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Lumberjacks never lost their value in forest-covered Finland

Close to 2,500 loggers still work full-time in Finland, despite increasing machine domination in the sector. With the most densely forested country in Europe, and four hectares of woodlands for every resident, the forest maintenance business has never stopped booming.

Metsuri työssään.
Image: Mikko Tuomikoski / Yle

Three-quarters of Finland’s land area is covered by forest, and so it should come as no surprise that the lumberjack profession has never died out here. These days, there’s more work available than those who are actively working in the field can even do, as the previous generation is retiring and there aren’t enough younger workers to take their place.

Mikko Turunen works as a logger for the city of Lahti in southern Finland. He says there is plenty of ‘community support’ for his work.

“Everyone has some kind of feedback to offer and I’m certainly not at a loss for advice. When I get to a location, the neighbours have often marked the trees that I should fell - to lend me a hand,” he says with a smile.

Turunen has worked in Finland’s forests for 15 years, and has never seen a shortage of work. He decided years ago to start his own company, and it has since grown to employ several workers, with a size on par with a construction firm.

As long as Finland has forest, there will be work for loggers in Finland, even though harvesters and feller bunchers are now increasingly used. The work situation looks good across the country.

“There’s plenty of work available and the busiest time of the year is still ahead,” says Harri Häkkinen, a labour agreement compliance manager with the Finnish Woodworker’s Union.

Foreigners deserve the same pay

Häkkinen is nevertheless concerned about cheap labour arriving in Finland from abroad.

“The cruise boats are full of forest workers from companies in Estonia, Poland, Russia and even as far as Romania,” he says.

He says the quality of work that these new loggers perform is very good as a rule, but their low prices are throwing the Finnish market off.  

“Offers from foreign companies stand out because of their price, but everyone should be playing by the same rules. The union is constantly on the lookout for new ways to improve the terms and conditions of employment for foreign labourers.”  

The tools of a modern-day lumberjack have improved considerably in the last few years. Both machines and equipment have been developed to be more ergonomic, meaning a huge change for the better when it comes to loggers’ health and comfort.

“The machines we use are much lighter and quieter and they run much more smoothly than they used to. Technology is making crucial advancements in this sector as well, as now you can hook your chainsaw up to a computer and it will tell you what is wrong, just like you would with a car, for example,” says Turunen.

Despite these advances, lumberjack work still requires a high level of overall fitness.

“I used to carry a calorie burn calculator at work, and it said I burned an average of 400-500 calories an hour. In this line of work you have to do other kinds of physical exercise to stay in shape. These days I work out eight to ten hours a week, in addition to my work,” Turunen says.

Safety first

When a professional logger is on the job, you can be sure that he is covered head to toe in protective gear. Safety boots, trousers and a jacket are standard, along with a helmet with ear protection and a visor. Safety gloves complete the look.

“It would be unthinkable for me to work without protection. There is always noise from the chainsaw, wood pieces flying and sawdust, and the risks of an accident are high. Fatal accidents take place every year,” Turunen says.

The random amateur chainsaw wielder might think that he can get by with just the cap he received from the chainsaw manufacturer, but loggers that cut wood for a living would never skimp on safety.

“Something unexpected could always happen when you are holding a chainsaw with a sharp blade. The consequences could be very grave. I highly recommend investing in decent protective equipment, especially safety trousers made of protective fabric, if you plan to work with a chainsaw.”

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