Public safety

Active timber harvesting coupes are hazardous work sites that must be carefully managed to ensure safety. Significant public safety risks occur when unauthorised persons enter timber harvesting areas.

The Sustainable Forests (Timber) Act 2004 provides for the establishment of timber harvesting safety zones. Timber harvesting safety zones replace the public safety zones that were previously declared for the purpose of timber harvesting operations.

What is a timber harvesting safety zone?

Timber harvesting safety zones are to ensure the safety of workers, authorised persons and the public while timber harvesting activities are occurring in an area.

A timber harvesting safety zone is a coupe, any road within that coupe that has been closed because of timber harvesting, and any area of State forest that is within 150 metres from the boundary of that coupe.

In a physical sense, a timber harvesting safety zone replaces previous public safety zones declared for the purpose of timber harvesting operations. The total area applying to unauthorised persons has not changed.

Access is only prohibited while harvesting operations are underway. Outside of these times Victoria's forests remain accessible to the general public.

How will people know an area is a timber harvesting safety zone?

A timber harvesting safety zone commences when the coupe becomes active.

Before timber harvesting commences, a notice will be clearly displayed on or near the zone, including near any road that is an entry point to the zone. In the case of VicForests' timber harvesting operations, a notice will also be published on the VicForests website.

A notice will state the location of the zone, the commencement date and the offences and penalties that apply in that zone.

Enforcing timber harvesting safety zones

There are offences and penalties which apply in and around timber harvesting safety zones under the Sustainable Forests (Timber) Act 2004. People who disrupt legal timber harvesting operations and put themselves and others at risk, face a range of offences and increased penalties for their dangerous actions.

Offences include:

  • entering or remaining in a timber harvesting safety zone if you are not an authorised person
  • removing or destroying a barrier or fence that has been erected to prohibit or restrict access to a timber harvesting safety zone
  • allowing a dog to enter a timber harvesting safety zone
  • hindering, interfering with or obstructing timber harvesting operations;
  • possessing a prohibited thing in a timber harvesting safety zone, where a prohibited thing is defined as: a bolt cutter; cement or mortar mix; a constructed metal or timber frame; a linked, or a heavy steel chain; and a shackle or joining clip
  • intentionally using a prohibited thing to hinder, obstruct or interfere with timber harvesting operations.

Penalties for non-compliance can result in an Infringement Notice, or charges being laid, leading to appearance in the Magistrates Court where a conviction can be recorded.

Furthermore, authorised officers may seize any item where they believe, on reasonable grounds, that an offence has been, or is being, committed. They may also seize any item where they believe, on reasonable grounds, that an offence is about to be committed.

The Sustainable Forests (Timber) Act 2004 also empowers a court to make an order excluding an offender from a timber harvesting safety zone or an area of State forest for a period not longer than 12 months. It is a serious offence to contravene an exclusion order. Strong penalties apply to all offences and the courts can hand down appropriate penalties which reflect the seriousness of the offence.

Sustainable Forests Timber Amendment (Timber Harvesting Safety Zones) Bill 2022

The Victorian Government is updating legislation to make timber harvesting safety zones safer for workers and protestors.

In May 2022 the Victorian Government introduced legislation to Parliament to modernise the Sustainable Forests (Timber) Act 2004 to better deter dangerous and illegal protest activities and prevent harm.

The changes will contemporize penalties for existing offences and introduce some new offences.

The legislation proposes that from May 2023 the following changes will come onto effect:

  • The maximum penalties for most offences related to Timber Harvesting Safety Zones will increase substantiality with the maximum penalties for some offences increased to 120 penalty units ($21,000+) or 12 months imprisonment.
  • PVC and metal pipes will be added into the prohibited items list and regulations can be established to add further items if required without requiring legislative change.
  • Banning Notices can be issued to protesters engaging in dangerous activities banning them immediately from one or more timber harvesting safety zones.
  • Powers of Search will be increased within timber harvesting safety zones. Authorised Officers will be able to search personal items, bags and vehicles for prohibited items or items that have been used or are about to be used in an offence.
  • Legal clarification that individuals who interfere with timber harvesting operators or their machinery in Timber Harvesting Safety Zones may be found guilty of an offence.

Page last updated: 30 May 2022