Matthew Backhouse

Matthew Backhouse is an APNZ news reporter based in Wellington.

Forest deaths: Operations shut down

FILE
FILE

The risk of serious injury or death has forced the closure of almost one in 10 forestry operations inspected so far in an industry-wide safety assessment.

The assessment figures were released by Labour Minister Simon Bridges today after the country's eighth forestry death this year.

Bay of Plenty forestry worker David Charles Beamsley, 63, from Murupara, was killed yesterday afternoon in what police said appeared to be a tree-felling accident at the Kaingaroa Forest.

In August, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) started inspecting every cable logging operation in the country to see how well they adhered to the new forestry code of practice, introduced in December last year.

Inspectors had so far assessed 150 operations, or about half the roughly 330 in New Zealand, Mr Bridges said.

Of those, 14 were shut down because there was imminent danger of serious injury or death. That means 9.3 per cent had potentially fatal or injurious health and safety failings.

Inspectors also issued 182 enforcement notices, suggesting more than one safety shortcoming was identified at some of the 150 operators.

Of those shut down for imminent danger, seven were in the East Coast region, two in Waikato, two in Northland, and one each were in Bay of Plenty, Hawkes Bay and Wellington.

The top five regions for enforcement action were the East Coast with 53 notices, Bay of Plenty had 43, Wellington/Wairarapa 14, and Marlborough and Northland 13 each.

Nearly half, or 89, of the enforcement notices were due to system failures - the lack of health and safety plans, such as a clear plan for a safe retreat distance during log hauling.

Mr Bridges said the assessment results were not good enough.

"The number of fatalities in the forestry sector is too high and the safety record is not acceptable - the industry needs to get its safety house in order."

There was no lack of understanding about what the main problems were or what the solutions might be, and it was up to everyone in the industry to ensure it was safe, Mr Bridges said.

MBIE's health and safety operations general manager, Ona de Rooy, said it was concerning that so many enforcement notices had been issued.

"There is no excuse for any operator not to know what is expected of them. We are now holding the industry to account, and as the minister says, each player in the sector must step up and take responsibility for making better safety decisions."

Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly, who has been campaigning for forestry safety reforms, said she was not surprised by the enforcement notice rate.

It showed operators were not complying with the most basic standards, which had already been set too low, she said.

"It actually shows us that this industry is not capable of regulating itself and it needs the Government to step in," Ms Kelly said.

"Clearly these workers are working too long, in poor conditions, in the rain, in the bad weather."

Labour Party labour issues spokeswoman Darien Fenton said it was unsurprising that inspectors had found multiple safety breaches and operations had been shut down.

She said measures such as limits on working hours could make the industry safer, but Mr Bridges had refused regulation.

The minister has ruled out an inquiry into the industry, but has signalled support for an independent review led by the industry and unions.

The forestry sector has the nation's highest rate of workplace injury deaths, according to the Chief Coroner's office, with an average of five fatalities a year over the last six years.

There were also 188 serious-harm notifications last year - the highest number in five years.

Bay of Plenty Coroner Wallace Bain will hold inquests into five forestry deaths next year with the aim of casting light on systemic issues in the industry.

- APNZ

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