Make forests safer, says grieving family

By Matthew Martin of the Rotorua Daily Post -
Robert Epapara. Photo / supplied
Robert Epapara. Photo / supplied

A Rotorua family whose son was killed in a forestry accident support calls for tougher workplace safety measures and an inquiry into forestry safety.

Yesterday, Labour MP and Health and Safety spokeswoman Darien Fenton presented a petition to Parliament asking the government to conduct an inquiry into forestry safety.

She said forestry workers would continue to be killed on the job unless something was done to improve industry safety standards.

"Forestry is the most dangerous industry in New Zealand.

"Already there have been four deaths this year and 28 workers have died since 2008 with nearly 900 seriously injured," she said.

Rotorua man Lee Edmonds, whose 23-year-old son Robert Epapara was killed instantly after being struck by a falling tree in a forestry block near Lake Rotoiti in March, said he supported the petition and a full safety review of the industry.

"As long as it looks at everything from the man on the ground right up to the government who make the laws."

For the last three years Mr Edmonds has worked alongside ACC and forestry companies to deliver health and safety messages to forestry workers.

Mr Edmonds said his greatest fear was the industry was putting profits before people and believed there was too much pressure placed on crews to get their work done as quickly as possible, which lead to preventable accidents.

"This is not just a fault of the government - workers' attitudes to safety need to be addressed as well. But, the pressure on them to perform comes from the top down from the government to the owner to the contractor to the supervisor to the man on the ground."

Mr Edmonds said there should also be more support for worker participation, including for those who raise health and safety matters.

The call for a forest sector safety review comes hard on the heels of an Independent Taskforce on Health and Safety report released at the end of April which said poor workplace health and safety regulations caused around 1000 premature deaths each year.

More than 400 submissions were heard during the 10-month inquiry which was called for after the Pike River mining disaster.

Forestry, agriculture, fishing, construction and manufacturing were responsible for more than half of all workplace injury claims.

The report recommended an increase in penalties for organisations with poor health and safety records, including extending the existing manslaughter offence to corporations.

Taskforce chairman Rob Jager said the current system was "not fit for purpose".

"We play rugby, we go hunting in the weekends, we do have this culture where I think we seem to be more accepting of risk," he said.

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