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Claudio POLLINI, CNR - Wood Technology Institute, San Michele a/Adige, Trento, and Josef SCHMIEDHOFER, Bolzano Province Forest Agency, Bolzano, ITALY


Recent European Directives regarding the improvement of personnel safety and health at the work site have been incorporated into Italian legislation under specific laws that clearly define obligations and responsibilities of the employer, the director, the foreman and of the personnel, with the aim of protecting personnel and emphasizing prevention.

As regards work in forests, after overcoming a transition period and the initial difficulties for both employers and workers in accepting the new legislation - apparently contrasting with methods and traditions that were firmly entrenched in this sector - one can now observe a gradual adaptation to, and respect for, the legislator's directives.

Besides the national standard and with the aim of preventing accidents and of providing specific indications for one of the most dangerous forestry operations - timber transport using cable cranes - the Autonomous Province of Bolzano/Bozen has, during the year 2000, produced an executive regulation that defines the use of cableways for the transport of timber.

This pilot legislation is the first of its type in Italy and contributes substantially to removing many doubts about some of the technical and administrative procedural aspects.

The authors note that forestry workers do not fully recognize the overall benefits that derive from application and observance of legislative norms that promote an awareness of the real savings deriving from greater attention to personnel safety and health.

Adequate training and documentary information for forestry workers are essential to enable the understanding that hazard and accident reduction - as well as improving the health and safety of the workers - is also advantageous to the overall economics of a forestry operation.

The authors evaluate the prospective uses of cable cranes in the Italian Alps. As against the evident advantages, in terms of environmental impact that these systems offer, their high costs of supply and application are a severe limitation on the possibility of their use. Under some conditions often found in Italy, at the moment the alternative to the use of cable cranes is only the helicopter; however, this leads to even higher timber removal costs.

The authors conclude by considering that for the future only adequate public financial support can allow forestry where there are difficult terrain conditions. Multiple-use stands managed according to a naturalistic concept, as in the South Tyrol, is essential if mountain forests are to play their multiple roles and if the improvement of existing ecosystems is to continue.

Key words: cable crane, legislation, safety and health, Alps, South Tyrol


The Alto Adige or South Tyrol is an autonomous province located in northeast Italy and is characterized by predominantly mountainous terrain. The inhabitants are approximately 400 000. The provincial capital is Bolzano. The province, together with the Province of Trento, constitutes the Trentino Alto Adige Region.

The overall area of the province is 740 000 ha and approximately 80 percent of this area is at an altitude higher than 1 000 m above sea level (a.s.l.) (see Table 1). Forests cover 42 percent of the entire territory, while agricultural land represents 35 percent of the area and non-productive areas cover 16 percent.

Table 1. Percentage of elevation for the overall surface of the Bolzano Province

Elevation (m a.s.l.)percentage

For the South Tyrol, forests have always been one of the essential components of the area's history. Their influence has been fundamental to local culture and has offered a remarkable contribution to the social and economic development of the resident population. The management of this resource has helped to form the landscape and has allowed permanent settlement of the mountain areas that, in turn, are indispensable in guaranteeing environmental equilibrium and protection, not only of the slopes, but also of the entire valley.

The forest and a naturalistic silviculture that is applied here guarantee constant protection of mountain slopes against erosion and landslides. They represent an essential contribution to improvement of water supply systems, to defence of the population against air pollution and noise, to maintaining a high level of natural state, as well as improving air quality. An ideal environment for tourism represents one of the major economic resources of the area.

The forest exercises a series of very important functions among which, though perhaps not so important as in the past, is that of the production of a renewable material: wood.

Forests in the Province of Bolzano are mainly resinous, with a total volume of over 57 million m3 of wood. The current annual increment is 184 m3 per hectare, with an annual growth of 870 000 m3 while the annual timber harvested is foreseen at approximately half a million cubic metres. Sixty-three percent of the forest is composed of mixed softwood, while 20 percent is pure spruce, 3 percent pure larch, 5 percent Scotch pine, 5 percent coppice and 4 percent a mixture of coppice and conifers.

Forest ownership is mainly private with 68 percent (comprehensive of joint ownership and “vicinie”) of the forest area that, with arable land and pasture, forms the “classical”, a type of farm composed on average of 5 to 6 ha of meadow and arable land and 10 ha of forest. The “maso chiuso” is typical of the Bolzano Province. The property is indivisible and is inherited by the first-born son. The average 54 percent of the property is between 2.5 and 20 ha of the surface.

Considering the morphology of the territory, the cable transport systems that are used to carry both up and downhill the goods needed by mountain populations, including wood, represent a part of local tradition. In particular, with reference to the cable transport systems used to carry felled timber downhill, during the last 40 years there has been a gradual replacement of the traditional three-cable Valtellina type systems by both medium and heavy cable cranes and, more recently, by the mobile lightweight type.

Though this improvement in timber removal and transport systems has been gradual and slow (also partially because of the fact that many farmers work in the forest in very small teams), this is not the case concerning the process of improvement in the working environment. Attention to worker health and safety has, during the last ten years, been the theme of many European Community Directives, incorporated later into national legislation under specific norms that have involved many worker aspects.

The new norms have brought strong renewal to the approach to safety, considered mainly as prevention In order to guarantee health and safety in the workplace, legislators have obliged companies to develop a policy of accident prevention and to conduct a systematic and organized activity aimed at the protection of worker health.

The organization of timber processing has also been obligated to adjust to new safety standards. These were initially opposed by many companies on economic grounds. The new rules on professional training, certification of the conformity of machinery, safety planning and personal protection equipment have in fact led to an increase in company costs.

The costs of timber transport out of the forests by using cable cranes have consequently increased considerably over the already high costs of this operation. As the price of timber has in the meantime remained constant, profits for forest owners have become less.

General regulations on the workplace and specific standards for cable cranes in timber transport

The following will describe the most important changes introduced by new standards and regulations and the direct costs involved for logging companies.

The regulations here considered are both of general character, applicable to all Italy, and also local, introduced by and valid in the Autonomous Province of Bolzano. They involve working environments and specifically cable cranes for timber transport:

The application of these regulations, which will be summarily described, has led to an increase in the direct costs of organizing and managing all work sites and hence also of forest operations.

The increased amount in the overall costs, which have been later estimated, depends on the level of worker health and safety measures developed by different countries at the moment of the introduction of the new legislation. Where safety prevention measures for the workers are inadequate, the cost for adoptions, modifications and changes of the system and machinery used will be proportionally higher. As an example, we shall analyse the real case of the Forest Agency in Bolzano Province and the additional costs that the Agency sustained in actuating and applying the new regulations.

We shall also describe possible solutions to the economic problems that forestry companies encounter.

Law Decree 626/94 and modifications Law Decree 242/96, Regulations for worker safety and health

This general regulation actively involves the company, directors and managers in hazard evaluation, control and management by identifying optimal technical, organizational and procedural measures that can improve the working environment; indicating the selection for each workplace of equipment; working and production methods that also respect ergonomic principles. The Law, also actively involving the worker, among other items, prescribes:

The Law decrees that no worker can be employed without adequate training in the work to be done and must be provided with complete information regarding health and safety hazards. The employer must in all cases make the worker aware of any hazards and must take all measures possible to reduce these to a minimum.

The Law clearly assigns responsibility to employers and provides heavy sanctions for any shortcomings. When hazards cannot be avoided or reduced by technical preventive measures, by collective protection means or by the reorganization of the work, then personal protective devices must be used, and these must be supplied to the worker by the employer once the analysis and evaluation of hazards arising from a specific operation have been made.

The application of the rules established by this Law leads to an increase in company costs estimated between 15 and 25 percent of the overall expenditures.

President's Decree 459/96, Machinery Directive

This general norm prescribes that all machinery be built or readapted according to the EC conformity mark. This requires annual testing of lifting gear, the control of cables and their endurance, and prescribes periodic revisions of the entire cableway system. In order to satisfy legal requisites, almost all companies having cable crane systems were required to carry out modifications: provision of safety valves, installation of grounded and lightning protection systems, publication of tables and forms listing and verifying all the required periodical controls.

The cost increases needed to adapt an average company's systems can be estimated at between 10 and 15 percent of the total costs.

Law Decree 494/96, Minimum Prescriptions for health and safety to be enforced at the work site

This general norm specifies obligations of the employer and the obligations and professional requisites of the forest yard manager during design and organization of the work site. The Law defines the predisposition mode for a safe and coordinated plan for the work site, and specifies among others the measures to be taken for fencing the site in order to avoid external hazards, on-site viability, hygienic and assistance services. The Law also covers other norms protecting worker health, such as regarding noise levels and daily or weekly exposure values for workers. Failure to observe regulations is punishable under civil or penal law, which the decree mentions explicitly, regarding the employer, those responsible and also the self-employed.

Additional costs for the application of this Law are approximately 3 percent of the costs of forest exploitation.

Provincial Law No. 5/2000, of the Autonomous Province of Bolzano on cable transport

The Province of Bolzano has primary competence over the cable transport sector. In the year 2000 a specific Law was approved that disciplines the use of cableways for the transport of persons and goods, and also regulates the use of cable cranes for goods and hence for timber. The Law intervenes in a field where in the past the many regulations created considerable confusion; it now contributes to clarifying with a single text the questions and doubts of those involved. Regarding cable cranes in particular, the regulation establishes that correct use of the system requires that the project be signed by an expert in the field, including:

The Law also specifies the methods for testing the system and in detail the calculation methods to be used for sizing the components that make up a cableway: the skyline, the main line, anchor points, yarder, carriage, rigging and unrigging operation, carrier cable shoes, guylines and hoists.

The regulation also clarifies that the rigging and unrigging system, dismantling and use must be carried out by trained personnel coordinated by a responsible person.

The additional costs deriving from application of this regulation are approximately 5 percent of the total costs.

The Bolzano Province Forest Agency

As an example, we describe a specific case, for which the additional costs were calculated in detail, deriving from the need to adapt a cable crane to the above-mentioned norms.

The Bolzano Province Forest Agency manages an area of more than 72 000 ha. Of this area, about 6 000 ha represent mainly resinous forests where spruce dominates (70 percent of the total). The overall stands reach more than 1 million m3; as against an average growth of more than 18 000 m3 per year, timber harvested represents approximately 13 000 m3 per year. Logging and other forestry are conducted by the Agency, which employs an average of 50 seasonal workers, well trained according to Swiss standards.

Timber removal is carried out using agricultural tractors fitted with winches for work in forests, and on slopes of over 30 percent, using an Adler cable crane that is ten years old. This is carried by a Mercedes truck and employs a Baco automatic carriage with a capacity load of 1.5 tonne.

When the above-cited regulations came into force, the entire system was subjected to verification in order to obtain the EC conformity certificate. The alterations to the system, the activities needed to bring the system up to standard and the costs involved are shown in the Table 2.

Table 2. Alterations made so as to bring the system up to standard and costs incurred

Complete adaptation, including control cabin noise insulation15 000 € 
New carrier and traction cables, cables for anchorages  7 000 €
Worker training courses  5 000 €
Design of software for line calculation and for safety standards in conformity with the provincial law  6 000 €
In-house reorganization, work planning for safety standards, acquisition of signs and cable markers.  7 000 €
Increase of salaries for better qualification, risk indemnity, necessity of more time for moving and organization planning  8 000 €
Total48 000 € 


Regarding the above, in the field of logging operations we are seeing phenomena that can be summed up as follows:

The positive results are a significant reduction in risks and accidents in the forest, but it is noted that some negative consequences regard both forest workers and forests directly, and in a wider sense the entire mountain environment.

Certainly the abandonment of forests by resident forestry workers who have been tied for centuries to the territory by cultural and historical tradition can only lead to negative results.

A reduction of salaries, sometimes suggested to forestry workers to improve the cost-benefit ratio, accelerates the gradual abandon by local workers of their profession, such as a lumberjack, who is crucial to the mountain ecological equilibrium.

The replacement by logging companies of local workers with new personnel from developing countries, who are willing to work under black market conditions with no protection, with no information on - or training in - the work to be done, certainly cannot be a winning choice. Not only is there a risk of serious accidents on the work site for this type of personnel, but there is also a risk of increased damage to ground, stands and timber, thus further destabilizing the already precarious equilibrium of the Alpine environment. The lack of protection for these workers and the failure to observe health and safety standards for them can only lead to serious consequences, regarding both accidents and professionally related disease, as well as for the companies which can be held liable for civil and penal action because of their failure to observe regulations.

Conclusions and possible action

In many areas the application of worker health and safety standards has been and is a rapidly ongoing process that with some reserves appears to be accepted by industry. In forestry however this process of acceptance of the European Directives seems to be slower than in other industrial sectors.

In some cases on the contrary, the refusal by companies to apply and observe the new regulations has caused, as described above, a reduction in worker protection: exactly the opposite of the legislator's aims.

It can be observed that as a prevention culture is developing - however only by small steps - the process of improving work site conditions is still too slow. It is a question of how much time is needed for companies to understand that over the medium and long term only greater regard for worker safety and health can be advantageous, not only in terms of quality of life but also economically for the company itself.

Considering the legislation adopted by the Province of Bolzano - always attentive to the protection of the forest and environmental heritage and to the mountain environment - seems particularly well - targeted and interesting.

The measures taken can be summed up as follows:

In the light of the above and also considering that:

  1. The benefits produced by mountain forests are available to the entire population. This includes those who live in the valleys and are protected by good cover of the slopes that prevents land erosion, landslides, floods and avalanches. They also enjoy indirectly all other functions of the forest, such as tourism, recreation and a more natural and healthy environment;

  2. Correct management of multiple-use mountain forests, in order to maintain their efficiency and develop all their required functions, needs continuous intervention despite the fact that terrain conditions and slopes render the work difficult and not economically of interest.

It is held that:

To improve and render acceptable the working conditions in the forest, or even better, make them humanely and economically stimulating, it can be said that much has been done but that there is still much to be done.

We can conclude by saying that the Province of Bolzano is moving in the right direction to face up to the many problems that mountain forestry management involves, and we hope that other provinces and regions in the southern Alps will follow this positive example.


Law Decree 626/94 and modification as to Law Decree 242/96, Actuation of European Directives on improvement to safety and health at the work site. (Directives 391/89/EEC, 654/89/EEC, 655/89/EEC, 656/89/EEC, 269/90/EEC, 270/90/EEC, 394/90/EEC, 679/90/EEC).

Law Decree 494/96, Minimum health and safety prescriptions to be actuated in temporary or mobile work sites, (actuation of Directive 92/57/EEC).

DPR 459/96, Regulation for the actuation of community directives concerning harmonisation of Member State legislation on machinery, (actuation of Directives 89/392EEC, 91/368, 93/44e 93/68).

Provincial Law No. 5/2000 of the Autonomous Province of Bolzano, Executive regulation for the discipline of private cableways used for transport of persons and goods.

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