FORESTRY is considered one of the UK’s most dangerous industries, with the Health and Safety Executive reporting that tree work has a higher major injury rate than the construction sector.

From working at height with heavy-duty machinery to the dangers of falling branches and logs, forestry workers can be exposed to a number of very hazardous scenarios during an average workday. One such hazard is manual handling, when workers may be injured trying to lift or move heavy objects without the right techniques or machinery.

While manual handling doesn’t account for many fatalities, it can still cause severe and often chronic illnesses and injuries that may ruin a worker’s career, and could potentially result in serious financial and legal consequences for their employer. Here, I’ll discuss what measures you can take to keep your workers safe on the job.

WHAT IS MANUAL HANDLING? WHAT ARE YOUR OBLIGATIONS?

Under UK law, ‘manual handling’ refers to a wide range of physical activities, including lifting, lowering, pushing, pulling, and carrying. When done improperly, any of these actions can cause an injury. Although these activities might not seem particularly hazardous when compared to many other dangerous aspects of the job – like operating chainsaws or working at height – any manual handling task can be risky if not done correctly. It’s a very common cause of accidents, and, according to the HSE, is currently responsible for over a third of all injuries in the workplace.

Manual handling can become even more hazardous when you factor in the other challenges that forestry workers face on the job, like bad weather and steep or uneven ground. So, while tasks might seem deceptively simple, there’s no room for complacency when it comes to manual handling. As an employer, you must find ways to reduce the risk of an accident or injury occurring, and there are a number of ways that you can do this.

USE EQUIPMENT TO REDUCE THE RISK

As with many health and safety issues, the first thing you should always consider when facing a potentially risky job is whether you can find another solution to the problem that doesn’t involve any manual lifting. There are a number of ways you can do this, but by far the most effective solution when moving timber or other supplies is to use a mechanical aid to reduce the amount of physical labour required.

For instance, a vehicle-mounted hydraulic crane or winch can make loading and unloading lorries safer as, unlike with a platform lift, there’s no need to manually handle goods at any point. Additionally, they can make loading and unloading faster and more efficient.

Naturally, while machinery can make lifting much safer, hydraulic cranes and winches can present their own safety hazards if used improperly, particularly if timber is not properly secured prior to lifting. So, you need to make sure all activities are well-supervised by a competent person, that all operators have received adequate training, and that all machinery is properly maintained by someone who is qualified to do so.

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PROVIDING TRAINING AND CHANGING ATTITUDES

While employers have a number of obligations, such as providing the necessary equipment and PPE, your employees do need to take some responsibility for keeping themselves safe at work. But, before they can do so, they’ll need to be comprehensively trained, so they can spot and react to hazards in the proper manner.

Your training programme should make everyone aware of the correct procedures for every kind of manual handling job, including how to lift and move objects safely, which tasks are off limits, and when they should get help or use equipment to complete a task. You should also show them what to do if an accident does happen, along with some basic first aid.

As is the case in many jobs involving manual labour, there is still a persistent idea among forestry workers that risky and improper lifting activities are all in a day’s work. But your staff must understand that taking unnecessary risks isn’t part of the job, and that putting themselves and others at risk won’t be tolerated. Your training programme should help to address these attitudes, and aim to help your workforce understand the importance of following good lifting protocols.

Training is only effective as long as it’s refreshed, so you should aim to offer training every year, or whenever you introduce a new piece of equipment. Updating and refreshing your training will help to keep standards up and ensure that staff don’t become complacent.

SUPERVISION AND LONE WORKING

Forestry workers are sometimes required to work alone. But, when doing so, even relatively low-risk jobs can become much more dangerous, as there’s no one on hand to provide assistance should something go wrong. And, given that a lot of tree work takes place in remote locations, it becomes significantly harder for a lone employee to get help. So, wherever possible, try to make sure that employees don’t carry out any manual handling — or any other forestry work, for that matter — without another employee present.

No employer wants their workers to be injured on the job, and it’s your legal duty to do everything in your power to protect them. Follow the steps I’ve outlined in this guide and you should be able to ensure your business stays healthy, productive, and on the right side of the law. Remember, this isn’t intended as a comprehensive guide, so for more information visit the HSE’s forestry and tree work advice centre at www.hse.gov.uk/treework/.