Firm pays $135K after forestry death

MICHAEL DALY
Last updated 12:41 14/01/2014

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A logging company has been fined $60,000 and ordered to pay reparations of $75,000 after a worker was hit and killed by a tree felled by another member of the crew he was working in.

Rotorua father-of-one Robert Epapara, 23, was one of 10 men who died in the forestry industry last year. He died in the Waione Forest near Lake Rotoiti in March.

"This industry had an appalling 2013," WorkSafe New Zealand general manager health and safety operations Ona de Rooy said after the sentencing of company Complete Logging Ltd.

The company pleaded guilty to one charge of failing to take all practicable steps to ensure Epapara was not exposed to the risk of injury during tree-felling operations.

It was sentenced in the Rotorua District Court today.

"There are very important lessons for the forestry industry in Mr Epapara's tragic death," de Rooy said.

"There was no plan for that day laid out by the company; there was no 'tailgate meeting' to discuss that day's work and there was no radio provided for Mr Epapara, a tree feller, to communicate with others," she said.

"These are forestry basics that are fundamental to forestry safety and Complete Logging's failures led to Mr Epapara's death.

"Forestry companies must apply the Approved Code of Practice for Forest Harvesting. If Complete Logging Ltd had applied it, the chances are Mr Epapara would be here today.

"Instead, a family and a community grieves over a preventable death."

A WorkSafe NZ programme assessing the safety performance of cable-hauling operations was uncovering some alarming systemic issues in the industry that contractors and the forestry companies employing them must address, de Rooy said.

Nearly half the 162 assessments done had resulted in enforcement action, and WorkSafe had to shut down 15 operations because of serious, imminent danger to workers.

"That is unacceptable. They are not getting safety right and we will continue to focus on changing their behaviour this year.

"We will also be meeting all forestry companies over the coming weeks to determine how they're managing safety issues with their contractors," she said.

"We will be forcefully reminding them that they have duties to ensure contractors are putting the safety of their men first."

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