Safety First in meeting the challenge of COVID 19

The wood processing sector is continuing to produce essential building materials during the current COVID 19 pandemic. Maintaining a safe work place takes on a whole new meaning when combined with the requirements of social distancing and enhanced hygiene. It is great to be part of an industry where our safety leaders, among many frontline heroes, are doing so much to protect the workforce and the communities they operate in.

There has been no rule book to follow in dealing with this crisis. Solutions have been developed from the ground up by working through the fundamentals of risk assessment. Some of the ideas being implemented by processors include:

Practical social distancing measures with split shifts and gaps between shifts to minimize the crossover of people. Similarly staggered breaks have been implemented to reduce the number of people in lunchrooms at any one time. Visitors to site have been reduced to the bare minimum. Where movement between sections of the plant is required diaries are being kept in the event that contact tracing may be required. The new government app COVID safe should also make this easier.

As well as social distancing hygiene is paramount. Control panels and control rooms are cleaned down at the start and finish of shifts or with the change of operator. New procedures have been introduced to ensure fork lifts and other mobile equipment are cleaned down by the operator. Measures have been instituted to increase the availability of hand sanitiser and the number of wash stations throughout the plant.

There has also been extensive information sharing between companies to ensure best practice ideas can be quickly adopted across the industry. Through AFPA, the growers and the processors safety groups have both been holding regular virtual meetings. This has been an excellent forum to exchange information and workshop ideas.

Paul O’Keefe the chair of the AFPA timber processor WHS group commented that:

“The regular exchange of information between companies has been invaluable in facilitating the sharing of learnings and the quick uptake of better practice ideas.”

To get the message out to the wider community some businesses have even developed information videos with local community leaders involved. This extends the safety messages from the processing facility, to the wider community.