Forestry inquest: Mum wants apology

By Katee Shanks

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RELIEF: Selina Eruera is hugged by her friend Robyn at the conclusion of the inquest. PHOTO/KATEE SHANKS
RELIEF: Selina Eruera is hugged by her friend Robyn at the conclusion of the inquest. PHOTO/KATEE SHANKS

Selina Eruera has been able to move forward since her son's death in 2013.

Speaking to the Rotorua Daily Post at the conclusion of a coroner's inquest into the forestry death of 19-year-old Eramiha Pairama, Mrs Eruera said she was focussed on moving forward not going backward.

Part of her healing has been fighting a good fight to have the forestry industry, an industry her son had been working in since he was 16, regulated and monitored to prevent more families going through what she has.

She remembers her son as happy-go-lucky and cheerful. "He is Whanau Apanui and Ngati Porou and had a lot of respect for his elders.

"He studied forestry at school and, I can't say for certain he loved his job, but I know he loved the money and the independence it brought. He was forever buying people things."

The inquest was held before Coroner Dr Wallace Bain, at Te Uru Taumatua in Taneatua at the request of Mrs Eruera.

Ten forestry deaths were recorded in New Zealand in 2013. Mr Pairama's was the first of the year, on January 11, near Whakatane.

Senior Constable Michael Lawton told the inquest Mr Pairama was the "breaker-out" for Puketi Logging. His job was to attach strops and wire cable to a stem so they could be pulled up or down a valley by a hauler.

The crew was working in a block near Sisam's Valley when Mr Pairama was struck in the chest and face by a log. He died as a result of the injuries.

Donald Calder, a Worksafe New Zealand investigator, was questioned extensively by Council of Trade Union counsel Tim Braithwaite about the loss of Mr Pairama's high visibility singlet. The singlet was an exhibit and went missing during the investigation. It has never been found.

Mr Calder was also asked whether he believed Mr Pairama would have been suffering fatigue when he died, as the crew had started at 6.30am and worked until 12.30pm without a break. Mr Calder said there was no evidence of fatigue.

Questions also arose about process of the Worksafe New Zealand investigation into Mr Pairama's death, including the re-writing of a report.

Workplace New Zealand recommended not to prosecute Puketi Logging over Mr Pairama's death although a private prosecution by the Council of Trade Union's Helen Kelly found Puketi failed to provide Mr Pairama with a safe working environment.

Mrs Eruera was the last to give evidence. She read from a formal complaint she had made to Worksafe New Zealand. "I want his death looked at from a holistic view. The view shows loopholes in more than one of the systems that are in place."

Mrs Eruera spoke about workplace bullying and said her son had been called "trout" on the job - a name she found inappropriate. Mrs Eruera said her son had received "a hit to his face" during the crew's first day back at work after the Christmas break and believed he hadn't said anything about it for fear of losing his job.

"I would like acknowledgement of the mistakes made throughout the investigation, I would like changes so other families don't have to deal with what I have, I would like the industry to be regulated and monitored so this doesn't keep happening, and I would like a direct apology."

Coroner Bain reserved his findings before thanking hapu and iwi for providing a spectacular place for the inquest.

He also paid tribute to Helen Kelly for her role in New Zealand's response to forestry deaths.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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