Forestry industry launches inquiry into spate of deaths

Workers prepare logs in the breaking out section in the Silverdale Forest. Photograph by Natalie Slade
Workers prepare logs in the breaking out section in the Silverdale Forest. Photograph by Natalie Slade

The forestry industry will hold a major safety review after 11 workers died on the job in the past 13 months.

The six-month review will be funded by Forest Owners, Forest Industry Contractors and Farm Forestry Associations and will liaise with the governmental health and safety regulator, WorkSafe NZ.

The inquiry comes after on-going concern about safety compliance and the high rate of workplace injury and death in New Zealand's logging sector. WorkSafe NZ said earlier this year it had come to the conclusion the poor safety was part of a "deeply ingrained systemic issues in this industry."

In a statement, Labour Minister Simon Bridges said he had been "surprised" by the low level of operator's compliance.

"Nearly half of the 164 operators visited since August 2013 are failing to meet their health and safety obligations," Bridges said. "So far more than 200 enforcement actions have been taken, including shutting down 14 operations due to imminent danger of serious injury or death."

Logging is New Zealand's third biggest export, behind dairy products and meat. In 12 months ending Nov. 31, some $3.8 billion worth of logs, wood and wood articles were exported overseas.

In a statement NZ Forest Owners' Association said the forestry industry makes an important economic contribution to New Zealand, but the "current rate of serious injury of death is simply not acceptable or sustainable."

The association said it had taken time to find the right panellists and for all stakeholders to agree on the terms of reference for the review. The inquiry will be undertaken by business leader George Adams, employment health and safety lawyer Hazel Armstrong and business safety specialist Mike Cosman.

- BusinessDesk

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