MechLog has an unrivalled reputation for safety in the workplace. The company takes its responsibility to its employees very seriously and has a reputation for upholding the high standards of the forestry industry. Hence, during a period when COVID-19 dictates how we conduct every aspect of our lives, including forestry practices, it is interesting to hear an industry leader’s views on how to manage employee safety with the added issue of microbial influence.
Safe Work Australia has the model Work Health and Safety laws, which are quite clear about the actions an employer must take during the COVID-19 pandemic, and at all other times.
The model Work Health and Safety (WHS) laws require a person conducting a business or undertaking to ensure, so far as is reasonably practicable, the health and safety of their workers and others at the workplace.
To comply with the model WHS laws, employers must identify hazards at the workplace and the associated risks and do what is reasonably practicable to eliminate those risks, or where this is not reasonably practicable, to minimise those risks. MechLog views COVID-19 as another WHS issue to solve to keep our workforce safe and healthy.
MechLog has not changed its position on WHS or prioritising the welfare of our team of 35 employees across Australia. It is our number one priority, as it always has been and always will be. COVID-19 has made no difference to how we prioritise safety, it has just added another element to the list of things we all have to do to stay safe in the workplace. In MechLog’s case, this has taken the form an Infectious Disease preparedness and response plan, which we have implemented across our business.
It starts, not with process, but with psychology. If every staff member does not have equal respect for their own safety and wellbeing and their fellow workers, the system fails. COVID-19, if anything, proves this point perfectly. If every employee looks after his or her own health – adhering to government guidelines – they lower their risk of contracting COVID-19 and passing it on to the rest of the team. Every employee must respect COVID-19 and understand the measures we are implementing to keep everyone safe and virus free at work.
Whenever new and improved safety measures and regulations come into force, MechLog start by explaining to our staff what is going to happen, when it is happening, and why it is happening. It is simply disrespectful to direct staff to follow a new rule without giving them the courtesy regarding why they have to follow the new direction.
When the Federal, South Australian, and Tasmanian Governments introduced their COVID-19 guidelines, we reviewed them and prepared a briefing for our staff about the changes to existing WHS policy, and our expectations. The Governments’ guidelines became our guidelines. We took the time to explain our position and how we, as the MechLog team, intended to apply the regulations to our business. Within 24 hours, the COVID-19 guidelines became company part of our safety policy and, to date, has been enthusiastically adopted by every employee from the office team to the field staff.
The forestry industry is used to change – particularly when it comes to adopting new practices and new safety procedures. COVID-19 might be a worldwide issue, but in local terms, it is just another challenge for our industry to address.
From a personal perspective, the directors of MechLog are acutely aware of the impact isolation has on our team, both in the workplace and at home. We proactively check in with all of our employees on a regular basis to ensure their well-being has not been compromised. Most importantly, we keep abreast of any changes so to their circumstances so we can respond supportively.
Childcare centres and schools are closed and some of our employee’s partners have lost their jobs. As a result, we have adjusted our operating schedules to provide flexible work options, while still meeting our contractual obligations.
Operationally, MechLog is using practical measures such as keeping our team isolated safely by insisting on solo travel to and from work and adopting a one-man-one-machine policy whenever possible. Our administration team is working from home, and we have become very adept at using Zoom to limit face-to-face meetings,” Jillian said.
From a long-term business perspective, MechLog is cautiously optimistic about the future for our company and the forestry industry. While the immediate impact of COVID-19 has been minimal, there is likely to be future impacts.
One of the most important actions governments can take is to fund and promote infrastructure development. This one action could mitigate against a potential downturn in the domestic demand for timber; due to a reduction in building approvals as a result of the rise in unemployment.
In terms of timber exports, the industry must maintain our relationship with Asia. As the long-term economic and social impact of COVID-19 hits Australia, the national psyche will look to attribute blame. China, one of our most important trading partners, is an easy target. We are already seeing elements of the blame game playing out in the USA, Europe, and Australia. If the forestry industry does not get ahead of this issue, there could be financial ramifications on a national and local level if our relationship with China is strained. I am sure this is an issue we can address as an industry.
There is tremendous support and cooperation, particularly here in Tasmania, between all of the forestry operators. From the moment COVID-19 started to affect the Australian timber industry, in February, the industry worked together to address the immediate and long-term issues.
I am sure that the support and level of communication MechLog has received from our supply chain and principals, such as Forico and Timberlands Pacific, is replicated across the industry. By working together we, as an industry and as a country, will survive the COVID-19 pandemic,” Jillian said.
Image: ‘social distancing’ on delivery day – the RDO Team and MechLog’s Jacob Skvaril meeting the new John Deere 2154 Harvester.