Thursday 27 August 2020

FOREST SOWS SEEDS FOR LONG-TERM COVID MANAGEMENT PLAN

Strict coronavirus mitigation plans have allowed the Green Triangle forest and timber sector to maintain business flow which the industry believes provides a convincing case for a long-term border travel exemption.

With the Federal Government urging State Government’s to collaborate in the creation of an Agriculture Workers Code, the Green Triangle Forest Industries Hub has highlighted the importance of using the forestry sector template as a model for long-term border food and fibre travel exemption.

Hub acting chair Ian McDonnell said the sector welcomed the proposal for a national agriculture travel plan, similar to that introduced to the freight sector, in an effort to protect and sustain local jobs, providing certainty for long-term business planning.

“The Green Triangle forest sector has had a zero-tolerance approach to COVID risk management with the generation of an industry wide plan and implementation of elevated control measures across all worksites to protect not only our staff, but the broader community from the treat of this insidious virus,” Mr McDonnell said.

“This high level of preparedness has protected our workforce and allowed for business continuity over the past six months and as an industry we are well-prepared to manage any future threat.

“The isolated nature of the forestry sector and milling operations assists in reducing the risk and we are willing to work closely with government to share our industry practices and diligent measures.”

The industry-wide Covid management plan, which is an overarching plan in addition to worksite mitigation plans, is a high-level guide for all forestry personnel.

Measures include splitting of shifts to avoid staff contact, roll-out of additional PPE, contactless processing systems, regimented cleaning programs, enforcing greater general hygiene practices and encouraging staff to work from home where possible.

The industry is also contract tracing personnel through the use of GPS tracking systems installed in heavy and light vehicles across the fleet, ensuring protocols are being met including avoiding contact with built-up communities.

Mr McDonnell said the forest sector had been forced to shut down all harvest sites outside of the 40km border buffer due to the current lockdown which would have long-term impacts to wood flow and the broader supply chain if implemented long-term.

The industry is also seriously concerned how the upcoming fire season will be managed, with the need to begin critical hazard control works to reduce fuel loads across the 334,000-hectare Green Triangle estate. Under the current ruling forestry personnel can travel only 40km across the border, meaning works can only be undertaken on a small percentage of the expansive estate.

Mr McDonnell said State Governments needed to take a “common sense” approach to developing the new agriculture industry pass, highlighting the importance of working collaboratively with industries to better understand work practices.

“A national-consistent approach is needed to help communities like the Green Triangle to get on with business. Our sector has many synergies with that of our farming neighbours who work in complete isolation, rarely coming in contact with another human being when undertaking their work tasks,” he said.

“Our parliamentarians need to keep our economy moving because further border shutdowns will have long-term impacts, resulting in job losses. The forest and timber sector has created a robust and workable plan that has kept our industry moving. We are willing to share these learnings with our governments so a sustainable long-term work plan can be achieved.”

The isolated nature of timber work has assisted business continuity through the pandemic.