A harvester operator during an ABA assessment in Czech Republic

ABA International is an acronym for the Awarding Body Association – a non-profit international education and certification body – offering courses for many industries including forestry. Their aim is to offer affordable training and improve safety standards, mobility and professional levels of competence to set an internationally recognised benchmark while reducing barriers to gaining employment.

They are a regulated awarding body who deliver qualifications between partner organisations worldwide. Their training courses and certification schemes include chainsaw use and operating the latest timber harvesting machinery and equipment.

Surprisingly I hadn’t heard anything about ABA, which was established in 2012, until a chance meeting with ABA Assessor Andy Dixon while I was out on a site visit in Cumbria.

Andy explained about ABA and their aims for the UK and suggested I contact ABA’s Executive Director William (Billy) Robb for a chat.

Having read Billy’s CV it was obvious that he had the background and experience to hold the position of Executive Director, here are just a few of his accomplishments;

  • 2019- Present; Forestry Lecturer and Researcher-European Forestry Masters programme at the University of Mendel in Brno, Czech Republic.
  • 2012-Present; President of ABA International.
  • 2007-Present; Managing Director and Forestry Safety Consultant of A1 Arborists Ltd
  • 1994-98 University of Aberdeen BSc Honours Degree in Forestry
  • 1991-2004 Forestry and Arboriculture Safety and Training Council/LANTRA Registered Instructor
  • 1991-2019 NPTC & Scottish Skills Testing Centre –Approved Assessor/Examiner for using Chainsaws, Chippers, Elevated Platforms, Tree Climbing and Aerial Rescue etc.

Billy explained that ABA is fast becoming the benchmark for training and assessment standards which are recognised by many industries. ABA have training centres available throughout Europe, Canada,

China, Thailand and the Middle East. There are two training & assessment Centres in the UK, one in the South East and the other in Cumbria. Both offer training courses and ABA certification in all levels of chainsaw use from basic crosscutting and maintenance to advanced felling and dealing with windblown and damaged trees. ABA Centres also offer courses in arboriculture, working at height, ATV use and chipper use/maintenance etc.

READ MORE: Forestry Training In Canada

ABA’s harvesting machinery certification is not fully utilised in the UK but is well established in Ireland following evaluation and approval by State owned commercial Forestry Service body Coillte. Coillte is an approved ABA Centre.

ABA verifiers & assessors attending a forestry workshop in Latvia
ABA verifiers & assessors attending a forestry workshop in Latvia

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Training and assessment leading to ABA certification can be carried out on Centres own sites or at customers’ workplaces and offer a practical and realistic approach to training. The instructors/assessors results are recorded and monitored for performance and all instructors/
assessors are regularly independently verified.

Training is vital no matter what occupation you are in and being taught by a seasoned professional for a realistic cost that can help you work efficiently and safely is the way forward. With a huge shortage of bums on seats for mechanised timber harvesting we should be looking at every training avenue that will help to alleviate this crisis.

I think having a universal training and certification scheme, recognised globally and run at a realistic cost by a non profit organisation might be a big help in alleviating our shortfall in skilled operators.

ABA are currently engaged in a number of European projects aimed at developing practical quality standards for the benefit of operators. Additionally, internationalisation of these standards benefits the mobility of operators across borders. One example is the current Erasmus+ ‘European Forest Machine Operators Certification’ (EFMO) project. Qualification standards have been developed, mapped against UK standards, tested and implemented in various partner countries. The focus has been primarily on harvester, forwarder and skidder operations and comparing practices. ABA is actively supporting workshops and certification events throughout its network and the production of training guidance materials. ABA’s key role in the project is quality assurance to ensure the assessment standards delivered in Romania for example are no different from those delivered in the UK or Ireland.

READ MORE: Young forests help the climate crisis by capturing carbon faster

With its 24/7 online qualification check the ‘ABA e-passport’ employers can quickly find out and validate the current status of the operator’s certification Employers have been very positive of this initiative particularly where they recruit employees from other countries. For example, the ABA chainsaw skills levels ground-based and aerial have been independently mapped against UK levels and evaluated as at least equivalent. This provides employers with a clear benchmark of a potential employee’s skills level. Refresher requirements with re-assessment are core to ABA certification to ensure operators remain up to date and maintain their competency. These requirements apply to ABA verifiers and assessors too.

Additionally, ABA centres are audited regularly.

An ABA chainsaw workshop in Thailand
An ABA chainsaw workshop in Thailand

In addition to qualification provision and international projects ABA is engaged in supporting partners involved in industry research aimed at improving occupational safety and health and sharing knowledge. For example, ABA partners such as the Department of Engineering at the Faculty of Forestry and Wood Technology-University of Mendel in Brno have recently developed a harvester prototype with multi-function traction and a hybrid drive. Other examples of research activities include investigations of reduced impact logging techniques and arborist ergonomic studies. Teaching includes the European Forestry MSc program which is taught in English and open to international students including graduates from the UK and Ireland. Subjects such as forest technology and silviculture are taught on a pan-European level https://www.ldf.mendelu.cz/en/international-cooperation/study-in-english/30402-european-forestry.

ABA continues to build on the success of its European programs and develop enhanced international qualifications. High risk forestry occupations include the use of chainsaws. Chainsaw use is also hazardous in other occupations such as agriculture and arboriculture therefore ABA continues to promote ‘Quality Safety Standards’ in chainsaw operations worldwide across industry sectors to achieve its mission to ‘Reduce Accidents and Fatalities’.

An example of the ABA 24/7 online qualification check
An example of the ABA 24/7 online qualification check

READ MORE: Promoting safety in the work place with Iggesund Forest

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