How we promote workplace safety in our timber investments

Info for members
30 Nov 2023
4 min read

Our timber assets work hard for our members’ super, so it’s vital that workers are safe in a high-risk environment.

Forest and mountain view

We closely monitor safety in our timber portfolio. That includes understanding the operations of each of the timber plantations we own and encouraging a safety culture.

This portfolio includes Hancock Victorian Plantation, Tasmania’s Forico, and New Zealand plantations Taumata and Tiaki. Our sizeable investment in each company provides boardroom representation, enabling us to monitor how the assets are operated.

UniSuper’s timber investments

Our timber investments are largely in pine and eucalypt plantations, which grow relatively quickly on a wide range of sites and produce high-quality wood fibre. The timber is used in the Australian and New Zealand construction and other industries, for products like structural sawn timber, fibre board, pulp, paper, packaging, tissue and textiles. The plantations meet UniSuper’s strict investment-grade criteria and are third party certified under the internationally recognised Forest Stewardship Council.

Safety initiatives

Given the high-risk working environment in the timber industry, workplace health and safety is a critical issue. We regularly engage with companies to ensure health and safety is properly managed with appropriate and industry leading policies, procedures and systems, safety equipment, risk management frameworks and accountability.

We’ve appointed experienced directors for each company, they play a direct and active role in creating a strong safety culture and management. Below we explore key health and safety initiatives in our timber assets.

Mechanised tree felling on steep terrain

Until a few years ago, tree felling on steep land, and an activity referred to as ‘breaking out’ – where wire ropes are attached to the felled stems so they can be winched to a central processing area – were undertaken entirely manually. Manual tree felling and breaking out were the two high-risk operations workers undertook.

While the operations in our plantations used mechanisation on easy terrain, it was a real challenge to extend this to steep land and many in the industry thought this wasn’t achievable. Our timber business led a major change in the New Zealand timber industry in 2013, mandating mechanised tree felling on steep terrain. Through close work with key contractors, over 80% of our steep country is now being felled mechanically.

Micro-sleep detection for transport drivers

Historically, the timber industry focused on in-forest operations, but there wasn’t the same level of focus on log transportation on public roads. With UniSuper’s involvement, our timber companies extended their focus across their supply chain including the safety of people beyond the forest gate—for example, transporting logs.

A team of transport health and safety experts was engaged to look at log transport safety. This included the physical infrastructure of in-forest landings and roads to public road and highway conditions, the types of trucks and trailers contractors were using and the hours people were working. They identified various areas for improvement. One of which was driver fatigue, an issue all heavy transport operators face.

One of the initiatives implemented was the installation of in-cab rear-facing cameras that monitor drivers’ faces to detect tiredness or lapses in attention. Once activated, an audible alarm sounds and seat vibrations alert the driver. Micro-sleep and distraction episodes are recorded and logged, which can then trigger further intervention from a dispatcher if required.

The drivers embraced the system knowing it would help keep them safe. The cameras also helped identify and assist a number of drivers with sleeping disorders.

Making a difference

These safety enhancements reflect our focus on continuous improvement—we’re always looking to use our insights to advance our assets across our investment portfolio.

As active owners and responsible investors, we engage with the companies we invest in to address a range of risks. Safety is a key focus. Because we’re actively involved in managing our assets, we’re also able to apply insights gained from one asset to other assets—both within and across industries.

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