Forestry worker 'lived life to the fullest'

By Abby Gillies

Robert Epapara. Photo / supplied
Robert Epapara. Photo / supplied

The family of a 23-year-old forestry worker killed by a falling tree yesterday say he died doing what he loved and knew it was a risky job.

Rotorua father-of-one Robert Epapara was working a private forestry road off State Highway 30 near Rotorua when he was hit by a tree being felled by a fellow worker just before 3pm.

He died at the scene.

It is the third fatal forestry incident this year. Four other workers have been seriously injured in other accidents.

Mr Epapara's devastated family are mourning the loss of the outgoing and giving father.

"We're just in shock,'' said his mother Marsella Edmonds.

"He was just so happy - he loved life and lived it to the fullest. I want him to be remembered for his huge heart.''

Her son had known he wanted to work in the bush like his father since school.

"He was adamant he was going to fell trees. he loved the bush.''

Mr Epapara, who lived with his partner and three-year-old son, was safety-conscious and knew the risks of the job, said Mrs Edmonds.

"It can be an unpredictable industry.''

She believed there were appropriate safety procedures and training in place in the industry, but others say not enough is being done to protect workers.

NZ Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly described the latest death as "an absolute tragedy''.

"It also shows that the new forestry standards are insufficient to make any impact on this disgraceful situation''.

"The rate of injuries in forestry is not improving despite the assertions of the forest owners, with last year being one of the worst in the last 10 years, and this year shaping up to be the same,'' she said.

The CTU has called for an inquiry into the industry to look at the causes of the incidents and possible changes to improve safety.

In January Eramyha Pairama, 19, after being struck by a tree near Taneatua.

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

First Union spokesman Robert Reid said the latest death "must serve as a wake-up call for better health and safety standards in the industry''.

"We support the Council of Trade Unions' call for an inquiry into forest safety. Every workplace death in New Zealand is preventable. We cannot accept that current health and safety standards in the forest industries are working, because they clearly are not,'' he said.

Between 2008 and 2012 there were 21 deaths in the industry and another three this year.

New Zealand's forestry death toll is 34 times higher than The UK.

- APNZ

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