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Harvesting of Non-Wood Forest Products

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Operational Environment

There are many hazards associated with the harvest of non-wood forest products because of the wide variety of non-wood products themselves. In order better to define these hazards, non-wood products may be grouped by category, with a few representative examples. Then the hazards associated with their harvest can be more easily identified (see table 1).

Table 1.  Non-wood forest product categories and examples.



Food products

Animal products, bamboo shoots, berries, beverages, forage, fruits, herbs, mushrooms, nuts, oils, palm hearts, roots, seeds, starches

Chemical and pharmacological products and derivatives

Aromatics, gums and resins, latex and other exudates, medicinal extracts, tans and dyes, toxins

Decorative materials

Bark, foliage, flowers, grasses, potpourri

Non-wood fibre for plaiting, structural purposes, and padding

Bamboo, bark, cork, kapok, palm leaves, rattan, reeds, thatching grasses


Non-wood products are harvested for several reasons (subsistence, commercial or hobby/recreational purposes) and for a range of needs. This in turn affects the relative hazard associated with their collection. For example, the hobbyist mushroom picker is much less likely to remain in the open risking exposure to severe climatic conditions than is the commercial picker, dependent on picking for income and competing for a limited supply of seasonally available mushrooms.

The scale of non-wood harvesting operations is variable, with associated positive and negative effects on potential hazards. By its nature non-wood harvesting is often a small, subsistence or entrepreneurial effort. The safety of the lone worker in remote locations can be more problematic than for the non-isolated worker. Individual experience will affect the situation. There may be an emergency or other situation possibly calling for the direct intervention of outside consultative sources of safety and health information. Certain specific non-wood products have, however, been significantly commercialized, even lending themselves to plantation cultivation, such as bamboo, mushrooms, gum naval stores, certain nuts and rubber, to name just a few. Commercialized operations, theoretically, may be more likely to provide and emphasize systematic health and safety information in the course of work.

Collectively, the listed products, the forest environment in which they exist and the methods required to harvest them can be linked with certain inherent health and safety hazards. These hazards are quite elementary because they derive from very common actions, such as climbing, cutting with hand tools, digging, gathering, picking and manual transport. In addition, harvest of a certain food product might include exposure to biological agents (a poisonous plant surface or poisonous snake), biomechanical hazards (e.g., due to a repetitive movement or carrying a heavy load), climatological conditions, safety hazards from tools and techniques (such as a laceration due to careless cutting technique) and other hazards (perhaps due to difficult terrain, river crossings or working off the ground).

Because non-wood products often do not lend themselves to mechanization, and because its cost is frequently prohibitive, there is a disproportionate emphasis on manual harvest or using draught animals for harvest and transport compared to other industries.

Hazard Control and Prevention

A special word about cutting operations is warranted, since cutting is arguably the most recognizable and common source of hazard associated with the harvest of non-wood forest products. Potential cutting hazards are linked to appropriate tool selection and tool quality, size/type of the cut required, the force needed to make the cut, positioning of the worker and worker attitude.

In general, cutting hazards can be reduced or mitigated by:

  • direct training for the work tasks: proper tool selection, tool maintenance and sharpening, and training of the worker with respect to proper biomechanical technique
  • training in work organization: job planning, safety/hazard assessment, site preparation and continual worker awareness with respect to work task and surroundings.


The goal of successful training in work technique and philosophy should be: implementation of proper work planning and precautionary measures, hazard recognition, active hazard avoidance and minimization of injury in the event of accident.

Factors Related to Harvesting Hazards

Because non-wood harvesting, by its nature, occurs in the open, subject to changing weather conditions and other natural factors, and because it is predominantly non-mechanized, workers are particularly subject to the environmental effects of geography, topography, climate and season. After considerable physical efforts and fatigue, weather conditions can contribute to work-related health problems and accidents (see table 2).

Table 2.  Non-wood harvesting hazards and examples.

Non-wood harvesting hazards


Biological agents

Bites and stings (external vector, systemic poisons)

Plant contact (external vector, topical poisons)

Ingestion (internal vector, systemic poisons)

Biomechanical action

Improper technique or repetitive-use injury related to bending, carrying, cutting, lifting, loading

Climatological conditions

Excessive heat and cold effects, either externally induced (environment) or due to work effort

Tools and techniques

Cuts, mechanical hazards, draught animal handling, small vehicle operation


Altercation, animal attack, difficult terrain, fatigue, loss of orientation, working at heights, working in remote locations, working on or crossing waterways


Non-wood harvesting operations tend to be in remote areas. This poses a form of hazard due to a lack of proximity to medical care in the event of accident. This would not be expected to increase accident frequency but certainly may increase the potential severity of any injury.



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