No-one to blame for contractor's death

Last updated 05:00 28/11/2012

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A forestry worker was killed instantly in Southland last year when a gust of wind blew over a tree which hit him in the back, a coronial inquest into the man's death has heard.

Phillip George McHardy, 46, who worked for Balclutha logging company Don Contracting, died on August 31, 2011, in the Overton Forest between Centre Bush and Mandeville.

The inquest was held in Invercargill yesterday in front of Otago-Southland coroner David Crerar.

Logging truck driver Karl Diack, who arrived shortly before the accident to pick up some logs, told the court he had witnessed Mr McHardy's death.

The other four workers at the site, who also appeared as witnesses, were working on a broken-down bulldozer away from the immediate area.

Mr Diack said Mr McHardy had almost finished felling a stand of trees, with two left when he pulled up nearby. Having felled one of them, Mr McHardy was delimbing it when the other tree blew over.

Mr Diack said he saw the remaining tree, which was behind Mr McHardy, bend 5 metres to 6m in a sudden gust of wind before it blew over.

He could not warn Mr McHardy because of the noise of his chainsaw.

The tree hit Mr McHardy on the back and pinned him between it and the tree he was working on.

He suffered severe head and upper body injuries and died instantly.

Three workers at the site, Al Knight, Stephen Hurring and Michael Gunn, described the wind worsening during the day.

The court was told Mr McHardy, an experienced logger, had sent a text to his wife, Karina, at 10.34am saying it was windy.

The trees in the block had shallow root systems and some had been seen blowing over in more exposed areas during the day, witnesses said.

Don Contracting owner Michael McDonald said he made it clear to Mr McHardy he should stop felling if he felt it was unsafe.

Mrs McHardy asked Mr McDonald if he thought her husband should not have been felling in the conditions.

"Where he was was fine," he replied. "He was exceptional and it didn't feel right to tell someone like that how to do his job.

"He would have noticed the wind."

Forestry consultant Robert Prebble, appearing as an expert witness, said that Mr McHardy had probably decided to carry on despite the increasing wind because he wanted to finish felling the stand, but no pressure had been put on him to complete it.

Labour Department investigator Mark Solomon said there were no breaches of the Health and Safety in Employment Act either by Don Contracting or Mr McHardy.

Judge Crerar said there were a constellation of factors contributing to Mr McHardy's death which he would cover in his written report.

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He found that Mr McHardy had died as a result of multiple traumatic injuries including a severe crushing injury to the skull as a result of the tree falling on him.

- The Southland Times

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