Union slams Govt over forestry deaths

MICHAEL FOX
Last updated 14:24 27/11/2013

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The eighth death in New Zealand's forests this year has renewed calls for more action from the Government.

David Charles Beamsley, 63, from Murupara died in what is thought to have been a tree-felling accident in the Kaingaroa Forest in Bay of Plenty yesterday.

His death comes just weeks after the chief coroner ordered a series of enquiries to try and find out why the industry has New Zealand's highest rate of workplace injury and death, with an average of five fatalities a year between 2007 and 2013.

Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly today slammed the lack of action from the Government.

"This man is the eighth forestry worker killed at work this year, along with over 90 seriously harmed, and I'm asking [Minister of Labour] Simon Bridges, how many more have to be killed before the Government agrees we have a problem that needs urgent attention?" Kelly said.

"We need a swift, decisive and effective response like we saw with Pike River. The men who work in the forests, and their families, deserve for these deaths to be taken seriously by the Government.

"The Government needs to step up and regulate for safe working conditions."

The industry-led safety review which would look at the high accident rate and which the unions were supporting was "a good start" but she slammed Bridges for refusing to lead it.

Bridges said the number of deaths in the sector was too high and the safety record "not acceptable - the industry needs to get its safety house in order".

But he stood by his refusal to order an inquiry.

"There is no lack of understanding about what the main problems are, or what the solutions might be," he said.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment had inspected almost half of the 330 cable-logging contractors around the country and had so far issued 182 enforcement actions and shut 14 down due to imminent danger or death.

"This is not good enough," he said and the industry needed to take a lead role in improving safety.

Bridges has previously said the recent Approved Code of Practice for Safety and Health in Forest Operations along with the new Worksafe New Zealand would improve safety.

The Government was also considering legislation to introduce harsher penalties for employers who put workers' lives at risk.

Its aim was to cut workplace injuries and deaths by 25 per cent in the next seven years.

The moves were based on a report by the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety.

Chief Coroner Neil MacLean this month ordered a series of inquests into forestry-worker deaths to try and identify the issues leading to the industry's poor safety record.

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It came after the release of a report analysing six years of forestry-related deaths which noted the industry had the highest rate of workplace injuries and deaths.

Labour has said forestry owners found to have not done enough to prevent workplace deaths should face corporate-manslaughter charges.

- Fairfax Media

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