THE following text is a letter submitted to Forestry Journal by the Forestry Contracting Association (FCA):

We would like to bring our concerns about FISA out into the open. FISA has become a virtual secret society and we do not think the industry at large has any idea of how bad things have become in an organisation whose decisions are impacting on us all, whether you are a FISA member or not. We need to stimulate a healthy and truthful debate on forestry safety. We need to get more practical forestry people involved and they need to be putting their own questions to FISA.

FISA was created over 10 years ago and the FCA is member number one. It’s no secret that the relationship between FISA and the FCA has been a difficult one, but we have persisted in a belief that the effort put in would yield some safety benefits for the people who do the hard, dirty and sometimes dangerous graft required to make a living in this industry.

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Despite these 10 years and a staggering amount of its members’ money, the statistics suggest little has changed. In excess of £1,500,000 has been provided through subscriptions. Yes, that’s one-and-a-half million of hard cash. Where has it all gone? And if you think that’s a hefty sum, just reflect on the value of the in-kind effort provided to FISA free of charge, by hundreds of volunteers during that period. It’s an incalculable sum and it’s not difficult to see why so many of these willing helpers shipped out long ago. Through no fault of their own, their efforts have been completely wasted.

Yet when former chairman Alastair Sandels introduced his Safety before Price initiative in 2019, it looked like we were getting somewhere. However, it was not to be, as Alastair Sandels abandoned the position soon after. It is a great pity he has never gone public on his reasons for doing so. Since his departure, his Safety before Price initiative has been consigned to the dustbin – along with him.

That fleeting hope has since been replaced with something which in reality is the polar opposite. When we see people putting profit before safety, and senior figures at FISA ignoring this, then no fair-minded person can sit quietly and allow it to degenerate any further. Of course, that is exactly what is happening. High-profile companies, organisations and individuals are watching this all go on and doing nothing.
FISA could still be a force for good, and it could do exactly what it was created for; improving the safety record of the forest industry. It will not do this under its current leadership. All we have now is a very expensive-to-maintain safety organisation that is totally out of control and no longer fit for purpose.

The FCA has tried to use FISA’s internal procedures to bring about these changes. We have found this to be impossible. We have demonstrated to everyone on the FISA board of directors and its steering group that all is not legitimate. Unfortunately, no-one is willing to take any action. Historically, every time the FCA stands up and speaks out about the inadequacies and failings of FISA we are called out for being anti-safety. The same goes for anyone else who dares to poke their head above the parapet. This is just a tactic to try to divert attention from the real issues. 

FISA has failed to confront the real problems facing the real people who are being injured and killed. It has completely ignored the views of the chainsaw experts who have been advising it on how to tackle our most significant issue. Why hasn’t that money been properly invested in improving chainsaw safety? How many more opportunities must pass us by before we take a hold of FISA and make it do what it’s supposed to?

Since the departure of Alastair Sandels, the FCA has been pressing for answers to many important questions relating to the governance of FISA. Until it is governed honestly, we’re all wasting our time. Most of our correspondence is just ignored. Our concerns are wide-ranging, and we list the main ones below:

  • Failure to exercise reasonable care, skill and diligence, as required by company law.
  • Failure to provide financial documents to a member, as required by company law.
  • Failure to provide other documents to a member, as required by company law
  • Failure to act on a complaint of bullying and harassment experienced by working group members.
  • Failure to act on reports of breaches of health-and-safety legislation by steering group members.
  • Failure to implement steering group decisions.
  • Failure to implement working group decisions.
  • Failure to ensure company records are accurate.
  • Destruction of company records to prevent scrutiny.
  • Falsifying company records.
  • Failure to investigate irregularities in company elections.

This is some list, by anyone’s standards. As we don’t have the time or the space to deal with them all here, we’ll focus on the voting issues. This may not seem to be the most serious in some people’s view, but the FCA believes it to be the most important. If you get the right people at the head of the company, the rest will sort itself. They don’t need to be forestry experts. They just need to be open, transparent and above all, honest.

Many have been concerned about the inconsistencies and irregularities that surround the voting procedures used at FISA. All decision-making is supposed to be based on the will of the majority. However, some decisions are taken in secret and some ‘voting’ is so obtuse that many have complained they don’t even know what the vote was for.

Two things are necessary to establish the will of the majority. Firstly, they must feel ‘safe’ to speak freely on any topic discussed, and secondly, some sort of credible voting structure must be in place to record the level of support, or otherwise, for any decisions made. Some bad decisions taken at FISA have cost contracting businesses tens of thousands of pounds without creating any tangible safety benefits. This applies to every business in forestry, not just those who are FISA members. So it is quite proper that we should insist on transparency.

The perception that the various voting systems are flawed has been an ongoing problem. Numerous complaints have been submitted by a wide range of parties from all sides of the safety argument. The importance of getting these decisions right cannot be overstated. And to ensure confidence in the decisions, such procedures must be beyond reproach. Over the years, this has not been the case, and things have deteriorated significantly over the last two years.

Looking back, the FCA had hoped to be able to pinpoint a time when these problems began, but sadly they have existed since the day FISA was formed. Quoting from the Safety Accord itself: “Recognising that improvements to the industry’s health and safety performance require sustained commitment and action – being equitable and fair to all those involved.”

The FCA does not believe FISA is fair to all those involved. In fact, all the evidence points to the fact that it gives priority to the views of a very small, but powerful elite. It has been developed into a business tool that strengthens the control this cohort has over us all, and nowhere is this more obviously demonstrated than in the voting systems and the way they are managed.

Going back to the beginning seems rather pointless just now, but we do need to look at the period where the current chairman has been in power. This dates back to an election for chairman in 2017, a contest between Simon Hodgson, then of Forest Enterprise England, and Alastair Sandels. Although FISA CEO Gillian Clark had canvassed on his behalf, Simon Hodgson was convincingly beaten in this election. Despite this, he was appointed to the FISA board of directors. A consolation prize, perhaps?

However, directors are supposed to be elected, not appointed, and there certainly wasn’t an election in this case. There was no call for nominations, or a vote for or against, making this a significant breach of the company’s own procedures. Was this was a sign of things to come?

Forestry Journal: At APF 2012, HSE director Professor Richard Taylor (left) presents Donald Maclean with a certificate recognising the FCA as FISA’s first member.At APF 2012, HSE director Professor Richard Taylor (left) presents Donald Maclean with a certificate recognising the FCA as FISA’s first member. (Image: FJ)

One of the new board’s first actions was to ensure the adoption of a new set of company rules. These proposals had been rejected by the voting at a previous AGM. So just prior to the next meeting, FISA suddenly recruited 281 new members. Swelling the membership numbers by around 30 per cent, these were all employees of the large companies in the industry, namely BSW, Tilhill, Scottish Woodlands, Euroforest, James Jones and EGGER.

Having lost one vote, they were not about to lose another. Is this fair and transparent? Is it legal? If all these managers were actually paid-up members and provided they were free to cast their vote as they pleased, then it was perfectly legal. Who would think otherwise? Possibly the ones who didn’t know they were members.

To his credit, new chairman Alastair Sandels paved the way for the FCA and its chairman Donald Maclean to be reinstated to the FISA steering group. Both had been banned indefinitely. Another brave course of action by Alastair Sandels was the development of the ‘Safety before Price’ initiative. This was a personal crusade of his and should have been supported much more widely than it was. The fact the key components of it were almost unanimously voted through at a meeting didn’t worry its main detractors one bit.

There is an old saying: ‘If voting changed anything, it would be abolished tomorrow.’ Anyway, we’re now over three years after this vote and not a single resolution has been acted upon. Not so much a criticism of the voting system this time, just a perfect example of FISA ignoring a result they didn’t like.

FISA then scaled new heights when an election for a successor to Alastair Sandels took place in March 2021. Simon Hodgson had already declared himself to be interim chair.

Strangely, only one candidate came forward and it wasn’t Simon Hodgson. The single candidate was Donald Maclean. A vote for or against was instructed and this would be conducted by an independent third party, a company called Civica, which specialises in such matters. There was to be no ‘appointment’ in this case and no consolation prize either, as it turned out.

To help people make the right decision, the idea of looking outside of FISA for a better chairman was floated. This was certainly something that had been talked about before, but a little bit cheeky putting this information on the ballot papers. So the voting took place, with the majority voting against Donald Maclean’s appointment. The results were carefully documented by Civica, which turned out to be a problem, because one significant ‘irregularity’ cropped up. There were more votes cast than there were eligible voters. So who were these phantom voters?

Despite repeated written requests for an explanation, none has been forthcoming. Now there are two possible explanations for this, but one of them is possibly illegal. You’d have thought they would have gone out of their way to deal with this enquiry transparently. This does not inspire confidence in the integrity of the process, or the honesty of those involved.

Given the refusal to accept Donald Maclean as chair, there was a call for further nominations. This time two people came forward in time to meet the official deadline.

After a row, the deadline was extended ‘to allow people more time to think about standing’, but nevertheless, only those two nominations were received by the extended deadline. Simon Hodgson was not one of them.

The nominees were both contractors – surely not a problem. Both had submitted their nominations in accordance with FISA’s own declared rules and timeframe. They were the only ones to do so.

However, when the voting papers were received, there was a third candidate in the field.

Having declined the opportunity on no less than three previous occasions, Simon Hodgson had now decided that he should put himself forward. Here’s the best part. It appears that, as he wasn’t a steering group member, he wasn’t even eligible to stand.

The other two immediately withdrew from the election. The election was cancelled. Of course, Simon Hodgson was still ‘interim chair’ so it didn’t matter to him. He could have been subjected to the same for/against vote that was applied to Donald Maclean, but that wasn’t considered. Having lost so badly to Alastair Sandels previously, there was clearly some risk in that.

It gets worse. A decision to increase the number of directors was taken. This was something that was agreed many years before, but had never been actioned. As Simon Hodgson and CEO Gillian Clark were the only two directors, there were places available for another four. At a steering group meeting, two candidates were put forward by Simon Hodgson. The idea was the steering group would accept his judgment on their suitability and agree to the appointments; another major departure from the rules, but no different to his own appointment back in the day.

There had been no effort made to promote these vacancies anywhere else. When this was pointed out, the steering group was assured these candidates were of the highest calibre and they would make good directors. It was suggested that others might have been interested, had they known about it, and indeed two put themselves forward at the meeting, but both were FCA members. Now a decision to have a vote at the meeting was no longer deemed appropriate and the process was postponed. Can anyone tell us why some people get ‘elected’ without an election and others have to go through a much more formal and expensive procedure?

Forestry Journal:

If FISA is supposed to be a true collaboration between all those in the industry, we contractors need to be convinced we are being treated as equals and that our concerns and suggestions are being taken seriously. We also need to be assured we will not be arbitrarily excluded from important positions within the organisation.

To say that FISA lacks consistency is putting it politely. The fact is it repeatedly flouts company law. We now have to ask it why, and in front of the widest possible forestry audience. After all, FISA is a membership organisation dependent on membership subscriptions, and those who pay should have a say.

Anybody who thinks they can makes rules for the rest of us to follow without ensuring they follow the rules themselves needs to be subjected to very close scrutiny indeed.

There are some who think they are above the law and accountable to no-one. We know this from recent politics. However, we need to be absolutely certain this kind of mindset hasn’t found its way into the FISA boardroom.


This year marks the 10th anniversary of the Forest Industry Safety Accord (FISA). The organisation was formed after HSE called forest industry representatives to a two-day summit in Edinburgh back in 2012 and highlighted the poor safety record. Other industries such as manufacturing and construction had been in a similar place in previous years and had successfully implemented measures of improvement, to reduce both the frequency and severity of unsafe occurrences. This was the catalyst for FISA to unite the industry in collaborative work to improve our safety performance and to promote a healthy and modern workplace. 

So, what have we achieved over the last 10 years and how do we measure performance? 

Whilst we have managed to bring the industry together and generate a spirit of enthusiasm for change, we still have incidence of fatal accidents and others causing serious injury. Many of our operations contain high-risk activities and our collective responsibility is to ensure that all those engaged prevent unsafe occurrences and aim to improve conditions. 

To help underpin our performance, we have successfully increased our membership each year. Today, we have 1,015 members, representing those involved in all areas of the forestry supply chain. Our board is tasked with managing the governance of the organisation and the steering group carries the responsibility for engagement with all sectors in which our members work. Safety priorities are set by the steering group and communicated out to the working groups who then generate new guidance and protocols to support our aims. All of these groups are filled with people who volunteer their time with the single goal of improving safety within our industry, over 150 volunteering their time to help the industry. Without these valued contributions, we are certain that our safety performance would have been in a much worse position than we see it today. 

FISA strategic recommendations for the coming five-year period focus primarily on chainsaw review, considering crucial factors of importance, including culture, behaviour, competence, identification and adoption of control measures, appropriate planning, development of high-risk exclusion zones and supervision before and during works. 

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Our second item in our strategy is the generation of an open and collaborative culture in the industry. Improving safety culture and the introduction of behavioural change steps across the industry. This will be supported by attention to reporting and reflection on the need to improve the flow of data; our members have been keen to innovate and develop digital methods which help make safety protocols more transparent and allow everyone to see where operational priorities need to be focused. 

We also need to ensure that those assuming responsibility for tasks are deemed to be competent to do so. Establishing the benchmarks and developing tools to help members assess and develop competency in others has been a focus of our groups and will no doubt remain one as we move forward, with this item featuring as the third recommendation in our strategy. 

Safety culture is governed by people’s daily habits and behaviours. Members of FISA, its working groups, the steering group and the board can have a big influence on the culture, and at all levels encourage a positive open exchange of information, as a two-way process. As such, FISA expects the way these representatives behave must be unified and reflect our core values. If we wish to further our behavioural and cultural change in safety, we need time and continued commitment from all of our members. Our articles and rules promote a democratised platform for engagement from all parties, from all sectors within our industry, to make valued and lasting contributions. 

Our highest priority within FISA remains the safety of each and every one engaged with our wonderfully diverse industry.