Widow hopes for forestry change

Change needs to come from a beefed-up coronial inquiry that will put forestry industry's grim death toll under the microscope, a Tokoroa widow says.

Maryanne Butler-Finlay's husband, Charles, was among those killed in 2012 and 2013. Their cases will come before Rotorua coroner Wallace Bain in May.

The 45-year-old forest veteran was killed when a 55-kilogram splint of wood struck him in the head in Tram Rd in the Kinleith Forest, near Tokoroa, in July last year.

But Butler-Finlay said there were still many unanswered questions surrounding her husband's death.

"We [the families] expect that, because of the way the industry is, and the way everyone is on tenterhooks being very cautious, that there is going to be change," she said yesterday.

"There has to be change. The Government, I think, have now wised up to realising there is a problem and it has to be addressed."

The inquiry was originally set to analyse five forestry deaths over two days in March, but that number has expanded to eight deaths as more names were added to the list.

The inquests will be heard sequentially in the week of May 12 to allow the coroner to find the cause and circumstances of each case.

The following week will address any workplace health and safety issues that crop up and, from that, the coroner may make recommendations or comments that may reduce the chances of other deaths in the forestry sector occurring in similar circumstances.

"We all worry because at the end of the day we want change, and we want the system regulated, and we want to see that what happened to us isn't going to happen to anybody else," Butler-Finlay said.

"Everybody knows there's something wrong, everybody knows something needs to be done. I think the inquest is going to be a good thing."

Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly said the union would be submitting on industry issues, and representing five families free of charge, which would enable them to cross-examine under the Coroners Act.

"It's the first time forestry families will be represented at a coronial hearing by legal counsel."

Kelly said the union would tread familiar ground with its submission.

Long hours of work, a lack of training among workers, productivity pressure, low wages and inappropriate safety gear and equipment would all be discussed.

The union wanted recommendations around regulation and standardised requirements for contractors, she said

There also needed to be a commitment to minimum standards of employment and justice for the workers' families.

"We're not forgetting about each individual case, they are as important to these families as the system issues," Ms Kelly said.

Six forestry workers died in workplace accidents in 2012 and 10 in 2013.

Last year, calls for an inquiry into workplace safety in New Zealand's forestry sector intensified, but the Government has so far ruled out an in-depth Crown-led inquiry.

However, Labour Minister Simon Bridges has welcomed an industry-led inquiry into forestry safety.

The Forest Owners, Forest Industry Contractors and Farm Forestry associations have launched a safety review into the high number of serious and fatal injuries in the sector.

The review is expected to take six months and consists of three panel members chosen from the business, legal and occupational safety and health sectors.

WorkSafe New Zealand, which took over workplace health and safety operations from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, is also partway through an investigation into the safety performance of more than 330 logging contractors.

As of December last year, it had handed out 182 notices for non-compliance with the Approved Code of Practice for Forest Harvesting.

Nearly half the notices were issued because contractors did not have adequate health and safety plans, with 14 contractors - including two in Waikato - being closed down.

Waikato Times