New safety laws force forestry industry to take stock of shocking fatality record video

Phillip South, of PPGS Logging, talks about forestry safety and George Adams, of the Business Leaders' Health and Safety Forum talks about the duty of directors under new work safety legislation.

In the back blocks of Te Horo, a handful of forestry workers are tackling one of the country's more challenging sites.

With a road that feels much steeper than the 18 degrees gradient it's on, there's lots of slipping and sliding involved for the men working on the slope after the tree-fellers have done their job.

They hook up logs on a huge wire, which drags the trees across the valley to a flat spot at the top, where a worker in a caged hauling machine reels the logs in and chops them into more management sizes.

Dan Gaddum (left) of Forest Owner Marketing Services and George Adams, chairman of the Business Leaders' Health and ...

Dan Gaddum (left) of Forest Owner Marketing Services and George Adams, chairman of the Business Leaders' Health and Safety Forum say law changes will help keep the industry's workers safer.

Forestry is an industry which has had more than its fair share of fatalities. Twenty-seven forestry workers have died in the last five years, four of them this year alone.

Forestry worker killed in remote Hawkes Bay
* How forestry has moved on from 2013's horror death toll 

Logs at the Te Horo site where new health and safety rules are already being strictly adhered to

Logs at the Te Horo site where new health and safety rules are already being strictly adhered to

So there are high hopes that new health and safety rules coming in on Monday will improve those statistics.

But the industry suffered another death on Thursday when a forestry worker was crushed by a tree while on working on Pan Pac's Pohukura forestry block north of Napier.

The focus of the new laws is on making everyone as accountable for their safety as their roles allow. Workers will be expected to report dangers, and bosses and directors to anticipate and act to avoid them.

Phillip South, the team leader of PPGS Logging, the contractor felling the trees, says the safety theme has really been rammed home since a horror year in 2013, when 10 forestry workers were killed.

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Every day begins in the smoko shed with a documented rundown of known hazards, and nothing will change on Monday.

"Not for our crew. We've been doing this for 10 or 12 years," he says. However, he does admit those meetings are now more formal, more planned.

"Wind conditions are now a factor for the faller. So you don't put pressure on the guys to hit a target or get a certain amount of trees on the ground."

Nathan Topia, foreman at the site, commutes from Wanganui every day. He's been with the same company since he started in forestry seven years ago.

The most dangerous part of the job for him personally is running the warratah which pulls the logs out.

The others try to keep a safe distance, but if the log hits a stump, it can take off down the hill or swing wildly.

Topia says the biggest risk in forestry is the deadline pressure which prompts people to cut corners.

Having his boss on site often is a good thing, he says. Some crews can get lazy if they're not getting checked on. "That's where people start taking short cuts."

Dan Gaddum is director of Forest Owner Marketing Services, the intermediary between the owner and South's crew.

He says Monday's rule changes really just reinforce the need for good communication.

"It probably serves to re-elevate the discussion and ensure that people are doing what they're meant to be doing. But ... we've been practising the type of safe practices you'll see today for many, many years."

So why was 2013 such a shocker?

"'I can't answer that question. It was certainly an anomaly and no one's proud of it at all. We're really focussing on making sure it doesn't happen again."

Gaddum is heartened by the analysis that's being done on why the accidents are happening, and says it's a sobering fact that many were experienced workers.

"The nature of the industry is that it's inherently dangerous, but that doesn't make people losing their lives acceptable."

Forestry deaths have fallen significantly in the last two years but the inauspicious start to 2016 is making everyone a little nervous.

Log prices were high in 2013, and they are going up again.

George Adams, chairman of the industry's review and now of Business Leaders' Health and Safety Forum, says he can't prove a correlation between fatalities and log prices, but it does tempt foresters to rush in before prices fall again.

"It does put pressure on crews and potentially brings less trained, less professional crews into the forest for a short time and I think it is likely that it increases risk, although I can't confirm that."

Gaddum says another factor could be the location of the logs.

"Traditionally forestry's been centred on easier terrain. And over time, forestry is becoming more and more represented by small private forest owners and where they've planted those forests is on terrain that is very, very challenging, like the site we're on today.

"That requires different harvesting methods, and has different constraints around production and difficulties in managing the risks."

Come Monday, even the owners of the land will have a duty of care. Often farmers with a forestry block, they will have a duty to ensure their contractors are up to scratch.

But Fiona Ewing, national safety director for the relatively new Forest Industry Safety Council, says there is "a huge appetite for change".

"The assistance I've had from all the organisations, the assistance from ACC and Worksafe, it's a fantastic level of support."

Adams, a professional director himself, hopes the health and safety changes will keep society's expectations of safety high.

"For professional directors, I think they really ought to be thinking about how they discharge their responsibilities and really think about the fact that they now have a positive duty, which means you have to understand your hazards, you've got to make sure you're identifying them and controlling them, you've got to make sure you're delivering the resources needed.

"Make sure you know that it's actually being done and engage with your workers much more than you've done before."

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