmers to refrain from attempting to harvest woodlots on farms themselves. Whilst it can be tempting to save a few dollars by cutting down your own trees, the reality is most farmers are not trained in commercial woodlot harvesting.

Many farms all over the country have small woodlots that are coming up to harvestable age. Most of these woodlots are planted on steep terrain and require experienced forestry professionals to safely harvest the trees. Unfortunately, there have been incidences of farmers attempting to manually fell woodlots with chainsaws themselves. This is a recipe for disaster.

Why pay someone to do something you can do yourself?

Why pay someone to do something you can do yourself, I hear you ask? Well, because you might kill or maim yourself. There is a very high risk of death and injury associated with the manual felling of trees. Forest harvesting contractors often choose to use automated techniques to harvest farm woodlots on difficult terrain. For an inexperienced chainsaw operator to leap in and start manually cutting down trees is madness.

Breaching the Health and Safety at Work Act

Aside from the risk of having their heads taken off by a tree, farmers could also be in breach of the Health and Safety at Work Act 2015. All farmers need to be aware that they, like any other business, fall under the new health and safety legislation. Farmers must ensure, so far as ‘reasonably practicable’, the safety of those in farming operations. WorkSafe requires commercial logging operations to be notified, and to have management plans operated by appropriately experienced harvesters.

The agriculture industry had 18 workplace deaths in 2016, and has had 8 so far in 2017. Six farmers were prosecuted for breaching health and safety laws last year. Neither of these scenarios is pleasant.

If you do have trees to be harvested on your farm, speak to an experienced forestry professional and get them to manage the harvesting operation. The New Zealand Institute of Forestry can point farmers toward consultants in their region who can do the job cost effectively and safely.

Is it really worth it?

Obviously the safety of the harvesting operation is most important. But farmers are also concerned with what they are getting for the sale of their timber. Unfortunately steep country, poor access, relatively small woodlots, and distance to ports and mills mean some are disappointed with the net return they receive. Every woodlot is different, so getting multiple estimates/quotes for the sale of a woodlot is important to establish what it’s actually worth.

What you need to check

If you are not sure what you are getting in to when you sign a contract for the sale of a woodlot, have it reviewed by lawyer. Ask around about the buyer and the harvesting crew, to find out if they are reliable and experienced. Meet with the buyer and harvesting crew on site before they start work to clarify safety, access, and operational issues. Be clear on when they start and finish work, when you get paid, and what state you expect your property to be left in at the completion of the operation.

Like any other commercial transaction, it’s important to conduct your due diligence on what the other party is actually offering.