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Sutherland sawmill and renewables business GMG Energy calls in expert safety advice from ex-Brora Rangers hero

By Calum MacLeod

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Sawmill owner Malcolm Morrison has brought in expert advice to ensure the saegy of his workforce.
Sawmill owner Malcolm Morrison has brought in expert advice to ensure the saegy of his workforce.

Fast-growing North of Scotland-based renewables and timber-processing business GMG Energy has called on the expert advice of a former Highland football star to ensure its staff remain safe.

The company, which operates near Forsinard in Sutherland, was established in 2016 using biomass boilers to dry logs and timber by-products. It diversified into sawmilling 18 months ago and has just invested £150,000 in up-to-the-minute equipment.

The company employees six full-time people at the mill and is in talks with North Highland College about taking on its first apprentice to learn maintenance engineering. All staff have forklift tickets and undergo chainsaw and main saw training.

Business owner Malcolm Morrison, a former agricultural banker with Santander, said: “Sawmilling remains a high-risk business with a major injury rate that is over two and a half times that of general manufacturing.

“As a small business owner with a growing number of staff, I have been determined from the outset that the working environment at GMG Energy would be as safe as it could possibly be made, and that the welfare of the workforce would have the highest priority.

“With this in mind, I have called on the expertise, experience and deep industry knowledge of NFU Mutual Risk Management Services, which has existing programmes in place aimed at educating staff and reducing risk in what can be a challenging workplace.”

Inverness-based risk management consultant Richie Hart.
Inverness-based risk management consultant Richie Hart.

NFU Mutual Risk Management Services, despatched respected Inverness-based risk management consultant Richie Hart, well-known as a former Brora Rangers, Ross County, Inverness Caledonian Thistle and Dundee footballerm who now specialises in providing high levels of guidance on health and safety and business procedures.

He instituted a programme in which he visits the remote site near the Halladale River once a month and ensures that all administration and paperwork is up-to-date and compliant, and that all relevant regulations and workplace safeguards are followed.

He also oversees ongoing training and supervises education on potential hazards in work areas such as lock-out procedures for interrupting mechanised processes, saw blade cleaning, safe timber stacking, saw guarding and site transport activities.

Richie Hart takes the applause after scoring a 35 yard screamer during his Brora Rangers days.
Richie Hart takes the applause after scoring a 35 yard screamer during his Brora Rangers days.

Mr Hart said: “The risks and incidents involved with sawmilling are well documented. From the very first meeting with GMG Energy, it was evident that Malcolm was fully committed to ensuring that the risks within the business were properly managed and more importantly, that employees were engaged and aligned with driving a positive safety culture.

“The commitment from the business is clear in that, the health and safety of its employees is the number one priority. With the support from NFU Risk Management Services and the commitment from the team at GMG Energy, we will continue to work together in ‘raising the bar’.”

Mr Morrison added: “The responses and feedback we have had from the staff have been uniformly positive. They are pleased at the quality of the training, feel valued and feel that they are being consulted. This level of engagement will now become fully embedded in the company as it expands and develops.”

As well as the sawmill investment, GMG Energy is planning a spend of in excess of £100,000 to build a treatment plant, which will open up new markets in local construction and farming business for treated and stress-tested timber products.

The business continues to plant more trees than it processes, meaning that it is self-sustaining, and a recent purchase of some 21,000 tonnes of local forestry means it has in-built resilience in the event of interruption of supply.

It increased turnover in the year to August 2021 to just over £2 million, up from £1.7 million the previous year.

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