A forestry company boss is today on trial for the manslaughter of a young worker killed by a falling tree in a case the defence says has political undertones.

In December 2013, 20-year-old Lincoln Kidd was crushed to death on a forestry block next to State Highway 1 between Levin and Foxton in Horowhenua.

He was working for Paul Robert Burr's contracting company.

Burr, 47, has pleaded not guilty to Mr Kidd's manslaughter and one charge laid under the Health and Safety in Employment Act over the death and is on trial in the High Court at Palmerston North.

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The Crown says his actions were directly responsible for his young employee losing his life and he was "indifferent to the risk of harm" on the site.

The defence disputes every aspect of the Crown case and has questioned the conduct of workplace safety investigator WorkSafe NZ, which it accused of wanting to "lay down a marker" after the Pike River Mine disaster.

The sensational allegations were made by defence lawyer Jonathan Temm in his brief opening to the jury.

"I think Paul Burr is that marker," Mr Temm said.

"The decision to prosecute Mr Burr in this case has not been made solely on the basis of the evidence. The defence says to you that one of the issues in this trial is the role of the new workplace state regulator in workplace safety, WorkSafe NZ, and in this trial we've going to look at the conduct of the regulator and how they've gone about their investigation."

Mr Temm also said Burr didn't know Mr Kidd was behind him.

Other issues to arise would be why Mr Kidd was there when he was supposed to be at a log-loading point and would have seen the machine in operation.

In the Crown opening, prosecutor Ben Vanderkolk said: "[Mr Kidd] died of extensive compressive injuries to his head, chest and back caused by a falling tree. The tree has been felled by the defendant, Mr Paul Burr, who at the time had over 25 years of forestry experience."

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The Crown says "in a major departure of the duty of care owed to Mr Kidd", Burr failed to find out where Mr Kidd was when he cut down the tree, using a 29-tonne Volvo machine.

What's known as the two-tree rule - "a cardinal rule of forestry" - wasn't observed. This dictates nobody on the site should be closer to a machine operator than twice the length of the tree being felled.

Instead Burr wrongly assumed he knew where a high-viz clad Mr Kidd was and had no idea he was only 7m away from the Volvo machine when a tree fell in a different direction to that expected.

"In our scenario of man, machine and environment, Mr Burr is the one that failed," Mr Vanderkolk said.

"The Crown says he's required to exercise care and diligence continuously. There's not a moment in time in which there can be a lapse because a lapse, as it turns out in this case, has fatal consequences."

And to illustrate Burr's alleged lack of care about health and safety risks he told police hazards were only discussed "as we got to them".

"It's a significant and telling statement of omission," Mr Vanderkolk said.

The Crown is expected to call 33 witnesses and later this week the jury will likely visit the site of the death, an iwi-owned forestry block.

Shane Perritt, a forestry adviser with more than 30 years' experience in the industry, did two audits of Paul Burr's company in 2013 and 2014.

The company was then working on a site in Waitarere - a separate contract to the one for the land on which Mr Kidd died.

"In terms of the way they operated, things looked pretty good. They were risk and hazard aware. There's nothing in there to indicate there were things either dangerous or wrong," Mr Perritt said of the 2013 audit.

He pointed out a couple of areas that needed improvement, including following the process of identifying hazards contained in the manual Burr used.

Burr had no problem with saying he needed to fix such areas, Mr Perritt said.Burr's company was employed at Waitarere for a year until June 2014.

Its production- thinning contract was not renewed and the health and safety manager for the company that runs that site said the manslaughter charge played a part.

Wayne Dempster told the court he wondered if Burr was in the right state of mind to continue harvesting."It's a high-risk and dangerous environment."

The trial, before Justice Brendan Brown, is scheduled for three weeks.