Scrutiny goes on forest safety

By Lydia Anderson

Health and safety expert Mike Cosman (rear) of the Independent Forestry Safety Review panel listens at Friday's hearing in Whangarei. Photo/John Stone
Health and safety expert Mike Cosman (rear) of the Independent Forestry Safety Review panel listens at Friday's hearing in Whangarei. Photo/John Stone

Northland forestry operations have faced 22 health and safety enforcement actions in the past 10 months, WorkSafe New Zealand says.

The industry is the country's most dangerous, with 28 fatalities since 2008.

WorkSafe issued 22 enforcement notices since August last year to Northland operators. Those can include written warnings, improvement notices, infringement notices and prohibition notices.

Enforcement action can be taken for safety failings such as a written warning for tree feller operating without an available radio for communications, or a prohibition notice for an unsafe digger.

Of the 22 enforcement actions, four prohibition notices were issued for offences such as an insufficient breaking out plan to manage a hazard of stems crushing employees, and evidence of no-falling plan to identify all hazards to feller and breaker out during extraction.

That compares with 60 issued in the Bay of Plenty, 17 in Manawatu-Wanganui and 30 in the Wellington region, including Wairarapa.

Four Northland forestry industry representatives contacted by the Northern Advocate about the actions either declined to comment or could not be reached.

The figures follow the release this month of the Independent Forestry Safety Review panel's public consultation document highlighting industry health and safety concerns.

The panel sat in Whangarei on Friday as part of a six-centre tour to identify issues and gather recommendations on improving safety. Nearly 70 Northland forestry owners, managers, contractors and crew bosses spoke to the panel - George Adams (chairman), Hazel Armstrong and Mike Cosman.

Later in the day the panel met forestry workers for their input.

The panel was told Work and Income was sending workers into forestry who had little interest in the work.

Ms Armstrong said the industry was trying to overcome the perception that "if you've got direction, you'll find work; if not you'll go into forestry".

Also of concern were "cowboy" operators. Almost 300 WorkSafe NZ enforcement actions had been taken nationwide since last August, including 25 partial or full shutdowns due to "imminent danger of serious injury or death".

First Union general secretary Robert Reid said a safety crisis had been unfolding in the forestry industry, with nearly 30 deaths and almost 1000 serious injuries in the past five years.

In that time one man had died and more than 100 workers had been injured in forestry accidents in Northland.

Mr Reid was pleased the consultation document recognised forestry health and safety problems were "driven by multiple factors and not just worker behaviours". "The combination of inadequate wages and conditions for this extremely physical work is experienced by many workers as grinding fatigue, affecting both their mental and physical well-being."

The panel's discussion on worker participation and representation was critical, he said.

Without a voice in the industry the crisis would persist and workers would continue to pay the price. However, the Forestry Industry Contractors' Association said the review lacked credibility.

Spokesman John Stulen told media the panel had been unduly influenced by unions.

- NORTHERN ADVOCATE

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