It is hardly mentioned but people working in forestry sectors are susceptible to a number of threats and dangers and the International Labor Organization is stepping in to address the issue.
That came up in Arusha during the sectoral meeting on promoting decent work, safety and health in forestry.
The Director, Sectoral Policies Department at the International Labour Organization (ILO) Alette Van Leur pointed out that while forests continue to provide direct and indirect job opportunities, they also come with serious risks at workplaces.
“Therefore this meeting gets to address such problems, challenges and anticipating coming up with solutions regarding safety for people working in forestry departments,” she said.
The program coordinator at ILO Chiku Hamisi Semfuko said despite efforts and some improvements over the past decades, forests are still dangerous workplaces, adding that the sector is mostly informal meaning participants are hardly covered when it comes to health or occupational insurance.
On his part Lupala Zacharia, the Forestry Officer from the Ministry of Natural Resources and Tourism said the meeting delegates in their agendas are covering among other things issues of climate change, women and youth, human rights and applied technology.
Other participants said outsourcing, contracting and subcontracting as well as casual and seasonal work can further exacerbate some of the listed challenges.
It was also pointed out that some countries employ migrant workers in their forestry sector, particularly countries that face labor shortages in the sector.
But on the other hand immigrant workers are sometimes vulnerable to exploitation and deprived of labor protection.
They said coherent and effective laws, regulations and policies aligned with international labor standards and duly implemented are a precondition for advancing decent and sustainable work.
Many countries were found to have appropriate legislation is often in place, but hardly complied with, partially due to the isolated nature of forestry work.
National labor administration and inspection systems may have limited capacity and human and financial resources to reach out to remote forestry operations.
It was however agreed that forests will continue to provide direct and indirect job opportunities in the changing world of work, including new jobs in the green economy.
Leveraging technological developments can support higher productivity, quality of output, and improved working conditions.
These may further contribute to labor law compliance through, for example, enabling labor inspection in areas otherwise unreachable, and increase safety in forest work.
Reforestation efforts can provide employment opportunities and, given the renewable nature of wood, sustainable forest management can help in mitigating the effects of climate change.
It was also pointed out during the meeting that work in forests has high Occupational Safety Health (OSH) risks, due inter alia to the nature of work that takes place outdoors, often in isolated locations with highly varying terrain and harsh climatic conditions.
Forest work includes risks related to the use of machines, falling trees, transportation, climatic hazards, noise and vibration, and exposure to chemical and biological substances, among many others.
Climate change is further said to be exacerbating OSH risks in forestry, for example through increased climatic extremes and forest fires, and the prevalence of vector-borne diseases in new areas.
Robust regulatory frameworks coupled with meaningful implementation and enforcement mechanisms are essential in addressing OSH issues in forestry.
Extending social protection systems to forest workers, including migrant workers is paramount to promote OSH in the sector.
Given the hazardous nature of the sector, employment-injury benefit schemes that ensure the provision of fair, equitable illnesses are particularly important.