Forestry chiefs in the gun

CATHERINE HARRIS
Last updated 08:23 31/01/2014

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The forestry industy's safety watchdog has taken fresh aim at forestry owners and contractors to try and curb the sector's high death toll.

WorkSafe NZ, the Crown's new workplace regulator says the code of practice for forestry operations, regarded as the "bible" of industry practice, will be reviewed and proposed changes would "clarify" the responsibilities of operators.

One industry source said the move was surprising as the code had only just had a major update last year.

WorkSafe chairman Gregor Coster said the current Code of Practice was more focused on the "worker on the hill".

"The key is that forestry owners, managers and contractors must do more to protect the men and women on the bush line. That is why WorkSafe New Zealand is prepared to take this issue to the board room," he said.

Public outcry has been increasing about the high death and injury rate in New Zealand's booming forestry sector.

Ten forestry workers died last year and another was killed this month.

On Wednesday the industry confirmed an independent inquiry into forestry safety, beginning next month.

WorkSafe NZ will provide secretariat support to the inquiry and said 164 inspections of forestry operations had been carried out since August last year.

Fourteen operations were shut down and more than 200 enforcement actions were taken.

David Rhodes, chief executive of the Forest Owners Association, said his organisation welcomed the inquiry and had in fact been driving it.

Forest owners had to accept their share of responsibility but placing the problem solely on one party's head would not work either.

"The guys that I deal with are aware they've got that responsibility but just at the moment, we haven't got it right. There's more that's got to be done, so yeah we've got to do our bit but ... it is a collective thing."

Rhodes said hopefully people understood that the industry had a "mosaic of different set-ups," including owners, leasees and contractors.

"Sometimes it's an owner-manager, sometimes it's just a manager. They can be resident, they can be absent. They can have huge forests with plenty of staff or they can be woodlot owners who are only harvesting once every 30 years.

"It's quite difficult trying to come up with an approach that will cover everything."

Rhodes agreed forestry was "definitely a dangerous operating environment if you don't follow due practice" but not if good practice was followed.

"If you follow the rules, then you can be perfectly safe."

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- Fairfax Media

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