Matthew Backhouse is a NZME. News Service journalist based in Auckland.

Forestry industry put on notice after sixth death this year

Photo / Thinkstock
Photo / Thinkstock

The forestry industry has been put on notice after the sixth death of a worker this year, just three days after another accident left a worker with serious leg injuries.

A 45-year-old Tokoroa man was killed off Tram Rd in the Tahorakuri Forest, about 20km northeast of Taupo, about 5.20am today.

Police said the man died at the scene after being "hit by a large log''.

The death comes after a Wanganui forestry worker, thought to be in his 60s, suffered serious leg injuries while working in a remote block at Linton near Palmerston North on Tuesday.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's health and safety group is investigating the death.

Group general manager Ona de Rooy said the whole forestry industry had to step up its commitment to worker safety - and the ministry would take a strong stance against those who did not.

"The death this morning is the sixth this year - that is an awful toll and its effects spread through communities, companies, and loved ones.''

Ms de Rooy said the ministry was about to launch a proactive assessment of every logging operation in the sector, targeted at the two biggest causes of harm in the industry - felling trees, and moving felled trees to loading sites.

"We will be taking a strong enforcement line during these visits and companies, contractors and crews can expect enforcement action if they're not meeting their obligations under the Health and Safety in Employment Act.

"If we see evidence of fatigue or production pressure causing unsafe behaviour, inspectors will take action.

"Workers also need to take responsibility for their safety and follow the rules - the rules are there to prevent them from harm.''

Ms de Rooy said the ministry had produced unambiguous guidelines on health and safety for the industry, and everyone had to commit to their implementation.

Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly said this morning's death was "heartbreaking''.

She said fatigue and a lack of adequate training were behind the forestry industry's safety record.

The union has renewed its calls for an inquiry into safety in the forestry sector - something Labour Minister Simon Bridges ruled out earlier this month, saying the Government's new health and safety group was likely to take a hard look at the sector.

Ms Kelly said there would more and more deaths until an inquiry took place.

"All of these deaths are now blood on his hands - he's denying that there's a problem.''

Ms Kelly said an inquiry in Canada five years ago had led to a "significant reduction'' in forestry deaths.

"They had a crisis as well, so they regulated hours and they regulated techniques - they professionalised lumberjacking.''

The Government introduced a new forestry sector safety code last December, but Rotorua National MP Todd McClay has said until the new code was adhered to, it was just a set of rules sitting in a bookcase.

Labour MP Darien Fenton has presented a petition to Parliament calling for an inquiry into forestry safety, with a select committee due to consider the petition next week.

Labour Minister Simon Bridges said he shared the concerns about too many forestry workers being seriously injured or killed but was firm in his view there is no need for an inquiry.

He said the revised code of practise in forestry would help improve workplace safety.

"We've just got make sure that the workers get it and understand it.''

He said the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment had a work plan around improving work safety in forestry.

"I have also set up Worksafe New Zealand, which is going to have a very strong focus on these high-hazard industries, such as forestry, but also construction, agriculture and fisheries.''

He reiterated there were major health and safety reforms on the way, when he responds to the independent health and safety taskforce.


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