Death and injury add to pressure on forestry

MICHAEL DALY
Last updated 05:00 17/01/2014

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The year has started disastrously for the forestry industry with a worker killed in Marlborough's Wairau Valley, and another seriously injured near Whakatane.

The latest tragedy comes after forestry-related accidents last year claimed 10 lives, and has drawn a withering broadside from the country's new health and safety agency.

WorkSafe NZ said it had sent expert forestry health and safety inspectors to investigate both of today's incidents.

Police said the 53-year-old Marlborough man killed in the Wairau Valley this morning was struck by a falling log.

He was leading a crew of four on a private forestry block when the accident happened.

"His workmates and the landowner offered immediate assistance, using forestry machinery to remove the log, however the man had been killed instantly," police said.

In the eastern Bay of Plenty the injured worker, aged in his late-30s, was flown from Tawera, 30 kilometres inland from Whakatane, to hospital after being hit by a falling tree just after 10am.

Rescue helicopter crew member Bill McNeally said the worker suffered leg and shoulder injuries and was flown to Tauranga Hospital.

Workplace health and safety is the responsibility of new agency WorkSafe NZ, which started operating late last year.

WorkSafe NZ general manager health and safety operations Ona de Rooy said that to have a death just 16 days into the new year, following an appalling safety record in 2013, showed how much the forestry sector needed to change its behaviour.

"We have identified an alarming rate of safety non-compliance amongst cable logging operators – nearly half of the 162 we've visited weren't operating in compliance with the industry code and we had to take 203 enforcement actions to force those operators to comply," de Rooy said.

"We had to shut 15 of them down they were so dangerous.

"We are so concerned at this level of unsafe practice that we have sought meetings with individual forest owners to make very clear to them that they have significant responsibilities," de Rooy said.

"We will want to see their safety plans for the contractor crews demonstrate active management of safety standards. If they are deficient, we will be holding them to account.

"The issues that are becoming apparent lead us to conclude that there are deeply ingrained systemic issues in this industry.

"The regulator cannot be solely responsible for making sure this industry is safe. We will use every power available to us to push this industry to safer operations, but until every forest owner, every contractor, their national associations, worker representatives and the workers themselves take personal responsibility for operating safely, the culture in this industry will not change and more families and communities will be grieving over a dead or injured forestry worker."

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Labour Party labour issues spokesman Andrew Little said it was time the Government took seriously calls for a corporate manslaughter law.

"If business executives were being killed at work at the rate of almost one a month, the Government would have moved a long time ago," Little said.

"It's impossible to believe that after 28 deaths in five years the industry doesn't know what the problems and risks are, and how to prevent them.
"Any death in this industry must be regarded as preventable and therefore the responsibility of the industry."

Labour Minister Simon Bridges said tougher penalties were being implemented, with a significant increase in maximum penalty levels.

Legislation to be introduced early this year would widen the definition of an employer to make those at the top, such as boards and chief executives, more responsible for keeping workers safe.

The new enforcement approach, along with other work under way, would help lead to sustainable change, Bridges said.

However, the Government could not do it alone. The forestry industry needed to make changes to keep its workers safe.

- BusinessDay.co.nz

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