Teuila Fuatai is a reporter for the NZ Herald

Unions blast forestry safety rules

Forestry workers will not be safe until proper health and safety training and regulations are enforced, a local union representative warns.

New initiatives to cut New Zealand's horrific forestry sector accident rate were announced last week.

Launched by National MP Todd McClay, the new code of practice sets out guidelines for complying with health and safety regulations.

However, unions have attacked the new measures as inadequate and say officials have learned nothing from the Pike River Mine disaster.

The code also lacks any regulatory force as employers are not legally required to comply.

The forestry sector has the country's highest rate of fatal work-related injuries. The sector's rate of ACC claims is almost six times the rate for all sectors.

Government figures show at least 100 forest workers were injured in the Bay of Plenty region in the past five years.

In June this year, a 49-year-old man was killed in Opotiki after being hit by a falling branch. First Union organiser Rawiri Daniels, who works extensively throughout the Bay of Plenty, said the new code was going to do little for worker safety.

"I'm seriously not convinced that one code is going to fix it up.

"My view is that there is not enough enforcement to ensure that there is adequate and sufficient training and proper health and safety procedures are in place."

CTU president Helen Kelly said the code was drafted with no worker input and reflected the industry's complete disregard for safety.

"We are absolutely outraged by these standards and we think it shows the Department of Labour has learnt nothing from the Pike River disaster.

"By promulgating these standards in the manner that they're written, they're basically now complicit in the dangerous practices in the forestry industry."

In the past three years, 13 forestry workers had died on the job, Ms Kelly said.

A 23-year-old Wanganui man died last week after being crushed by a falling tree near Pongaroa, south of Dannevirke. On the same day, a 49-year-old worker had his legs crushed by a tree in the Kaingaroa Forest, near Rotorua.

Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment injury figures show at least 871 forestry workers were hurt on the job in the past five years. At least five workers have died in accidents this year alone.

The CTU believed poor work conditions relating to fatigue and long hours were a major contributor to the forestry industry's high accident rate.

Standards which held employers accountable for poor safety practices had to be enforced, Ms Kelly said.

"The whole narrative of these standards is around workers' responsibility.

"How this can be seen as best practice is unbelievable."

Ms Kelly said the code of practice says workers are only required to wear safety belts if fitted in vehicles.

"We are talking about the most dangerous roads in New Zealand these forestry roads [and it's] not even a requirement for these workers to have the dignity of having a seat belt in the van."

Glen Mackie of the Forestry Owners Association helped formulate the code, which focuses specifically on tree-felling and breaking out - the process of removing a tree from the forest - the most common causes of serious injuries.

"This is an approved code which means it actually carries greater weight than just a best practice guide," he said.

"You [employers] do not have to follow the rules exactly, but you have be able to prove that if you have not performed an action according to the code, you have another system in place that is just as good."

Mr McClay said the code would help towards reaching the Government's 2020 goal of reducing workplace deaths and serious injuries by at least 25 per cent.

Forestry worker injuries - January 2008 to April 2012

  • Northland: 84.

  • Bay of Plenty: 100.

  • Manawatu-Wanganui: 66.

  • Wellington: 52.

  • Hawke's Bay: 40.

  • National: 871.

- Bay of Plenty Times

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