Fury, support greet safety moves

By Teuila Fuatai

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Auditing workers in the forestry sector will make it safer and prevent more deaths, a local forestry director says.

Initiatives to cut New Zealand's horrific forestry accident rate were announced yesterday - just one week after 23-year-old Reece Reid died when a tree he had cut became entangled in another and fell on him in the Tararua District, near Dannevirke.

Launched by National MP Todd McClay, the new code of practice sets out guidelines for complying with health and safety regulations.

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

The code also lacks any regulatory force as employers are not legally required to comply.

The forestry sector has the country's highest rate of fatal work-related injuries. The sector's rate of ACC claims is almost six times the rate for all sectors.

At least 40 forest workers were injured in Hawke's Bay in the last five years, Government figures show.

On the same day Mr Reid was killed, a 49-year-old worker had his legs crushed by a tree in the Kaingaroa Forest, near Rotorua.

HB Forestry director Jaden Herron said the new code gave clearer health and safety guidelines for forest workers.

But inconsistent work demand remained the biggest challenge for sector safety, he said.

"Market conditions - when it turns on and turns off again. Then inexperienced people or people who have been out of it for a while come into it.

"That's the challenge really," he said.

Auditing workers regularly to ensure safety practices were up to scratch could help, he said.

"Auditing keeps people on their toes. We do checks for the guys every month and do safety-behaviour audits."

CTU president Helen Kelly said the code was drafted with no worker input and reflected the industry's disregard for safety.

"We are absolutely outraged by these standards and we think it shows the Department of Labour has 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."

In the last three years, 13 forestry workers had died on the job, Ms Kelly said.

As well, at least 871 forestry workers were hurt on the job in the past five years, Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment figures show.

At least five workers have died in accidents this year alone.

The CTU believed poor work conditions relating to fatigue and long hours were a major contributor to the forestry industry's high accident rate.

Standards which held employers accountable for poor safety practices had to be enforced, Ms Kelly said.

"The whole narrative of these standards is around workers' responsibility.

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

Ms Kelly said the code of practice said workers were only required to wear safety belts if vehicles were fitted with them.

"We are talking about the most dangerous roads in New Zealand, these forestry roads, [and it's] not even a requirement for these workers to have the dignity of having a seatbelt in the van."

Glen Mackie, of the Forestry Owners Association, helped formulate the new code, which focused specifically on tree-felling and breaking out - the process of removing a tree from the forest - the most common causes of serious injuries. "This is an approved code which means it actually carries greater weight than just a best practice guide," he said.

- HAWKES BAY TODAY

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