THE Forest Machine Operators Blog on Facebook was a relatively calm and peaceful place during the month of May.

Then, into this tranquillity, came a question that set members’ teeth on edge.

It went as follows: “If you were looking to do an FMO refresher/update, what would you as experienced operators want to do, how would you want to do it, etc etc?

“I’m an FMO assessor/trainer and forestry machine operator. I get asked for refresher training and I’m curious for your thoughts.”

Blair WarnerBlair Warner (Image: Bites)

Thoughts were received. One thought, for example: “Slippery slope this is. Will end up like the arb industry, needing refresher training for everything, then certain FM companies will be insisting certain awarding body refreshers only, obviously the ones they are financially involved in.

“Those that are happy to work below industry standards will always do so, regardless of refresher training I’m afraid.”

Another thought: “Not enough new folk coming through, so how do we make money? I know, let’s retest the guys that are already doing the job! Just what this industry needs – anther non-wealth-generating group taking a slice of the ever-dwindling pie. This would drive out a lot of operators.”

One operator warned: “Here is some advice. DO NOT open that can of worms!

Gert UdumäeGert Udumäe (Image: Bites)

“Under what context are you being asked to provide refresher training on FMO qualifications? A concept that doesn’t even exist and for good reason at that.

“Refresher training in chainsaws for professional users is bad enough, but for FMO it’s just ridiculous. 

“That is a money-making scheme at best and, without proper knowledge among the providers, it’s a joke. Not worth the piece of paper it’s written on and a box-ticking exercise.

“If that ever becomes a thing then for the love of god please at least have competent assessors with proven, time-served evidence of competence to provide said refreshing.

“I would encourage the already dwindling FMO resource to rise against any such idea.”

Responding, another member said: “One of the big problems this industry has is not only an ageing operator level, with many retiring/leaving the industry, but the amount of bad operators thinking they are good is concerning. By having to be signed off, this should hopefully improve the operator level if they know they are being monitored.”

The operator replied: “You run into another issue if you are getting anything signed off by an FWM/auditor and that’s their competence/knowledge level being sufficient for the sign-off to carry any weight.

“When we started doing logbooks five years ago we used to do a sign off, but we soon realised it was bullshit as the people signing it off didn’t have the knowledge/skills of the actual operators. So we changed it to a record of work and no sign-off. 

“Then we had evidence of an operator’s competency.

“You’d hope common sense would prevail on this one and it would incense me if I had to pay for a refresher on my FMO tickets while providing everything else I already do.”

Joe WhiteJoe White (Image: Bites)

Another contractor offered some insight: “I’ve been at the centre of much of the ‘industry refresher training debate’ and FMO refreshers have never had anything more than a passing mention – impractical, unnecessary and unwanted. Like the ridiculous single tree windblow qualification, it’s the training industry tail trying to wag the forest industry dog.”

The thread was effectively closed down (or ‘signed off’) with one last comment: “You can sod off with that crap.”

You might expect that to be the end of it – at least for the time being – but a few days later, the subject of assessments was raised again. And this time there was a story.

“Once upon a time, in a dark, dreich forest, there was an assessor who turned up to a group of five operators who had begrudgingly organised that they all get assessed on their competency for their FMO ticket on the same day, helping to save some of the already dwindling cash flow from the job instead of sitting this assessment individually. 

“Operator 1 (who jumps in ‘his’ machine) slashes a few trees down safely and competently because it’s ‘his’ machine and he passes with flying colours.

Rob Thegoathearder MorganRob Thegoathearder Morgan (Image: Bites)

“Operator 2 (who works the forwarder alongside operator 1) jumps in and scrapes by, felling a few trees, not as competently as operator 1, but it’s a worthy (and safe) attempt, considering he only operates it now and again when operator 1 is on holiday/ill etc, to help boost production a little because with the rates being so shit, every little helps and all that.

“Operators 3, 4 and 5, who are only there because the boss can’t afford the assessors’ costs on an individual basis, jump into the machine – on a staggered basis, obviously – trying not to look like a right bunch of numpties and one by one make a bit of a meal of it. 

“Not beginners by any means, but they’re not too sure about the controls and, with the added pressure of having a heap of eyes on them, one scrapes a pass and two fail. 

Nigel FawkesNigel Fawkes (Image: Bites)

“Now if the last two guys had been on their own machines they would have also passed with flying colours. Even if they’d been on today’s machine, but away out the back of the woods somewhere, without any eyes on them, they’d make that machine sing in no time. 

“But, as the events of today have unfolded, operators four and five are so sick of the bullshit they both decide that their time in the woods is over and a new career in construction looms.

Andy JonesAndy Jones (Image: Bites)

“Where does that leave the small contractor who runs a small fleet of six machines? Once again – up shit creek with a recycled polypropylene paddle because there’s no-one left to cut the trees which make the wooden ones.”

So would refresher training and assessment be another impractical and unworkable expense serving only to drive more operators out of the industry? Is this one can of worms that should stay closed?

Share your thoughts on the Forest Machine Operators Blog group on Facebook.