A PENOLA logging business has put itself at the forefront of health and safety following an in-depth inquiry into the way fatigue is managed in the forestry sector.
In November 2016, a tragic accident claimed the lives of four young forestry workers on their way to work in a plantation at around 3am, when their dual cab utility rolled and crashed into a tree near Penola.
The tragedy sparked an unprecedented outpouring of grief from across the region’s forestry sector and wider community.
As a result, a fatigue management plan was put into place across the sector in an effort to minimise risks involved with the industry.
Looking to be a leader in the industry, Merrett Logging has gone above and beyond to put the safety of its workers above all else, something that has been a prominent priority since the company’s founding days according to director John Merrett.
Although the industry has seen a push to update its practices, Mr Merrett believes the company has always taken pride in protecting its staff.
“What happened in 2016 was a tragedy which really shocked our whole community,” Mr Merrett said.
“I guess it was the catalyst for these new reforms to the industry, but we have always tried to have strategies in place to reduce fatigue wherever we can.
“Now we are just focusing on keeping these as up to date as possible and pave the way for the industry in a positive way.
“We can always go out and buy a new harvester or new equipment when we need it, but we cannot replace our people.”
Mr Merrett said the company jumped on board with the new plan, becoming a “guinea pig” for many new strategies and techniques in the fight against fatigue.
Some of these include later start times for staff, tracking on company vehicles and an interactive smart phone application to estimate a workers fatigue level and adjust their work day accordingly.
The app measures an operators fatigue rating over a 48 hour period to determine how they feel and if they are ready for work.
“The most dangerous part of the job for our operators is getting to and from work,” Mr Merrett said.
“The fatigue app helps reduce that risk by determining the best course of action depending on someone’s fatigue level.
“Operators put in how much sleep they have had, if they have had anything keeping them awake, how they are feeling and so on.
“It analyses the information to give the safest option for them.
“This could mean they are fine to work, but it could also mean they might need to start a few hours later and get more sleep, get driven to work by another operator or even take the day off.”
Merrett Logging also has geo-fencing in place around work sites to monitor speed of its vehicles, in addition to an alert system to monitor when operators leave home, get on site and then finish their job to make sure no one is pushing the limits.
Merrett Logging work health and safety coordinator Mick Lynn said although these controls are in place, those in control of making the positive change are the operators.
“These kind of controls have to be self-driven by the operators, they have to be honest and upfront about how they are feeling so we can proceed from there,” he said.
“The biggest incentive for someone to go to work is obviously monetary and we understand sometime people just cannot afford to have a day off, even if they are fatigued.
“We have made it clear to our guys they can use personal or sick leave to make up the difference if they need a shorter shift or a day off, we want them to be open with us so we can get the best possible outcome for everyone involved.”
Now looking to the future, Mr Lynn said the company is looking to roll out more safety parameters for its workers.
“We are looking to install the “guardian system” in our vehicles over the next 12 months,” he said.
“It is basically forward and rear facing cameras which monitor attentiveness to the road and add further protection for our staff.
“At the end of the day the most important thing is everyone gets to go home to their families.
“That should be the top priority for everyone in the industry.”