Coroner blasts forestry deaths

MATT BOWEN
Last updated 13:00 12/05/2014

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New Zealand's forestry death rate shot up to seven times that of Australia in the past year, according to Coroner Dr Wallace Bain.

He made the comment today in Rotorua when opening inquests into eight forestry deaths. Six of the cases were immediately adjourned pending legal action.

Bain used the moment in front of media and lawyers to shine a light on the "alarming" death rate in the country's forests.

A "voluminous" amount of research has gone into the inquests, he said.

The average death rate is five people per year but that rose to 10 deaths in 2013.

"NZ has the highest death rate of any of the advanced countries and above average in the OECD," Bain said.

"Health and safety has been extremely poor."

The average was taken from a workforce of 4,500 forestry workers compared to Australia's 6,800 and Canada's 29,000.

"Yet the death rate of those workers in New Zealand is four times both Australia and Canada. Alarmingly, in 2013, New Zealand leapt with 10 deaths to be seven times the Australian average."

The inquest was originally to look into eight forestry deaths but that was cut to two - Robert Thompson and Reece Reid - pending prosecutions in the other cases including Tokoroa's Charles Finlay and George Mahanga.

Bain was due to hear the inquests in Rotorua throughout this week, followed by another week of submissions on safety issues from forestry stakeholders. The second week has been postponed.

The case of Reece Reid is underway in the court to be followed by Robert Thompson who was killed in an incident near Thames.

The business that employed Reid, Taupo company Great Lake Harvesting pleaded guilty in the Palmerston North District Court last year and was sentenced on a charge laid under the Health and Safety Act.

The company failed to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of an employee, 23-year-old Reid of Whanganui, as it failed to ensure he was not exposed to hazards arising from a tree-felling operation.

Reid died on November 27, 2012, when he was hit by a falling tree.

He was part of a forestry gang that travelled daily from Whanganui and was relatively inexperienced.

The day he died, Reid felled a tree, which "hung up" against another.

When he tried to fell that, the hanging tree fell and killed him.

He should not have been working solo and should have only felled under the supervision of Michael Thomas, a senior member of the work gang.

The coroner will hear the rest of the inquests and general submissions as soon as reasonably practical.

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