Neglect will kill more forest staff - widow

ALEX FENSOME
Last updated 05:00 10/01/2013

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The widow of a Balclutha tree feller killed at work near Winton in 2011 says the forestry industry is not doing enough to prevent more deaths, despite the launch of a new code of practice.

Karina McHardy's husband, Phillip, a tree feller with more than 27 years' experience, was killed while cutting trees in the Overton Forest, between Centre Bush and Mandeville, on August 31, 2011.

A gust of wind blew over a tree and it fell, hitting him in the back.

He suffered severe head and body injuries and died instantly.

An inquest held in November found nobody was to blame for his death.

Mr McHardy was one of 13 forestry workers killed at work in the past three years. The forestry sector has the highest level of work-related deaths in New Zealand.

This week, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment announced the rollout of its new approved code of practice for safety and health in forest operations.

Its goal is to reduce the number of fatalities by 25 per cent by 2020.

The ministry will meet with forestry companies and workers to discuss the changes in the code in a series of "roadshows" beginning this month.

However, Mrs McHardy said the new code would not make a difference.

"I don't think the ministry is going to do anything.

"For years and years people have been getting killed in the bush and they always say they are going to do something.

"The way the Labour Department handled Phillip's death, I don't believe they will."

Mr McHardy had told his wife of his own concerns about safety.

He was worried about drug and alcohol use in the industry, despite the introduction of random drug testing by the New Zealand Forestry Owners Association in 2008, she said.

He was also concerned about the level of training given to other workers.

Ministry general manager of health and safety operations Ona De Rooy said the code increased training requirements for workers.

The sector was continuing to implement the association's drug and alcohol reduction strategy.

The code would include new provisions for tree felling and breaking out, the most dangerous parts of the work and the one Mr McHardy was involved in when he was killed.

"Tree felling and breaking out consistently account for the greatest number of serious harm incidents notified to the ministry," Ms De Rooy said.

Mrs McHardy was troubled that her husband had been alone when the tree fell on him.

The other workers were away from the scene, helping to fix a bulldozer.

The new code includes a provision for all tree fellers to be in radio contact with someone on site at all times and for another worker to be available to assist if needed.

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- The Southland Times

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