Katie Holland is the Rotorua Daily Post deputy editor

Coroner: Forestry worker not to blame for his death

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PHOTO/FILE
PHOTO/FILE

A coroner has disagreed with a WorkSafe finding that blamed an experienced forestry worker for the accident that caused his own death.

Rotorua Coroner Wallace Bain today released his findings into the death of David Wayne McMurtrie, 49, who died while working in the Houpoto Forest in the Eastern Bay of Plenty in June 2012.

The inquest held in February last year was one of a series of inquests into eight forestry deaths in 2012 and 2013.

Mr McMurtrie, who had 20 years' experience and was a qualified feller and machine operator, was struck by a large branch that had fallen out of a tree behind the tree he had just finished felling.

Coroner Bain said WorkSafe reported Mr McMurtrie had failed to follow some critical rules for safe tree felling. WorkSafe found his employer and the company that engaged the employer had complied with their obligations and concluded "the immediate cause of the accident was Mr McMurtrie failing to identify the particular hazard that tragically killed him", Coroner Bain said.

Mr McMurtrie's wife Donna McMurtrie had brought an application to have her husband's employer prosecuted however the judge found a delay of one year and 11 months for making the application after time had expired was not fair and refused her application. Therefore that case was not heard.

Coroner Bain said the family raised a number of concerns during the inquest concerning safety in the logging operation, the fact there had been previous incidents, the hours of work, the clothing that Mr McMurtrie was wearing as being not adequate in the wet conditions and safety management.

He also highlighted an issue of the communication of Mr McMurtrie's death.

Mr McMurtrie was killed at 10.30am but his wife was not informed until 3pm which caused her "considerable stress".

"The Court agrees with her and that this communication should have been a lot sooner."

Coroner Bain concluded: "Having reviewed all the evidence, the Court does not support the view that Mr McMurtrie is in effect, the author of his own misfortune. Considerable issues are raised by the family and the Counsel for Trade Unions in respect of fatigue and in the Court's view this may well have played a significant part in what occurred," he said.

"The Court, on the balance of probabilities, finds no fault with Mr McMurtie."

Coroner Bain went on to repeat general findings from three inquest findings released on Friday, in which he said the forestry industry was a far safer place to work now than it was when the eight men died.

"The primary driver in highlighting the lack of safety in the forestry industry and the need for accountability and urgent safety reforms has been the CTU and, in particular, Helen Kelly," he said.

He said through Ms Kelly's actions a number of private prosecutions had resulted when MBIE had decided not to prosecute. Almost all had been successful, he said.

Ms Kelly died of cancer last month.

Coroner Bain also acknowledged the work done by the industry and the Government as well as the parents of one of the eight men, Robert Epapara, in particular his stepfather, Rotorua's Wiremu Edmonds.

He said they had "made it their mission in life to speak out and highlight the concerns with a huge number of speaking engagements around the country".

He said families would not have to go through the heartbreaking process of losing a loved one to a preventable death.

"However, as the 2016 deaths show, there needs to be constant vigilance in the sector."

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