Alanah Eriksen

Alanah Eriksen is the New Zealand Herald's property reporter, and assistant chief reporter.

Day of sorrow for forestry's youngest victim

Skyla Frater - pictured with her mother, Deborah McMillan - doesn't really remember her dad ... but she still misses him. Photo / Alan Gibson
Skyla Frater - pictured with her mother, Deborah McMillan - doesn't really remember her dad ... but she still misses him. Photo / Alan Gibson

Skyla Frater's classmates are all busy at school making Father's Day gifts - but she doesn't have anyone to give hers to.

The Hamilton 6-year-old wasn't two years old when her father Shane Frater, 28, died after being hit by a tree branch as it slid down a hillside in a forestry block near Te Pohue, off the Napier-Taupo Rd.

His wife, Deborah McMillan, said her daughter doesn't quite remember her father.

"We talk about him all the time and there are photos all around. But being so young, she doesn't really have the memories of how much he loved her and how much time he spent with her.

"And she finds it quite hard, especially now you've got Father's Day coming up. At school they're all doing things for Father's Day and she's not quite sure what to do.

"She's thinking 'I wish my dad was here, why isn't my dad here?'. It's pretty unfair on her."

Mrs McMillan tells her story as a Weekend Herald investigation reveals the most dangerous industries to work in - and some of the most dangerous businesses to work for.

Twenty-one companies have been through the courts more than once in the past five years over serious health and safety breaches that have left workers injured or dead.

Unions are shocked at the figures as the Government wrestles with reforms to make working life safer.

Forestry - which claimed Mr Frater's life - remains by far the most dangerous occupation.

For Skyla, birthdays and Christmases are the hardest times.

"He's missed out on so much - her first day of school, all the little things like when she had ballet," Mrs Mcmillan said.

Each year, for his birthday and the anniversary of his death, the mother and daughter go to the park and let off helium balloons with messages on them.

The company Mr Frater worked for, C & R Logging, which has since been dissolved, was not prosecuted.

"I'm pretty annoyed," Ms McMillan said. "There were things that could have been done."

Mrs McMillan, 28, a home-based childcare worker, is backing an inquiry into forestry safety being planned by forest owners and contractors and the Council of Trade Unions.

Labour Minister Simon Bridges has rejected the need for a government inquiry, saying the new workplace safety rules and a new code of practice will make a difference.

Mrs McMillan met Mr Bridges yesterday to share her thoughts on why an inquiry is needed.

"The code of practice doesn't come close to what an inquiry would do," she said.

"It doesn't look at the hours of work these men do or the conditions that they're working in."

Mr Frater's death came as the industry thought it was getting on top of safety issues but a surge in fatalities and serious injuries in the past 19 months has shattered hopes.

Last month, after the sixth death in seven months, the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment told the industry to lift its game.

This week, the ministry began a crackdown on safety breaches at forestry logging sites. Inspectors will visit 330 contracting operations.

Health and safety operations manager Ona de Rooy said: "Where they see imminent danger, they are instructed to immediately close the operation down. The time for talk is over."Additional reporting: Geoff Cumming

- NZ Herald

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