Guilty tree felling firm hits out at govt inaction

A Taranaki contracting firm whose newly employed tree feller was killed by falling branches has attacked the lack of Government inspectors in their industry.

Adam Tony Olsson, 23, died on April 22 last year when a dead tree he was helping to bring down fell on him on a farm near Bertrand Bridge, Tikorangi.

He had only been a week on the job.

Mr Olsson's death was one of 10 in the forestry industry last year.

As a result the Government is putting a $3 million investigation in place to look into work practices.

In the New Plymouth District Court yesterday Taranaki forestry company R&S Dreaver Shelter Trimmers Ltd was ordered to pay a total of $80,000 after pleading guilty to breaching the Health and Safety in Employment Act in failing to keep Mr Olsson safe.

Outside court, owner Richard Dreaver said the intense Government scrutiny the forestry industry was receiving as a result of the deaths, coupled with the hefty fines, was undeserved.

"It's all about money. It saddens me for the whole industry. I haven't seen a government bush inspector now for seven years."

Neither had there been any trainers in the region for the last 5-6 years at the very time the industry was booming with unskilled labour, he said.

"They [Worksafe] come blaming the employers, pounding the hell out of them but we are the poor pricks giving people a job."

Mr Dreaver said he started his business when he was 20 and was now 48. He prided himself on being very focused on training and cited his company's apprentice achieving the top national apprenticeship award in 2008.

Mr Dreaver also asked why Mr Olsson's supervisor on the day of the death, Warren Lerke, had not been charged. He was no longer an employee.

Mr Olsson was "desperate" to learn to be a tree feller, Mr Dreaver said. He had spent $3500 on his own chainsaw and other tools.

"It was all he wanted to do and I gave him the opportunity."

His family was very angry at his death, Mr Dreaver said.

"But I was the guy who gave him CPR and was trying to keep him alive."

Worksafe said yesterday that its investigation found that after making chainsaw cuts into the tree Mr Olsson initially went to a safety zone outside the area where the tree could fall so that his colleague could use an excavator to complete the felling of the tree.

However, he subsequently moved back towards the tree and was struck by falling debris, which caused fatal head injuries.

Dreavers was fined $52,500 (reduced to $25,000 based on the company's ability to pay) and ordered to pay $55,000 reparation over the death.

"Adam Olsson was fresh on the job. He had no formal forestry industry qualification and had never previously worked on a tree-felling operation. His employer had a legal duty to ensure he was properly supervised," said WorkSafe New Zealand's general manager Health and Safety Operations, Ona de Rooy.

"Mr Olsson was felling trees with a colleague who was operating a long track excavator with a grapple hook, which meant under the best practice guidelines for tree-felling he was effectively in control of the operation - despite only having a matter of days' experience on the job.

"He should never have been put in that position.

"This death was entirely preventable."

Meanwhile, Worksafe said last night that the Independent Forestry Safety Review panel, initiated because of the frequency of serious injuries and fatalities in the sector, met for the first time yesterday.

Taranaki Daily News