Safety fears after forestry death

By Doug Laing

1 comment
Pohokura Forest is where the latest death of a forestry worker occurred - the fourth in six weeks.
Pohokura Forest is where the latest death of a forestry worker occurred - the fourth in six weeks.

Police have released the name of the forestry worker who died after a tree fell on him in Northern Hawke's Bay yesterday.

He was Blair David Palmer, 53 of Napier.

Mr Palmer was an experienced forestry foreman and had worked in the industry for some time.

Mr Palmer died after a tree fell on him in a Pohokura forest block inland from Tutira, north of Napier yesterday afternoon.

Worksafe NZ are investigating the incident and the man's death has been referred to the coroner.

Meanwhile Workers' unions are asking safety inspectors to investigate whether pressure to get logs out of forests amid a surge in timber prices could be behind a spate of tragedies.

The call came after yesterday's death in Pohokura Forest. Police said the alarm was raised just after 1pm, and police and an ambulance went to the scene inland of Tutira and north of the Napier-Taupo highway.

A WorkSafe inspector was also visiting the site, which police said was isolated but able to be accessed on land using four-wheel drive vehicles.

It was the fourth forestry worker death nationwide in six weeks, one more than the toll for all of last year. There had been just one in 2014, but a peak of 10 in 2013.

In addition to the forestry worker deaths this year, is the death of a construction worker on a forestry block and a three-year-old boy killed when struck by a log in a logging company yard. The tragedies have sparked memories of the industry's annus horribilis three years ago, and Council of Trade Unions president Richard Wagstaff, extending sympathies to the Hawke' Bay victim's family and workmates, said yesterday: "Are we heading for another 2013, our most shameful year on record.

"Are we seeing a correlation between the price of logs going up and more forestry workers being killed," he asked. "This is totally unacceptable. Are forestry companies putting additional pressure on those working to get the logs cut in order to maximise profits?"

He said national workplace safety agency WorkSafe New Zealand "must urgently get their inspectors on the ground" in the forests, and take "every step" to make sure workers are safe.

WorkSafe chief executive Gordon MacDonald said: "It is concerning to everyone in the sector including the regulator that there has been this rash of deaths in such a short period. WorkSafe is investigating the fatalities and will provide its conclusions to all parties as soon as they are complete."

He said the situation had improved post-2013 following a combined approach involving the forestry sector, then-CTU president Helen Kelly and WorkSafe and its focused forestry workplace assessment programme. Mr MacDonald said WorkSafe made 2200 site visits to review forestry practices last year, providing advice where needed, and to "enforce the law if necessary".

"So far this year, we've already made 280 visits to sites on the same basis, and we will continue this process," he said.

"The sad news today shows clearly there is still work to do and WorkSafe will continue to be a vital driver of improved performance."

Forest worker fatalities in 2016:

* February 17: Man, 61, killed when run over by a roller in Eastern Bay of Plenty.

* March 10: Man, 31, killed when struck by a falling tree near Tinui, east of Masterton. There were reports of "wild" weather, with gusts at nearby Castlepoint recorded at over 160km/h.

* March 24: Man, 30s, injured at Pakotai, northwest of Whangarei, when struck by a large log. He died in hospital this week.

* Yesterday: Man killed while felling a tree in Pohokura Block, northwest of Napier.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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