Soaring forestry death toll tears at hearts of victim's family

By Andrew Koubaridis

Nine workers have died in forestry accidents this year. Photo / Natalie Slade
Nine workers have died in forestry accidents this year. Photo / Natalie Slade

"Every time we hear another bush accident it rips us to pieces a bit more."

Maryanne Butler-Finlay lost her husband Charles Finlay in a forestry accident in July. His was the seventh forestry-related death of the year and his family hoped he would be the last.

But two more fatalities have taken the death toll to nine - almost double the average of recent years. Last week, David Beamsley died in the Bay of Plenty and Michael Langford was killed in Nelson.

"I cry a lot, especially with the other two people that passed last week. And I don't understand why the Government aren't doing anything ... It keeps happening. How many more deaths does it take before they actually realise something's wrong here?" Mrs Butler-Finlay said.

Each new death brought heartache for her, her 20-year-old son and 9-year-old twin daughters.

This week, amid increasing public concern about the number of deaths, Labour Minister Simon Bridges said the country had an "appalling record" and the high death rate in the industry was unacceptable.

However, the Government has resisted calls so far to regulate the industry. Instead, legislation will be introduced next year that would make forestry owners more responsible for safety throughout their entire supply chain.

Mrs Butler-Finlay told the Herald it was "ludicrous" not to regulate.

"What will it take? Do we have to have half of (timber town) Tokoroa wiped out because of forestry deaths?"

She hoped there would be an independent inquiry.

"There has to be accountability. We're talking about lives here. I know the forestry industry is putting billions of dollars back into the economy which is a great thing, but at the expense of what?"

Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly held a meeting this week with representatives of the Forest Owners Association, which she called "positive".

They promised to initiate a review that she hoped would get underway quickly.

"It's about working through the process, which is very important, but actually what we need is for the Government to regulate about things we know are causing the accidents."

She said the regulations released last year had actually "weakened the industry".

Ms Kelly said the the human cost of the forestry accidents was not confined to the nine men who had died - many others had suffered serious injuries.

"There are over 90 serious harm injuries. There are (workers) airlifted out of forests with severe injuries, severe brain injuries, severe leg injuries, severe back injuries."

Workers in sites around the country had spoken of their fear - and so have their families. "They're very worried. They're very repetitive about what they think the issues are.

"They think the hours are too long, the pay is too low for them to work (a normal day), they need things built into contracts so their employers have space to move in bad weather, they need protecting around productivity pressure, so they can call off the work in bad weather."

There were other issues ranging from flood lighting for night work to protection from the conditions.

She said forestry owners had "stepped up" in recent times to own the problem but there was still a long way to go, and she feared there would be more accidents before the end of the year. "It's still too early to be confident."


A timeline of tragedy

January 11 - Eramiha Pairama, 19. Struck by a tree near Whakatane.

January 17 - John Sanderson, 40. Died after a branch fell on him, severing his leg near Whangarei.

February 18 - Robert Thompson, 43, hit in head by a hook after a rope snapped. Thames area.

March 26 - Robert Epapara, 23. Struck by a tree and crushed while working near Rotorua.

April 22 - Adam Olsson. Hit in head by part of a falling tree near Waitara.

May 6 - Mark Rogan, 45. Died of an infection caused by a piece of wood that flew into his throat.

July 19 - Charles Finlay, 45. Struck on head by a log.

November 26 - David Charles Beamsley, 63, died in logging accident at a site near Murupara.

November 29 - Michael Langford, 28. Pinned between logs near Nelson.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf03 at 21 Dec 2014 08:01:57 Processing Time: 291ms