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cameroon timber KUMARA, NEW ZEALAND, SEPTEMBER 20, 2017: A forestry worker measures a Pinus radiata log at a logging site near Kumara, West Coast, New Zealand.

The Forestry Industry Safety Council says it will lose nearly $1.2m in funding. File photo.
Photo: 123RF / Lakeview Image Library

WorkSafe is pulling out of funding safety programmes to the tune of up to $15 million a year, skittling a “really valuable” one in the high-risk forestry industry.

ACC, which gives WorkSafe the money, says it stopping the funding will make no difference to the overall spend.

“This decision does not reduce the overall amount of funds that ACC allocates to injury prevention initiatives,” the two agencies told RNZ on Thursday.

But for the Forestry Industry Safety Council (FISC), the impact has been harsh. It has just found out that 35 to 40 percent of its $1.1-2m annual funding will be hit.

“So the amount of work that FISC can do is clearly now reduced,” council chair Simon O’Grady said.

The council was now preparing by 31 March to axe three jobs and a programme in Gisborne and Northland that was at the fore of companies and others hearing from frontline workers about the risks they faced, and what to did about them, he said.

“We wanted strategically to roll that out nationally, but that’s clearly not able to take place without funding.”

WorkSafe has not said how many other agencies might be put in a similar position like the disruption facing the forestry council.

WorkSafe is usually the lead agency on safety education, aimed at industries with the highest death and serious injury rates: forestry, agriculture, construction, manufacturing, and healthcare and social assistance.

However, it has been in a financial hole and cut more than 100 staff late last year, while facing regular criticism that it is too soft on lawbreakers.

WorkSafe and ACC only confirmed the funding change when RNZ approached them, and then only provided the details on Thursday after repeated questioning over two days.

O’Grady said the rationale for the move had not been made clear to them.

“I mean, if there is reduced funding going into the programmes that directly affect health and safety in our forests and other industries, then you would imagine that that … would have a flow-on effect and we’re certainly concerned that might be the outcome.”

The agencies said on Thursday the change was because the funding arrangement was for six years old and they were both now altering their strategies.

“We’ll be shifting our approach to ensure the funds are invested in line with these strategies and have the greatest impact,” said a joint statement from deputy chief executives, Tane Cassidy at ACC, and Paula Collins at WorkSafe.

The changes were “very recently” finalised and it would tell its sector partners about “any potential impacts”, WorkSafe told RNZ earlier.

A final funding round under the outgoing arrangement would run from 1 July to March 2025.

“ACC is now looking at opportunities to invest funds previously allocated to WorkSafe,” Cassidy and Collins said.

O’Grady said they were seeking talks with ACC along these lines. In the meantime, they would tighten their belt to focus funds on their core safety certification work.

ACC has direct funding contracts worth several million dollars each, and spanning several years, with Farmstrong, ShopCare, and CHASNZ (construction), and said these were not changing.

O’Grady said it appeared forestry was being treated differently for some reason.

“We will look at aspects of the Toroawhi programme that are most valuable and we will see if we can actually start to get those happening in other ways.”

The government’s directives to public agencies to cut costs had not come into it as far as the council knew, he said.

“I’m not drawing any connection between the government’s position and the actions that have been taken here.”

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