Logging company fined $60k over death

Robert Epapara.
Robert Epapara.

A logging company has been fined $60,000 and ordered to pay reparation of $75,000 following the death of a forestry worker in Rotorua last March.

Robert Epapara was hit and killed by a tree felled by another crew member in the Waione Forest near Lake Rotoiti on March 26.

The company responsible, Complete Logging Limited, was sentenced at the Rotorua District Court today for the for health and safety failings which led to Mr Epapara's death.

The company had previously pleaded guilty to one charge under the Health and Safety in Employment Act of failing take all practicable steps to ensure Mr Epapara was not exposed to the risk of injury during tree felling operations.

WorkSafe New Zealand, the Government's workplace health and safety regulator, said the forestry industry had important lessons to learn from Mr Epapara's tragic death.

Health and safety operations general manager Ona de Rooy said there was no plan for the day Mr Epapara died laid out by the company.

"There was no `tailgate meeting' to discuss that day's work and there was no radio provided for Mr Epapara, a tree feller, to communicate with others.

"These are forestry basics that are fundamental to forestry safety and Complete Logging's failures led to Mr Epapara's death.''

Forestry companies must abide by the Approved Code of Practice for Forest Harvesting, Ms de Rooy said.

"If Complete Logging Ltd had applied it, the chances are Mr Epapara would be here today. Instead, a family and a community grieves over a preventable death.''

The forestry industry had an appalling year in 2013 with 10 men workplace deaths, she said.

Ms de Rooy said WorkSafe NZ's current programme assessing the safety of cable hauling operations was uncovering alarming systemic issues in the industry which contractors and the forestry companies employing them must address.

"Nearly half of the 162 assessments we've done have resulted in enforcement action (203 in total), and we had to shut down 15 operations because of serious, imminent danger to workers.

The Ministry of Justice was last year investigating whether corporate manslaughter charges, currently in place Britain and Australia, could be introduced in New Zealand.

However Prime Minister John Key told 3News there was a general belief they hadn't been successful in the UK and were difficult to prosecute.

- APNZ

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