Forestry operators hit with 60 notices

By Lydia Anderson

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There has been nearly 30 deaths and almost 1000 serious harm injuries in the past five years in the forestry sector.
There has been nearly 30 deaths and almost 1000 serious harm injuries in the past five years in the forestry sector.

Bay of Plenty forestry operations have faced 60 health and safety enforcement actions in the past 10 months, says WorkSafe New Zealand.

The industry is the country's most dangerous, with 28 fatalities since 2008.

WorkSafe issued 60 enforcement notices since August last year to local operators, which can include written warnings, improvement notices, infringement notices and prohibition notices.

Enforcement action can be taken for safety failings such as a written warning for a tree-feller operating without an available radio for communications, or a prohibition notice for an unsafe digger.

Bay of Plenty's enforcement actions included three prohibition notices for problems such as a damaged guy rope, and a damaged cab on a vehicle.

The figures follow the release this month of the Independent Forestry Safety Review panel's public consultation document highlighting industry health and safety concerns.

Wood Marketing Services co-owner Darren Robinson, based in Tauranga, said the Waikato-Bay of Plenty firm had been vigilant about health and safety. The forestry industry had enough processes in place to deal with rogue operators at present, and he was not sure how the safety review consultation could add to that.

"I don't know whether anybody in the public sector is qualified to make those calls.

"I think the process at the moment was going quite well. The WorkSafe guys had made some strong and diligent inroads into what was going on."

However, he said he would have liked to have seen WorkSafe take a proactive rather than reactive approach during the past few years.

His firm knew all its work crews personally.

"Our crews, they're all personal friends of ours, we've had them on our books for a long time, we know them and their wives and their families.

"We're not removed from these guys, we know them extremely well."

Mr Robinson was sick of hearing generalisations that forest companies did not do enough for their workers' safety.

"The hardest thing for us to stomach is some of these idiots running around saying we're sending people to their death," he said.

Almost 300 WorkSafe NZ enforcement actions had been taken nationwide since last August, including 25 partial or full shutdowns due to "imminent danger of serious injury or death", Labour Minister Simon Bridges said.

First Union general secretary Robert Reid said a safety crisis had been unfolding in the forestry industry, with nearly 30 deaths and almost 1000 serious harm injuries in the past five years alone.

He was pleased the consultation document recognised that forestry health and safety problems were "driven by multiple factors and not just worker behaviours".

"For too long, injured or deceased forestry workers have glibly been described as the 'architects of their own demise'.

"The document makes clear that the problems in this industry are driven by multiple factors and not just worker behaviours.

"The combination of inadequate wages and conditions for this extremely physical work is experienced by many workers as grinding fatigue, affecting their mental and physical well-being."

Mr Reid said the panel's discussion on worker participation and representation was critical. Without a voice in the industry, the crisis would persist and workers would continue to pay the price.

However, the Forestry Industry Contractors Association said the review lacked credibility.

Spokesman John Stulen told Radio New Zealand the panel had been unduly influenced by unions.

Most forestry operators were good, but WorkSafe NZ was under-resourced to catch "fly-by-night" farm forest operators, most of whom had never had an inspection, he said.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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