Victim's mum blasts failure to prosecute

ALEX FENSOME
Last updated 10:59 23/02/2013
Robert Burnett
ROBERT BURNETT: Died when the brakes failed on the bulldozer he was driving.

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The Government's willingness to prosecute the forestry industry for safety breaches has been questioned, after figures revealed the number of serious accidents last year.

Six people died and 188 "serious harm incidents" were reported in 2012, but only one prosecution has been completed, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment figures show.

There have been more than 900 serious harm incidents and 23 deaths in forestry since 2008. Nine prosecutions have been completed since 2010.

The disparity between the number of incidents and prosecutions has been questioned by workers' families and unions.

Robert Burnett died in a forestry accident in 2007. He was 44.

He was driving a bulldozer on steep ground in the Nelson backcountry when the brakes failed. The bulldozer rolled down a bank and crushed Mr Burnett, who died at the scene. His mother, Pat O'Shea, a Tasman district councillor for 18 years, said what was then the Department of Labour had failed to send a strong message to forestry companies after her son's death.

"Nobody has ever taken responsibility," she said. "We don't want revenge, or money, we just want somebody to be held to account . . . we are not even looking for a prosecution."

A departmental report found the bulldozer had been "inadequately maintained", but no prosecution resulted.

The department later reviewed its investigation of Mr Burnett's death and apologised for the quality of its report. However, the review found there were still no grounds for prosecuting anyone.

At the time of Mr Burnett's death, the department appeared to have an attitude that logging was a dangerous industry, and deaths and accidents just happened, Ms O'Shea said. "There may have been an attitude of, 'Oh, another one'."

A new code of practice for the industry was published in December by the ministry, formerly the Department of Labour.

However, Ms O'Shea, of Motueka, said she felt the industry wanted to focus the blame for accidents on the workers. "I believe they are concentrating on workers and not looking at how dangerous the workplaces are. You can't protect yourself against something that's inadequately maintained."

The Council of Trade Unions has begun a campaign calling for stronger standards in the industry.

CTU president Helen Kelly said the enforcement of health and safety standards had been weak, and she did not believe it would improve.

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"They never prosecute forest owners," she said. "My view is there are myths being created, one that the workers are careless, two that the workers are drugged and three, that they're untrained."

Ministry general manager of health and safety operations Ona de Rooy said the ministry prosecuted when there was sufficient evidence of a breach of the Health and Safety in Employment Act or a failure of responsibility.

Prosecution was one of a number of options it used to ensure compliance. However, the new code of practice could see more prosecutions and enforcement action.

"That is certainly a possibility," she said. "The safety standards have been clarified and the bar has been raised . . . we will be addressing non- compliance through our enforcement process."

- The Dominion Post

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