A systemic change is needed to provide a safe and healthy working environment for the estimated 33 million people working in the forest sector worldwide, according to a new report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Labour Organization (ILO) and UNECE.
Occupational safety and health in the future of forestry work explains that global ‘megatrends’ are transforming working conditions in the sector, bringing with them new challenges but also creating opportunities that must be seized to better protect forest workers.
While forests provide employment, food, income, shelter and ecosystem services for millions, they are among the most dangerous places to work.
Globalization, demographic shifts, technological developments and climate change are generating even more risks for many forest workers, according to the report.
Megatrend challenges and opportunities
Climate change is increasing the risks for forest workers from intense and frequent extreme weather events and fires, the FAO-ILO-UNECE report says.
At the same time, demographic trends are changing the forest sector workforce, with ageing workers in some parts of the world, an influx of younger workers in other parts, and growing numbers of women, ethnic minorities, and migrants. Many of them work in the informal economy.
While new machinery, tools, and innovative technologies such as robotics and artificial intelligence will replace some jobs with potentially safer ones, they may also generate new jobs involving new risks, according to the report.
Advancing the decent work agenda in sustainable forest management is vital to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDG 8 (decent work and economic growth) and SDG 15 (life on land), the report says.
Recommendations for decent working conditions
The report offers recommendations for action to ensure decent working conditions as the nature of the work, the tools and the workforce keep changing.
Forest workers will require new skills, strategies, and organizational tools to adapt to identified changes and challenges to minimize the safety and health risks. Increasingly high quality, life-long training and skills development will be needed.
New approaches and technologies can meanwhile help improve data on work-related accidents, injuries and illnesses so that risks and health problems can be better understood and addressed, the report explains.
New technology should also be used to improve communication and access for workers to information on occupational safety and health issues, particularly small forestry enterprises in remote locations who often lack information and use outdated tools.
The report highlights that global trends and changes require a range of new approaches, including more tailored training for different demographic groups and support for cooperatives that work to promote the rights of informal and seasonal workers.