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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Minding your PCBUs

JACKIE BROWN-HAYSOM talks to the forestry organisation that won the 2017 Safeguard award for best collaboration between PCBUs – a new award category.

It was one of those scenarios that could have been so much worse.

A woman delivering fuel to a forestry site suffered a head injury when the heavy locking mechanism on the stationary storage tank she was accessing swung down and struck her. She was alone on site. The harvesting crew was working further up the road, out of view, and had no idea the fuel delivery was being made.

Fortunately, in this case, the injuries were not so severe as to prevent her summoning help, but when the CEO of McFall Fuel, Sheryl Dawson, met with Nic Steens, national quality, health and safety manager for Rotorua-based forest management company PF Olsen, to discuss what had happened, both knew that things had to change.

Neither organisation had any direct involvement with the incident – the injured woman was not a McFall employee – nor with a previous event in which a logging truck and fuel delivery vehicle had crashed on a forest road, but they recognised the incidents as symptomatic of a much wider problem, which did involve them.

“In forestry you’re dealing with a convoluted supply chain,” Steens says. “You’ve got owners, agents, managers, contractors, subcontractors and a variety of service providers, which includes not only fuel deliveries but also people who do things like service and repair machinery and equipment.

“We knew we had pretty good systems for our contractors, and there was a Safe Operating Procedure for service providers, but these incidents made us realise that the responsibilities in this area weren’t well enough understood.”

For PF Olsen the realisation was the catalyst for a groundbreaking – and award-winning – initiative that, in July 2016, saw it bring together a wide group of interested parties to work through the issues concerning forest service providers, and find effective solutions.


At the heart of the matter was a situation where multiple PCBUs had duties towards, and expectations of, the service providers, but the complexity of the inter-relationships was such that, in many cases, no single party was able, or willing, to exercise control.

“There were times,” Steens recalls, “when contractors and service providers would say I really don’t know who is in control here, and the natural reaction – by both parties – was to say: it’s not me.”

He explains that when a service provider enters a forest he or she comes to a place that is owned by one party, but likely to be managed by another. While the forest manager is the PCBU with responsibility for the overall area, harvesting contractors exercise control over their own defined work areas and, in the course of travelling to the worksite that is the intended destination, a service provider may have to pass through areas controlled by other contractors.

“There’s quite a bit of chopping and changing, and it can get quite detailed in terms of deciding who has the most influence and control in the different areas.

“You might also have a situation where the service provider is performing a highly specialist activity, such as using a crane to shift a truck, and in that case they would need to take control of the contractor’s site.”

With so many variables to consider, it was clear to Olsen that contractors and service providers alike needed some ground rules to help them manage day-to-day scenarios, and that input from all parties would be needed to develop them.

Having successfully involved both contractors and external experts in the development and running of its drug and alcohol management programme, the company knew the value of consultative groups, so had no hesitation in setting up a multi-party steering committee, comprising five Olsen employees, four contractors, five service providers (including McFall), and forest owner Timberlands.

It could have been an unwieldy group, but Steens says there was a strong sense of purpose, and general agreement that change was needed. Olsen facilitated the group, presenting a scope to give people a framework to work from. Steen says he was in the thick of it, giving advice and writing up a draft for feedback.

“It all went well – there was good participation from everyone, and when we sent things out for review we got some really solid responses.”

The service providers particularly appreciated the process, saying their staff had sometimes felt unable to speak out about safety issues because they did not want to lose their contracts.

“They were starving for information and direction, so this gave them the opportunity to air their concerns. And they knew that if we, as the forest manager, knew what their requirements were, we would work with them to help our contractors appreciate their needs.”


Over a couple of months the steering committee put together a set of basic requirements for both service providers and the contractors engaging them. These were circulated to the wider industry for consultation, and the final version of the guidelines was published in December.

The guidelines, says Steen, cover things like getting task descriptions for routine jobs from service providers, so everyone knows exactly what they’ll be doing on site, and making things like training records available.

“It works a bit like a prequalification system in a way, because if you check your service providers’ systems beforehand it saves time when you need to get work done – and that’s important, because there’s often a lot of urgency around keeping operations productive.

“If you don’t have to fiddle around trying to get all the information requirements sorted out every time you need some repairs done, it’s better for everyone.”

The scope of the guidelines is not as broad as a true prequalification scheme, Steens says, but it does still help to keep poor operators out of the system.

“We tell contractors that if a service provider baulks at the requirements it tells you they’re probably not who we really want in our operations. You’ll be carrying too much risk if you let them in.”

The publication of the guidelines was far from the end of the process, however. The contractors on the steering group were keen to see some training to support the introduction of the new measure and, as Olsen was already working on a training package around aspects of the new legislation, it was a natural fit to include a final session on the guidelines.

“The sorts of situations the guidelines address are just what the new law was designed for, so adding a session on them at the end gave the whole package a practical context.”

Service providers were invited to train alongside Olsen’s contractors, and Steens says there was a lot of value in having both parties in the same place, hearing the same message.


One valuable tool included in the training was the use of a hierarchical system in situations where there is more than one PCBU.

“We talk about a prime PCBU and a minor PCBU. It’s certainly not in the law or the regulations, but it’s useful terminology and the feedback we’ve had is that it helps people work out who has primary control of the site, and who should follow whom.”

Steens delivered the training himself, travelling the country to deliver the one-day programme to some 400 people, in groups of 30, over the course of several months.

“I had to do my day job as well, so I just about killed myself. By the time I finished I certainly knew my information well!”

He had been expecting service providers to be less involved with the sessions than contractors, but in reality found the reverse to be true.

“As a group the service providers were responsive, committed and participated really well. And that’s continued afterwards too. There are a number of providers who are now actively corresponding with me, asking questions or giving me updates, and that’s really good.”

He points to McFall Fuel as one organisation that has taken the new guidelines to heart.

“They’ve wrapped a lot of their own SOPs around it and it’s become the foundation stone for their own management system.

“I think a lot of other service providers also benefited from having some solid direction they could use to enhance their own procedures.”


Further proof of the project’s success has been a significant rise in the number of service providers completing forest entry inductions. It’s always been a requirement to do this, Steens says, but previously some contractors were letting providers in without it.

“When we did the training we made it quite clear that we appoint our contractors to look after their own little bounded work areas, but we have the rest of the forest to look after.

“When they bring someone in, they’re under our control while they’re crossing our estate, and if we haven’t had the opportunity to induct them, we could be in trouble.”

The feedback from service providers is that, in combination, the guidelines and training have taken the complex relationships between forest PCBUs to a whole new level.

“They say their job is much easier now and, whereas in the past they sometimes felt compelled to break their own rules, because they didn’t feel there was a platform for negotiation, they now know that our contractors understand the rules. As a result, they feel empowered to say ‘no’ if they don’t think something is safe.”


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