Union hits out at new forestry safety standards

By The Daily Post, APNZ -
Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

The Government has unveiled a new code designed to reduce the horrific accident rate in New Zealand's forestry industry.

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

Rotorua MP Todd McClay launched the new Approved Code of Practice for Safety and Health in Forest Operations at the Forest Industry Contractors Association 'Big Day Out' annual conference in Rotorua today.

The forestry sector has the highest rate of fatal work-related injuries in New Zealand and the rate of ACC claims for the forestry sector is almost six times the rate for all sectors.

Thirteen workers have died in the past three years.

"Over the past decade the forestry sector has put significant effort into reducing fatalities and serious injury," Mr McClay said. "Despite this effort, injuries, fatalities, and social costs are still unacceptably high.

The sector's challenge is to reinvigorate injury prevention and continue the drive towards zero harm and fatalities."

Mr McClay said the Government and industry needed to do more to prevent fatalities, the majority of which had been young, Maori men.

"We need to ensure every worker can return home safely to their family at night."

The new code will support the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's forestry harm reduction campaign, which aims to reduce the unacceptably high rate of accidents in the forestry sector. It will focus on the tasks of tree felling and breaking out, which consistently account for the greatest number of serious harm accidents.

"The new code aims to lift the bar and introduce standards that will help the sector improve its health and safety record," Mr McClay said.

The Minister of Labour had set a target of reducing workplace deaths and serious injuries by at least 25 per cent by 2020.

"We have just over seven years to get there. I believe this revised code and the Forestry Sector Action Plan are steps in contributing to this target in the forestry industry."

The code does not have the legal force of regulations however Mr McClay said in most cases compliance with the code would satisfy the requirements of the Health and Safety in Employment Act.

It will be rolled out at sector and ministry-hosted workshops for workers between January and April next year.

But Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly said she was outraged by the new standards, which showed the Department of Labour had 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.

"The repeated claims by employers and owners that the industry is safe show they have no intention of improving.

"They are absolutely blind to the risk."

Ms Kelly said the new standards were developed only with forest owners and the contractors' organisation - but without input from workers.

"The standards themselves have no provisions at all for worker participation, which was a key recommendation from Pike River."

The CTU believed poor work conditions relating to fatigue and long hours were a major contributor to the forestry industry's high accident rate. But the standards put the onus on workers to manage fatigue, requiring employers only to provide 'regular rest breaks, a meal break, a daily or nightly sleep period and shared driver responsibilities'.

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

"The standards are very similar to the previous standards which were launched with great fanfare and have continued to fail workers in the industry."

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