Stephanie is a senior reporter for the Rotorua Daily Post.

Forestry death findings released

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Messages of safety in the forestry sector appear to be "getting through" though it is a concern there has been a rash of deaths in the industry already this year, a coroner has found.

The coronial findings into the death of Robert Epapara were released yesterday following the completion of seven other inquests into the deaths of eight men working in the forestry industry.

The eight inquests were grouped together deliberately because of the commonality between the sector in which they were killed.

As well as Mr Epapara, inquests have been held for George Mahanga, David Wayne McMurtrie, Reece Joseph Reid, Eramiha Eruera Pairama, Robert Ian Thompson, Charles Harrison Finlay and David Charles Beamsley.

Mr Epapara, 23, died after being struck by a tree felled by another crew member in the Waione Forest, near Lake Rotoiti, on March 26, 2013.

In the findings Rotorua coroner Wallace Bain said the circumstances of the deaths raised important public issues and concern as to the high rate of deaths in the forestry inustry.

Dr Bain also noted that since the inquest into Mr Epapara's death, the Independent Forestry Safety Review was released (October 2014) and the Government undertook an overhaul of the Health & Safety Employment Act 1992, resulting in the Health & Safety at Work Act 2015 which came into force last month.

He said it seemed as a result of the publicity, inquests, court prosecutions and the reviews and new legislations, that the message was getting through and safety had "dramatically improved".

WorkSafe figures for fatalities in the forestry industry showed the "reduction in deaths in dramatic", Dr Bain said.

In 2014 there was one recorded death, three in 2015 and four so far this year.

"It is of concern that there is this rash of deaths this year, especially after all the publicity and education in the sector. Clearly there is still a lot to do if New Zealand is to reduce its workplace forestry deaths permanently."

Dr Bain said the forestry industry was now a safer place to work than it was before the deaths of the eight men.

"The industry is now a far safer place to work and families will not have to go through the heartbreaking process of losing a loved one when that death was preventable... However the 2016 deaths show there needs to be constant vigilance in the sector."

Recommendations made by Dr Bain include endorsing the inclusion of the Independent Forestry Safety Review and the import of the new Work Place Safety Legislation.

Dr Bain also stated it had become apparent that there was a need for more specificity in the workplace environment.

Specific recommendations will follow for Mr Pairama, Mr Finlay and Mr McMurtrie.

- Rotorua Daily Post

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