Helsinki (02.01.2012 - Juhani Artto) After Boxing Day there has been an urgent demand for skilled lumberjacks and electricians. The demand was created by the storms Finland experienced on Boxing Day and in the days following. The storms were exceptionally strong for this Northern European country, and knocked down, according to first estimates, some 3.5 million cubic meters of trees.
The economic loss for forest owners is estimated to be tens of millions of euros but the day-long cuts in electricity supply has been the main focus in the public domain. When things were at their worst almost 300,000 homes and other customers were left without electricity. Tens of thousands of customers had to live without electricity for several days, which is exceptional in Finland. One week after Boxing Day still about 10,000 homes suffered of the broken electricity lines.
The power cuts were the result of trees falling on power lines. Outside urban areas electricity is mostly distributed through overhead power lines supported by a network of electricity poles. This is the traditional technical solution as constructing storm-safe underground lines is much more expensive. Experts estimate that replacing the present pole supported lines with underground lines would cost at least EUR 10 billion. Such a high cost means that the electricity supply, in rural areas, will remain vulnerable to storms for many years to come.
Consequently, public attention has been focussed on how quickly the electricity companies are able to repair the lines damaged by falling trees. It is clear that when storms wreak havoc the more skilled electricians and lumberjacks there are on hand, the shorter the time needed to repair the lines. From the company perspective there is another equation, too. The more personnel they have in reserve for emergency situations the more they have to spend on wages and the more these "extra" costs eat into their profits.
Thus, electricity companies try to balance the urgency factor (when it comes to repairing damaged power lines) against their much-publicised goal to reduce manpower costs. The recent storms have now exposed the risks involved when heavy cuts in personnel and skilled workers in the emergency organization are made.
The Wood and Allied Workers Union organizing lumberjacks reiterated on Wednesday that working in forests damaged by the storms is very demanding and must be left to skilled lumberjacks. Right now there is a shortage of these skilled operatives as forest companies have been doing everything in their power to minimize their labour costs.
The union warns that this policy destroys the know-how and skills needed in safeguarding the functioning of electricity and road networks so as to maximise people's safety in the event of emergencies.
According to media reports the largest electricity supplier Fortum has had a total of 500 electrician and lumberjacks at work in repairing damages since Boxing Day. The second largest supplier Vattenfall has had 300 electricians and lumberjacks operating in its repair organisation.