Minister rules out inquiry

HARRY PEARL
Last updated 05:00 20/07/2013

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Calls for an inquiry into workplace safety in New Zealand's forestry sector have intensified following the death of Tokoroa man Charles Finlay yesterday. However, Labour Minister Simon Bridges ruled out an in-depth Government-led inquiry.

"I share the concern that too many forestry workers are being injured and killed - and it's not good enough," he said. "But I don't believe a Government inquiry will achieve what people who want it think it will."

Mr Bridges said the Government's approved code of practice for the sector, which was implemented in December, would make a difference once it had time to "bed in".

Mr Finlay, a 45-year-old contractor, was killed when he was hit by a piece of log on Tram Rd in the Kinleith Forest, near Tokoroa, about 5.20am.

His death was the sixth of a forestry worker this year and the second in the Waikato region.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's health and safety group has launched an inquiry into the death and has promised strong action will be taken against any unsafe logging operations discovered in a coming review.

But New Zealand Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly said that if the minister was serious about worker safety, he would hold an independent inquiry.

"I don't know how many deaths it will take," she said.

According to the ministry, there have been 963 serious injuries, including 27 deaths, between January 2008 and May 31 this year. Mr Finlay's death makes it 28 to date.

Ministry general manager of health and safety operations Ona de Rooy said the industry had to step up its commitment to worker safety.

"We are about to begin a proactive assessment of every logging contracting operation in the sector, targeted at what we know are the two causes of the most harm in the industry - the actual felling of the trees and the movement of them to loading sites."

Ms Kelly said she believed the biggest safety issue facing workers was fatigue.

She said 50 per cent of forestry workers worked more than 50 hours a week.

"This is one of the issues that we've been raising - that they're working very long hours.

"Not only is he in the woods at 5.40 in the morning, he probably left home at least an hour beforehand. And what time did he get home?"

Labour's health and safety spokesperson Darien Fenton said an inquiry that included taking a closer look at working hours and conditions would help find solutions.

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- Waikato Times

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