As industry buzz builds around the approaching launch of the Safe Forestry app, James Hendrie caught up with its co-creator Calum Duffy to learn more about its development and its potential to improve the working lives of contractors.

CALUM Duffy has had a long career as a second-generation forester with his own company specialising in skylining. Sadly, he has had personal experience of dealing with the aftermath of when things go wrong on a site. This has affected him on a personal level, as well as on the business side, dealing with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and its subsequent investigations. These experiences, and a more recent HSE site visit, have driven his desire to find a solution to the challenge of storing and providing accurate records of operator competency (as well as management compliance) more effectively and comprehensively than current methods allow.

His solution, which he has developed along with Stephen Hailes of H&W Training in Dumfries, is the Safe Forestry app. Calum describes this system as being much more than about ‘operator competency’.

Forestry Journal: Calum holding an on-site toolbox talk for his team.Calum holding an on-site toolbox talk for his team.

“It is a system which can log activities in real time as well as allowing full management access to all site-specific submissions,” he said. “There is also a chainsaw operator database. This can be accessed at all times for audit purposes, to check competency and the entries on operator logbooks.”

The real push for Calum came in 2019, after a site that he was working on for Forestry and Land Scotland was subjected to an HSE visit. It was a question from an HSE inspector, asking Calum how he knew that his operators were competent to do their jobs, that really resonated with him and made him think long and hard.

“At that time I had a toolbox talk, where we just talked through the day’s work plan, but there was nothing recorded of these discussions,” he said. “I also had operator day diaries, certificates, and very basic chainsaw logbooks. The thing was, this was all paper based. The inspector made it clear this would not be enough, if there were a serious accident on site, to prove I was managing the competency of my operators adequately. Sadly, I knew the inspector was right and I also knew that my industry gave me nothing better to answer this question.”

For Calum, this site visit resonated with him more as it came during a time when he and his company were undergoing an HSE investigation following an accident that badly injured one of his close friends. The investigation had also made Calum acutely aware that, with the benefit of hindsight, he did not have the correct answers to the questions being asked. When the investigation started, Calum found he was continually asking himself, ‘what if I had done things this way or that way?’. Could things have turned out differently?

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Both events became ‘Eureka’ moments for Calum as he became determined to find a way forward. He began researching how other countries around the world, operating in the forestry industry, managed and recorded operator competency.

“I started on a plan of quantifying operator competency,” he said. “I looked at how other countries do it, and I thought the Canadian system seemed best as it was skills based. So my initial thinking was to create a ‘chainsaw levels system’. My idea was to rank operator competency from 1 to 4, level 1 being a beginner to level 4 being time-served.”

Forestry Journal: Stephen using the Safe Forestry app on his desktop.Stephen using the Safe Forestry app on his desktop.

Calum confirmed the Canadian WorkSafeBC had these different levels defined, allowing for a clear record of each operator’s competency to be recorded and available for inspection. It also allowed operators to demonstrate they have moved through each of the levels, improving their competencies. It was by looking closely at this model and trying to adapt to UK legislation and practices that the seeds of the Safe Forestry app were sown in his mind.

“At this time I started speaking more with Stephen Hailes, who is a trainer, and has been involved in forestry and arboriculture for the past 24 years,” he said. “We bounced ideas back and forth and worked really well together.

“Stephen helped massively with his knowledge of current legislation and training techniques, plus he is more tech savvy than me. Stephen has also been using a third-party app for his training company. Together, we populated the content into the levels system, produced supporting documentation for each level and we both then quickly realised that this needed to go digital as the paper involved would have been ridiculous.”

Forestry Journal: Site mapping as displayed on the Safe Forestry app.Site mapping as displayed on the Safe Forestry app.

Having made a start and worked out a way forward, they looked around to see what was currently available in the marketplace that could do what they wanted to do, specifically with the forestry industry in mind. They found there were various software apps available, but nothing forestry specific. The next step was to source a third-party software app and create forms to cover each area, like toolbox talks, operator logbooks and risk assessments.

“Choosing a software app allowed us to build our own forms specific to our application,” said Calum. “There are a few well-known ones like IAuditor and gocanvas, but we chose FatFinger. They all record and store your data for a fixed monthly price per user.”

This was the painstaking part of the process. They needed to build a useable system that was relevant to the industry they were both passionate about working in.

“After six months building the content in, writing the supporting documents in August 2019, we were then at a stage where we could field test in the forest. Stephen and I were very excited as it had, by this stage, become a full-blown forestry management system, not just a proof-of-competency system. By now, the Safe Forestry app was including on-site mapping, machinery and equipment inspections, all operator logbooks, daily task-specific risk assessments, toolbox talks, site hazard forms, environmental forms, forestry works manager (FWM) site appraisal forms and equipment forms.”

Forestry Journal: Site forms as displayed on the Safe Forestry app.Site forms as displayed on the Safe Forestry app.

It was a massive achievement to get the Safe Forersty app to the point where it could be tested in the field and so deliver a real insight into what it had to offer operators and managers in the industry. As a well-known operator, Calum had the opportunity not only to use the Safe Forestry app on his own sites but also to engage with fellow contractors he knew to seek their help in trialling it.

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“At the time I was working on two active skylining sites, both on Forestry and Land Scotland land. One was a standing sale for Munro Harvesting, the other was for Tilhill and its long-term contract. These sites were in the Plockton and Glencoe areas in the Scottish Highlands. Stephen and I met up with Forestry and Land Scotland staff and both respective site agents on their sites. We explained we would like to try the system on both sites and were delighted to be met with enthusiasm from all parties as they instantly saw the benefits of the system.”

Forestry Journal: Pin drop on every form, especially on COVID-19 track and trace, on site.Pin drop on every form, especially on COVID-19 track and trace, on site.

In effect, the Safe Forestry app gave them the ability to see who was on the site every day, have real-time task-specific submissions, see what the work plan for the day was, and see any new hazards associated with the site. It offered an information stream to them that had never existed before.

“The next part was getting my workforce to start using the system,” said Calum. “This was a challenge, as it was completely new to them. They did, however, see what it could do and did all want to use it, which really helped things.”

Forestry Journal: Interactive map of the UK showing all Calum’s active sites. Allows viewer to remotely see what is happening on each site in real time.Interactive map of the UK showing all Calum’s active sites. Allows viewer to remotely see what is happening on each site in real time.

Perhaps understandably, there were many questions as they started to attempt to use this new tool, having been used to paper-based records in the past. Initially, a limit was put on the number of forms used, to allow them to become familiar with the way it worked. Soon, though, like the site agents and landowners, his operators were starting to use it more frequently as it was a way of proving they were good at what they do.

For Calum, the breakthrough was when they began to tell him it made them feel safer, because they were thinking more about each task in hand and recording this in a more focussed way. These initial tests with his own team proved to him the Safe Forestry app was working and all the effort he and Stephen had made was worthwhile. The decisive test though, in his mind, was to involve the HSE.

Calum asked the HSE to visit his team on a site where they were operating and using the app. After seeing it working at first hand, the HSE representative described it positively as a “technical answer to a technical question” and said it was a very good system. Representatives on site from Forest and Land Scotland described it as “ground breaking and a generational change in health and safety in forestry”.

Forestry Journal: Safe Forestry app dashboard.Safe Forestry app dashboard.

The FWM from Munro Harvesting commented that “the transparency and information was a revelation”, while his equivalent from Tilhill was clear in his feedback that it made his job easier, as he could now access daily site data and knew who was on site and what they were doing.

The feedback Calum and Stephen had received at this stage not only helped to validate what they had developed with the Safe Forestry app, but also helped them to adapt and refine it even more. It was now time for them to spread the word about the app, sharing the news of what it could offer the industry with a wider audience.

“I held several site visits and personal meetings over the next nine months, from August 2019 to April, 2020,” said Calum. “In addition, several contractors and agents saw it working in real life. The companies involved included Scottish Woodlands, Iggesund Forestry, RTS, Euroforest, Tilhill, James Jones, Treetop Forestry, John Deere, Komatsu, Dick Brothers, Wilmers and several other contractors.

“Forestry and Land Scotland, Natural Resource Wales, Forestry England, Northern Ireland Forest Services and Coillte were shown the system through video calls. This was a risk on our part, showing so many people this new system, but we thought it worthwhile as without industry awareness and engagement we would struggle to make the app a success.”

Forestry Journal: Calum’s user profile as seen on the Safe Forestry app, showing contact details, roles carried out and supporting forms on the app.Calum’s user profile as seen on the Safe Forestry app, showing contact details, roles carried out and supporting forms on the app.

The message that Calum and Stephen had been trying to get across was that the Safe Forestry app is not just a simple chainsaw competency system.

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

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Calum and his operators were using the Safe Forestry app as a matter of their daily routines from August 2019. This allowed the collation of a lot of data about the sites they were working on as well as the operators themselves. Calum was successful in adding a few more contractors and, once more, this was adding to the feedback about the app. These contractors were based in the Scottish Borders and the north of England, allowing a good geographical spread.

Matthew Whitehead, a FWM for Pontrilas Harvesting, became aware of the app and visited Calum and Stephen in October 2019 to see it in action. Matthew was leading events in Wales for FISA to prepare FWMs and contractors for their new responsibilities under the Guidance for Managing Health & Safety in Forestry (GMHSF), released in December 2019. A strong element of GMHSF revolves around having to ‘evidence competency and undertaking key tasks to ensure workplace safety’.

Forestry Journal: Calum’s user profile, showing works history and companies worked for.Calum’s user profile, showing works history and companies worked for.

It made sense, Matthew thought, to work with Calum and Stephen. He was in the process of developing a suite of templates for FWMs and contractors to allow them to achieve the requirements identified by the HSE. In his words, it “was good to be able to speak with people with the same enthusiasms to help find a solution to the problem which the industry had been challenged by the HSE to improve on”.

Calum and Stephen attended two events in Wales to demonstrate the Safe Forestry app and got a positive reception. It also allowed the three of them to establish a relationship, which has seen Matthew continue to contribute his thoughts and feedback on the app, from a FWM’s point of view, as it has gone through its various development stages. Matthew feels the Safe Forestry app is a tool that gives him confidence in fulfilling his FWM role.

“The new guidance is clear that, as an FWM, I need to be more involved in the worksite from the planning stage to the live works,” he said. “This includes ensuring not only that I am competent to manage the worksite as an FWM, buts also that my contractor and his operators are competent. I have to ensure there are records kept by my contractors of what is happening on the worksite. I also need to ensure I am providing the operators with the information for them to do their job safely.”

Matthew was acutely aware these records were paper based and could be time consuming to manage effectively for contractors. He quickly saw the benefits of the Safe Forestry app, which he now uses and has found very helpful in carrying out his role.

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“I have also been able to use the app in more ways and have even started using it within our business for other elements such as staff PPE checks, COSHH and workplace assessments and even staff inductions,” he said. “This is the great thing about the app. The simplicity of the design has allowed it to be used for more than just competency. I think FWMs need to look at this tool as a key element in their role, not only to ensure compliance but also to save time in their working day.”

Meanwhile, for Calum and Stephen, the task continued to keep developing, as they tweaked and added to the app, taking on board all the feedback coming in to them. Then the COVID-19 pandemic struck, impacting on the forestry industry and the daily lives of everyone in the country. That said, while Calum had to close down his skylining operation, he and Stephen kept on working on the enhancement of the Safe Forestry app.

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They were, in fact, able to develop a COVID-19 capability onto the app to help users mitigate against COVID-19.  Calum explained: “Using the symptom form first thing allows the recording of the operator’s temperature. It then asks how they got to the site, asks if they have any symptoms, and then drops a pin in their location. It effectively offers track and trace while operators are on site.”

As we move through 2021, Calum and Stephen are ready to fully launch the Safe Forestry app.

“18 months of field tests have taken place,” said Calum. “It’s a fully compliant industry-recognised system. You can now prove your operators’ competency, prove you are maintaining your equipment, dynamically risk-assess any situation, photographically record anything on site and remotely monitor site activities in real time. Overall, you can prove to those  you work for and the authorities that you are a professional business.”

For Calum and Stephen, 2021 will see them working to get the Safe Forestry app stable in iOS and Android. They are looking to offer it to anyone who wants to trial it and, as they have done to date, continue to build the content within it.

“Our hope is that by the end of this year it will be a widely used system within forestry,” said Calum. “A system that protects its users and helps them to meet compliance in an ever-changing world. Our system will provide a cost-effective way to prove an operator’s competence and show they are professional in the way they work.”

The Safe Forestry app is paid for on an individual user subscription. This is quite deliberate as it allows the person who has taken it out to retain their ongoing competency, taking it with them if they change jobs. This information can be shared with whomever they are working for at the time. The cost is £10, per user, per month. This allows access to the whole system with its pre-loaded forms. There is a personal profile, which those using can upload their certification onto, so there is no longer the problem of searching for paper-based documentation.

The plan is to allow four-week trials to those interested in taking out a subscription. There will also be the opportunity for larger companies to buy licences to allow them to have multiple users. Calum and Stephen are passionate about the Safe Forestry app and they have invested both their time and capital in its development. Both have a wealth of experience in the forestry sector and are well placed to understand the issues their invention helps address.

Summing up the Safe Forestry app, Calum said: “This system is not mandatory, but what is mandatory is that you must prove you are employing competent people. This system does that very easily. Right from landowners employing an FWM, to them employing a contractor, to the contractors employing competent operators, the system works for everyone in the supply chain. More importantly than that, people on the ground built it. So we know it actually works in real life.”

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