Forest safety standards are under renewed attack by the Council of Trade Unions which says the nation's forestry death rate is shameful.

CTU president Helen Kelly says the local forestry death rate is 34 times higher than the UK's.

But her comparison has been labelled "naive and uninformed" by Forest Owners Association health and safety committee chairman Sheldon Drummond of Gisborne.

"The New Zealand industry is not comparable in terms of size, terrain, tree-size or mechanisation," he said.


Mr Drummond said forest safety statistics included a wide variety of accidents relating to tree felling, such as on farms and in private backyards, as well as plantation forests.

It was unfortunate the CTU was striking out at what he labelled New Zealand's leading health and safety innovator.

The CTU said the death rate in the UK forestry industry was 10.4 per 100,000 workers, compared to New Zealand's 343 per 100,000.

In a statement, Ms Kelly said New Zealand's death toll was 34 times higher than the UK and wages ranked fourth-lowest of 12 comparison countries.

The CTU drew cost comparisons from a 2006 study showing New Zealand's hourly compensation rates were at least a third lower than Norway, Finland, Sweden, UK, Australia, Canada, US and Japan.

The study shows Hong Kong, Taiwan and Korea are the only countries paying less than New Zealand.

Ms Kelly said the industry's "one trick pony" of drug testing was insufficient to end the workplace toll.

While drug testing was important, the industry needed to take into account other factors to reduce forest fatalities, such as training issues, trained health and safety representatives and reasonable work hours.


She called the accident rate in New Zealand forests "dreadful" compared to international safety standards and rubbished the Forest Industry Contractors Association claims that the sector was far more safety conscious than other sectors.

There were 30 deaths nationally in the sector in the past six years, including at least four this year, and the industry's denial and constant excuses were part of the problem, she said.

"There have been three deaths in the Wharerata Forest in the past 18 months, with strong coroner recommendations made at least in regards to one of them.

"The response when challenged about a death is often to blame the nature of the industry. But the fact that other countries are doing so much better means this excuse is weak.

"Employers who recognise they have a problem would not assert high safety standards when the record so blatantly speaks for itself."

Mr Drummond - who is general manager of Juken New Zealand's East Coast forests - said the three fatalities in the Wharerata ranges, south of Gisborne, in such a short space of time were "most unfortunate".

"Huge" efforts were being put into making the workplace more safety conscious, he said.

The union should be grateful for the forest industry's "hard-line" drug and alcohol free policy, he said.

"The vast majority of our workforce now speak openly about how they are proud to be working in a drug and alcohol-free environment."

Forest owners are working with ACC and the former Department of Labour to achieve safety goals outlined in the Forestry Sector Action Plan 2010-13.

Figures provided by CTU stated there were about 7000 workers in the New Zealand forest industry compared to 14,000 in the UK.