“THE risk of the public accessing timber harvesting operational sites is a major issue.” So began one of the most engaging discussions on the Forest Machine Operators Blog last month.

The post continued: “In some instances where essential works are being carried out, the public must be totally excluded from the work site under all circumstances, not just asked to go elsewhere for their daily stroll, because asking them to keep away just doesn’t work, and it’s even worse with the cycling brigade who seem to think they are a law unto themselves. It puts the operators at risk of injuring someone when there is no need, just because no-one wants to upset the public for a few days.

Forestry Journal: Alfie Williams Alfie Williams

“The days of accepting ‘I have walked my little dog here every day for the last 10 years and you won’t stop me!’ should be over on operational sites.

“Forestry operations have changed dramatically in recent years and the machine operators need protecting from the public site incursion and the regular verbal abuse they are subjected to just for trying to do their jobs safely and efficiently. I feel it’s only a matter of time before a member of the public walks past the forestry entry prohibition signs and gets killed, and then it’s too late.”

There was enthusiastic agreement from the overwhelming majority of members, one of whom replied: “The powers that be, it would seem, would prefer the public dead rather than inconvenienced! If we were working on a construction site then it would be fenced off with security guards in place! It’s a blatant health-and-safety risk. By not shutting off public access, they are putting the public at risk!”

Forestry Journal: Craig Agnew Craig Agnew

Another said: “The general public needs educating about the dangerous work that goes on in the commercial forest environment. I have seen plenty of near misses and plenty of people ignoring signage on harvesting sites. People don’t view the forest as a workplace. They only see it as somewhere to go and walk, ride bikes and do whatever they want to.”

Someone suggested an educational video should be produced “like the one Caterpillar did called Shake Hands with Danger.”

READ MORE: Bites from the Blog, February 2022: From Ponsse to Bruun, Timberjack to John Deere

This was a film produced by the machinery firm in co-operation with America’s National Safety Council in 1975. Directed by Herk Harvey (who also directed the classic horror film Carnival of Souls) it highlighted the dangers of being around heavy machinery through a series of vignettes in which construction workers found exceedingly inventive ways to injure and kill themselves with Cat equipment, all accompanied by a jaunty country tune whose lyrics told the cautionary tale of its singer, Three-Finger Joe.

Forestry Journal: Jake Fish Jake Fish

Might something similar be required to get members of the public to see the foolishness in ignoring signage and getting up close and personal with forest machines? Some members thought it’s unlikely some people will ever be persuaded to steer clear.

“This issue has been at the forefront of contractors’ issues with working sites for over 30 years,” said one member. “Unlikely to get things changed now or in the future if the new Highway Code updates introduced recently are anything to go by, where pedestrians and cyclists can legally put themselves in areas of danger and life-threatening situations and all the blame is automatically put on the larger vehicle involved in any incident – total lunacy!

“The past teachings of ‘you’re responsible for your own safety’ are no longer applicable and burden of responsibility for these idiots is put on others who are just doing their job safely.”

Would enclosing the whole site in heras fencing not solve the problem? It was an unpopular suggestion, not only because it would be impractical for many sites and add even more costs onto the contractor but, as one reported: “I have seen heras fencing pulled down by someone walking their dogs because it was in the way of their walking route.”

Forestry Journal: Markus Riegler Markus Riegler

Forget that, then.

One younger member said: “Unfortunately it’s not a problem exclusive to forestry (just ask any police officer about working road closures). Some people have a general sense of entitlement and a creative interpretation of the rules. Add in the more uneducated eco warriors, who think they can ignore the rules because they don’t agree with forestry.

“I’m going to sound old here (despite only being 19), but we need proper public information films back, the ones that are designed to scare. The countryside is extremely accessible now, not everyone knows the way of the area anymore. Organisations won’t take a hard line anymore, because they are far too worried about upsetting people.”

“Very true,” another contractor replied. “Have had members of the public squeeze between a stack of timber and a machine offloading before. And many more incidents of public that have ignored warning signs. And when operators try to explain why they shouldn’t be there we get nothing but abuse.”

Forestry Journal: Tom Elliot Tom Elliot

One member said: “I find the people that respect it and appreciate what we are doing are the ones that stay away and listen to signs and the people that want to save the world one tree at a time walk through just to be annoying and to prove a point that they are not happy with us, which is even more stupid. 

“We did a job couple weeks ago which had 10 banksmen on and the site was fully taped off and barricaded. You could see people waiting for a clear moment to quickly try and run through and some did, but soon got stopped.”

Rightly exasperated, one contractor said: “Put a sign up and most see it as a challenge. Short of physically hitting them with a machine, tree or fist (which will result in us getting into trouble) how do we stop them?”

It’s a good question and a significant problem, highlighted only a few weeks later when the same contractor posted pictures of a determined cyclist carrying his mountain bike around a harvester and over fallen trees to access a closed road.

“We had the same the other day,” said another operator. “Their comment was that road closures don’t apply to them, only cars. Followed by a tree falling in front of them, missing them by a few feet.”

Many would say the cyclist was clearly in the wrong there (at least in terms of common sense), but one contractor with a lot of experience working for Highways England described it as “a grey area”.

Forestry Journal: Wayne Richards Wayne Richards

He said: “You can’t refuse access to pedestrians or cyclists due to the diversion routes being too long. You do have a duty of care to make sure they have safe means of passing the works. It could be a doctor, nurse or other key worker and that’s their only means of transport. You just don’t know.”

Some voiced scepticism on the likelihood of these mountain bikers being commuting key workers, but he continued: “You have a duty of care for anyone in the work area, whether it be you, staff members or the public. You cannot block pedestrians if the diversion is a longer route. If it’s not a public road, you should have banksmen at each side of the machine as well as gatemen at each end of the closure.”

The member who originally shared the photo of the cyclist responded: “He came past the banksman too. Is he an idiot or not? Should I or my banksman have physically restrained him? Should I have killed him with a tree? It’s a dangerous place and dangerous job and he came marching right through the middle. Whether it’s technically legal or not, he’s an idiot and should have more sense.”

The contractor replied: “I never said he wasn’t an idiot. I was only stating that you can’t stop pedestrians and you have a duty of care to them, whether they’re knobs or not. I know it’s frustrating but if he got injured in your work area it would be your company responsible.”

Asked how a machine operator should respond the next time they see a cyclist or pedestrian on their site, he advised: “You should stop work and escort them through, making sure they have a safe route of passage. This should be in your RAMS. Yes, it’s annoying, but it’s what you have to do.”

We suspect nothing will change until someone writes a catchy country song about it. Someone call up Three-Finger Joe!

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