The competence and safety of chainsaw operators has long been an issue for the forestry industry, with the search for a way to systematically and comprehensively lower risk apparently stalled. However, Safe Forestry, an innovative new app designed by and with contractors, could be set to transform the sector’s working practices for the better.

AN active chainsaw technician with 30 years’ experience, no-one knows the risks of his chosen profession better than Calum Duffy.

A second-generation forestry contractor, he got his start in 1990, aged 16, strip, contour and bench felling on the Isle of Mull.

Taught by Forestry Commission-trained cutters (including three British champions), by age 20 he was one of the top in his squad and earning on average £600 a week (equivalent to £1,200 a week in today’s numbers).

At 22 he bought his first skyline, founded Duffy Skylining and began travelling the west coast of Scotland, skylining areas the harvesters could not access. Over the years, he and his team felled on more and more technically demanding ground as harvesters became better at climbing.

Today he has 12 employees across two teams, working in the most extreme terrain, and remains an active chainsaw operator who enjoys passing on his knowledge to the next generation of cutters.

He is also chair of FISA’s chainsaw working group and an FCA policy committee member, so is well-versed in the industry’s ongoing issues.

Forestry Journal: Team members sign into the app on arrival at the site.Team members sign into the app on arrival at the site.


In February 2019, Calum received a site visit from HSE when his ability to prove the competence of his operators was questioned. Though he had measures in place, they were deemed unstructured and insufficient.

“I had basic chainsaw logbooks, day dairies and qualifications,” Calum said. “This was more than my industry provided me with, but it was not sufficient in the eyes of HSE. As an employer, I was not meeting my obligations and was basically non-compliant.”

Calum was personally issued a challenge to find a way to prove the competence of his employees. Rather than wave the HSE officers on their way and forget all about it, he took this challenge on board and began working towards a better system.

“I made contact with WorkSafeBC, a statutory health and safety agency in Canada, to find out how they prove competence, log the information and supervise on-site operations,” Calum said. “They helped massively as I began building a system of my own, based loosely on theirs but using our terminology and techniques.”

He engaged with fellow industry professional Stephen Hailes of H&W Training in Dumfries. Together they worked on supporting documentation for the level system, with Stephen’s background proving a big help when it came to getting the documents up to scratch. They decided the call the system Safe Forestry.

At this stage, Calum began sharing information with the FISA chainsaw working group, gathering feedback from its highly knowledgeable members on various topics and using it to make improvements.

“We then got it to a point where we were ready to start trialling the system in the field,” said Calum. “We engaged Forestry and Land Scotland (FLS) as landowners so they could verify the system and its implementation. We engaged two merchants – Tilhill and Munro Harvesting – who also verified the system, and brought in HSE to help guide us through the process. HSE engaged heavily with us – which was refreshing – and all parties worked well together.”

The first sites became active in August 2019, producing a raft of daily information.

Calum said: “We have had a good level of feedback from our active sites, allowing us to change the system as we build it in line with legislation and operational efficiency.”

Safe Forestry, he says, is much more than a chainsaw competency system.

“It’s a system to log activities in real time with full management access to all site-specific submissions and a separate database for chainsaw operators which can be accessed by auditors at all times, monitoring logbook entries and ongoing competence.”

Forestry Journal:  Following the toolbox talk, every operative opens a daily risk assessment relating to their specific task, fills it out accordingly, signs and submits it. Following the toolbox talk, every operative opens a daily risk assessment relating to their specific task, fills it out accordingly, signs and submits it.


To begin using the app, operators sign in with a QR code and enter all emergency details and a site-specific risk assessment. Teams sign in either individually or together, depending on how they arrive. The site is now active for all to see.

Next up is a toolbox talk, held daily with all operatives present, which includes a description of the day’s work, signed by all operatives and photographed, signed and submitted by the toolbox talk holder. All operatives are encouraged to take the toolbox talk, another small piece of evidence to show competence of individuals.

Following the toolbox talk, every operative opens a daily risk assessment relating to their specific task, fills it out accordingly, signs and submits it. These are editable throughout the day if a task changes.

All site operatives see the submissions relevant to their site, while managers see all sites’ submissions.

At the end of the day, all operatives sign out (again, using a QR code), leaving the site inactive so management know it’s clear.

Forestry Journal:

Forestry Journal:

Several other forms exist for operators to use including:

  • Chainsaw technician logbook: everyone operating a chainsaw fills this out, documenting their experience through comments and pictures. This is signed off by the site safety co-ordinator. This accumulates hours, records what chainsaw they’ve used, type of terrain, felling aids, the level of operator they are and maintenance carried out.
  • Choker man logbook: documenting the week’s chokering activities including equipment used, terrain worked and signed off by site safety coordinator.
  • Machine operator logbooks: cover all machinery working on site and provide proof of ongoing operator competence.
  • Chainsaw work planning: allows users to log any chainsaw-related operations, pinpoint certain hazards and take photographic evidence to pass on to chainsaw operators.
  • Environmental checklist: gives operators the ability to log pictures of any mitigation they have done on diffuse pollution.
  • Site hazard forms: gives operators the ability to log any hazards that crop up or are noticed at planning stage.
  • Site survey: a form created to let operatives survey the area to be worked, logging any issues through pictures e.g. soft ground, steep ground, felling hazards, public access, etc.
  • Near-miss forms: log any near misses through pictures. Learn lessons and hopefully pass on valuable experiences to others.
  • NPTC FMO training record: gives trainees the ability to log their training through pictures and comments, verified by the supervising person and digitally signed off.
  • Forestry machine maintenance form: record all maintenance carried out on any machine to be logged through pictures and comments, signed and submitted by operator or field mechanics.
  • Advanced felling techniques: These techniques have a ratified method statement and a system of implementation that gives operatives clear instructions on how to perform them and when they are applicable. Operators must be audited in these techniques before being allowed to perform them. They must also have the app system to be able to data-log these techniques and access the risk assessment and method statements for them. Only higher-level operators will have access to advanced felling techniques, which are logged through pictures and comments for all to see.

“We currently have 28 people field testing this for us in different fields of forestry works, all providing proof of ongoing operator competence,” said Calum. “From my one site anything from 70 to 90 individual weekly submissions come in using the different forms available.

“All submissions have a red, amber or green status applied to them so site operatives and management can see the level of risk involved and decide what action is required.”

Illustrating the versatility and relevance of Safe Forestry, Calum and his team recently developed a COVID-19 strategy for the app, capable of tracking the progress of the virus through the forestry industry.

  1. Safe Forestry will install into the user’s profile a COVID-19 notification facility, incorporating all site users. If a site user feels the main symptoms of COVID-19 (according to NHS guidelines) they can register it via the app before self-isolating/testing.
  2. The Safe Forestry app will send notification to all users that could have had contact with the site.

Site uses seek COVID-19 testing in case they are asymptomatic. Those who test positive isolate for 14 days.​


A chainsaw operator who wanted to be part of the system would get in touch with Safe Forestry and request to be audited in. They would then receive an operator profile form into which they would enter qualifications, work history, references etc. They would then be audited and pass out at whatever level (1–4) they attained. Supporting documentation relevant to that level and access to the app would be issued so they could begin data-logging their ongoing competence.

“There would be a clear path for progression up the levels within the system,” said Calum. “Any corrective actions on the audit would be explained and we would hope to see these areas being worked on with the weekly logbook entries. This is undeniable proof of ongoing competence backed up by photographic evidence.”

Safe Forestry’s audit system is derived from WorkSafeBC’s process, but adapted to fit UK legislation and techniques. It provides a clear level- 1–4 progression and a good picture of an operator’s competency level. It also offers corrective actions to work on and a clear path to move up the levels if desired. The auditors are active, time-served chainsaw operators.

Many private and public sector stakeholders have already been on site to view the system working in real time and have responded positively,

Calum said: “In the very near future we hope to be able to offer this system to contractors and management alike, with the app helping to facilitate competence logging in all sectors of forestry operations.

“We would like to see a more transparent workplace with everyone sharing information, working together in a professional and safe environment.”

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