Family's plea for forest safety

By Greg Taipari

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Marsella and Lee Edmonds say health and safety in the forestry industry needs to be reviewed after their son Robert Arapeta Epapara was killed in a forestry incident.

Affectionately known as Rob or Robo, the 23-year-old died instantly after he was struck by a falling tree while working in a forest block near Lake Rotoiti last week.

Mr Edmonds said the loss of their son had brought about "unimaginable pain" for his family but they held no animosity towards their son's workmate who claimed responsibility for the falling tree.

However, Mr Edmonds said questions needed to be answered around work safety practices within the industry.

"I used to log in the bush. I was doing the same job as my son. ... We are a very proud bushman family.

"So the [bush] is not something strange to our family, we hunt in it, we work in it and it is a part of us as a family."

For the last three years Mr Edmonds has worked alongside ACC and some of the forestry companies to deliver health and safety messages to workers. "I've probably worked with 42 crews throughout New Zealand, pleading and sending messages to them to prevent this kind of thing from happening ...

"The very thing I've tried to help others to prevent has struck right in the heart of our home and that's the reality for my wife and I," Mr Edmonds said.

"This [incident] is tender for me because I was the one who taught Rob how to use a chainsaw."

Mr Edmonds believed there was too much pressure placed on crews to get their work done as quickly as possible.

"In a nutshell, a tree [felled] by a friend has landed on top of our son," Mr Edmonds said. "Now there are a whole lot of bush code rules and regulations around it ... obviously if a tree has fallen on top of him then [a] rule was broken. It's as simple as that."

The father of five said he didn't want his son's death to be in vain.

"I want to plead to every wife, every child and every bushman that is in this industry. The bush takes no prisoners ... Risk-takers are widow-makers."

Mrs Edmonds said she had struggled to come to terms with the loss of her son.

"Something has definitely gone wrong, there's no two ways about that. A choice has been made that has killed my son and it wasn't the right choice."

Mrs Edmonds said since the incident their family had spent time with Rob's workmate and his family and they didn't hold any resentment towards him.

"He came and sat here with all his family and [a family spokesman] got up and spoke about how broken their family was, how shattered they were," Mr Edmonds said

"I had an opportunity to reply back to the family and I said to them: 'Please don't carry the blame, don't carry the hurt because your wife and children need you'."

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment's investigation into the incident is ongoing and could take several months to be completed.

- ROTORUA DAILY POST

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