Making forestry safer

Improving forest worker safety and performance to benefit both workers and industry is the focus of Scion's human factors scientists. New harvesting systems, robotics and insights into human behaviour all offer potential to reduce the dangers of working in high-risk situations.

Safer forest systems

Understanding the interactions between people and their environment in the complex high-risk forestry industry will improve both safety and performance.

We are using human factors research to address the many challenges involved in manual harvesting. This work will be complemented by a review of human factors and research priorities in allied industries (aviation, oil and gas, mining).

Our findings will be used to develop a research strategy together with industry, and to investigate the risks across the forestry value chain that may affect productivity, or worker health and wellbeing.

Read about the human factor of forest safety.


Richard Parker, Scientist, Additive Manufacturing and Emerging Technologies 
Brionny Hooper, Scientist, Additive Manufacturing and Emerging Technologies

Steepland harvesting

With an increasing percentage of New Zealand’s forests on steep terrain ready to harvest, we are helping industry with a number of mechanical, robotic, remote control and tele-operated technologies to ensure the safety of forestry workers.

Scion works with industry partners to develop technologies that are designed specifically for New Zealand conditions. Some examples include:

  • The Cable Harvest Planning System (CHPS) software that provides access to detailed information about the terrain, and other day-to-day management activities
  • A prototype hydraulic-based hauler grapple designed to make grapple yarding technology more accessible for steepland, high-risk extraction
  • Remote control, and tele-operated steep slope felling machines
  • CutoverCam hauler vision system
  • Robotic tree-tree mobility platforms to perform forestry operations on steep terrain.



Peter Clinton, Scientist, Microbial Ecology - Soil Systems

Tree-to-tree swinging robot

A remote-controlled, tree ‘swinging’ robot modelled on stick insects and spider monkeys is an example of technology that could revolutionise the way steepland forests are managed and harvested. The robot was developed by Scion in partnership with the University of Canterbury, Future Forests Research and the Ministry for Primary Industries.

The mobility platform is lightweight but robust, and can move using the trees as supports. Its full weight is supported by grippers on the end of each arm so it does not contact the ground at all. Work to incorporate sensors for measuring tree diameter, and custom-built saws for felling is ongoing.

The robot won a national engineering award from the Institution of Professional Engineers (IPENZ) in 2014.

Read about the robot’s development

Watch the development of the robot [YouTube]

Watch an animation of how the robot might work [YouTube]


Richard Parker, Scientist, Additive Manufacturing and Emerging Technologies