Forest death sparks call for inquiry

By Gary Hamilton-Irvine

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Two serious local forestry accidents, including the death of a teenager, are being met by a call to heed new safety codes.

The forestry industry has come under fire with calls for the Government to launch an inquiry into the shocking accident rate.

Rotorua MP Todd McClay introduced the Government's new forestry sector safety code last month but said that until the new code was adhered to it was just a set of rules sitting in a bookcase.

Whakatane's Eramyha Eruera Pairama, 19, died on Friday afternoon after being struck by a tree near Taneatua.

Another forestry worker was airlifted to hospital yesterday morning after being hit by a falling branch while felling trees near Tarawera, on the Napier-Taupo Highway.

The 31-year-old worker suffered rib and shoulder injuries.

Mr McClay said the new codes of compliance looked to address reducing serious injuries in the industry.

"From memory, in March this year employers and employees will start meeting at breakfasts and meetings to talk about implementing the code."

He said this was the Government's first change to the safety code in about 10 years.

The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions is renewing its call for an inquiry into the forestry industry.

Council president Helen Kelly said the year had barely started and there had already been two serious incidents and a death in the forestry industry.

"It is not viable for the Government to sit back and allow this type of safety record to go unchecked in our fourth-biggest export industry," she said.

"An inquiry is needed to examine best international practice, look at how poor working conditions in the industry are contributing to the accident rate, and look at what needs to change to make the industry safer."

The council called for an inquiry last year and it was rejected.

"The minister is now on notice that this work is unsafe, and that this industry is not competent to make it safer - each death and accident is further testament to this," Ms Kelly said.

"His response to this call for action and an inquiry is ultimately making a decision on whether or not this safety record is acceptable."

Waiariki Institute of Technology School of Forestry and Primary Industries director Jeremy Christmas said the industry was getting better but any serious accidents or deaths were still too many.

"Farming and agriculture do have quite a sad record but I know there has been an improvement in the last few years."

He said that for accidents to reduce, strong support was needed from employers and educators about teaching safety procedures in the forest.

Mr Christmas said keeping forestry drug and alcohol-free was the other big safety challenge for the industry.

Government figures show at least 100 forestry workers were injured in the Bay of Plenty region in the past five years.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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