Poor standards close two forestry operators

HARRY PEARL
Last updated 05:00 03/12/2013

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Two Waikato-based forestry contractors have been shut down due to an "imminent danger of serious harm or death".

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) is nearly halfway through an investigation into the safety performance of more than 330 logging contractors, and has already handed out 182 notices for non-compliance with the Approved Code of Practice for Forest Harvesting.

Nearly half the notices were issued because contractors did not have adequate health and safety plans, with 14 contractors in total being closed down.

News of the two Waikato closures came as New Zealand's largest forest management company held a meeting with its contractors in Tokoroa yesterday.

It is understood about 90 contractors attended the private meeting called by Hancock Forest Management, which comes just days after two forestry workers, not employed by the company, were killed in separate accidents.

In a leaked copy of the speech delivered to contractors, Hancock said "our safety management system is broken" and then used the success of the All Black as an analogy for improving safety in the industry.

Part of the speech read: "The All Blacks built their perfect season game by game.

"And that's how we can achieve our ‘perfect season' - our season of ‘Zero Harm' [sic]."

Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly described the text as "patronising and simplistic".

"They had an opportunity to seriously discuss health and safety. They had everybody in the room.

"What they've done instead is show they actually don't know how to improve safety in the forest."

Ms Kelly said forest managers needed to reduce hours, pay and train workers adequately, and provide proper wet weather gear and provide shelter.

"We would like them to have some standard terms and conditions of employment across the industry that keeps workers safe."

Bill McCallum, general manager of Hancock Forest Management, said the purpose of the meeting was for everyone to stop, think and take the message of safety back to their organisations.

"The meeting was about ensuring we all continue to do everything we can to ensure a safe environment and that workers go home safely to their families, today, tomorrow and each day after that."

Commenting on its investigation so far, MBIE's general manager of health and safety operations, Ona de Rooy, said given the "magnitude" of non-compliance, investigators would increase their focus on forest owners and managers.

"Owners and managers must influence behaviour and we will be seeking evidence of their commitment to the safety of the workers . . . and enforcing where they [contractors] are not."

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Forest owners and managers have duties under the Health and Safety in Employment Act to ensure their contractors are operating safely, Ms de Rooy said.

There have been nine forestry deaths this year, including two last week.

Prime Minister John Key denied the forestry sector was "an industry in crisis", ruling out a government inquiry, but admitted concern.

"I think in my view it's an industry that needs to be taking workplace safety more seriously and they clearly need to change and we are trying to enforce that change," he said.

However, Mr Key appears at odds with Justice Minister Judith Collins over whether corporate manslaughter legislation should be brought in.

Mr Key said it was off the table, yet a spokesman for Ms Collins said she was still investigating the charge and was awaiting advice on corporate liability and how those issues might be addressed.

Mr Key said it was not supported by Attorney-General Chris Finlayson as far as he was aware.

The most recent death was that of 28-year-old Michael Langford in Nelson who died after being pinned between two trees.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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