The tree that fell and killed a trainee forestry worker near Bulls in 2018 was brought down by high winds, a Coroner's report has revealed, following a inquiry which questioned whether the tree should have been allowed to remain standing in the first place.
Feilding man Levi Dylan Goodwin, 26, was killed in the incident on July 9, 2018, after suffering fatal head, spinal and chest injuries.
Goodwin was an employee of Boyd Contracting Limited, owned by experienced forestry worker and Goodwin's father-in-law Aaron Boyd.
The company was contracted to carry out ground-based logging at the site on behalf of John Turkington Ltd.
While he had been working in forestry for only a matter of months at the time of his death, Goodwin was that day working with a number of colleagues experienced in the forestry sector, including Boyd and co-workers Daniel Gavin and Shane Goldsworthy.
According to the report released by Coroner Tracey Fitzgibbon on Thursday, Goodwin was working on a forestry site on Pukehou Rd in Bulls when bad weather struck the area.
At 7.30am on July 9, 2018, an employee meeting was held to determine the days' work.
Boyd described the day "as a nice morning with no winds" but said there were wind gusts forecast for later in the day.
At around 1.50pm, Boyd observed dark clouds in the distance and decided to cease work on the site.
Gavin walked back to his vehicle, and waited in the driver's seat for Goodwin and Goldsworthy to return.
As Goodwin was about to enter the vehicle, the tree fell and landed on him, causing injuries so severe it resulted in death.
At the rear of the vehicle, Goldsworthy suffered serious head injuries as a result of the fallen tree, while Gavin was trapped in the cab of the vehicle before being freed by emergency services.
The Coroner's report found that around the time of the tree collapse, wind speeds at the nearby Ohakea Air Force base had reached 80km/h.
In WorkSafe's investigation of the incident, a forestry expert concluded due to the terrain of the site, it is possible that the wind was more severe at the property.
Death was preventable - WorkSafe
In her report, Fitzgibbon cited the WorkSafe investigation into the death, which sought the opinion of forestry experts.
At the time of the incident, a skid pad, an area where felled logs are dragged to await transport, was found to be waterlogged and deemed unusable.
A second and third skid pad were subsequently set up. It was decided that two trees, deemed 'pivot trees' standing in the middle of the third skid pad should remain for the duration of the work, in an effort to ensure extracted logs did not roll and damage nearby structures or fences.
It was one of these trees that later proved to be fatal.
After seeking the view forestry expert Leon Basher, WorkSafe concluded that while the use of pivot trees is an approved practice, the management of the risks associated with the trees was inadequate, and that workers were exposed to the potential hazard of the trees falling in high winds and striking them.
Both Boyd Contracting Ltd and John Turkington Ltd did not agree with this position, and stated to the Coroner that the use of the pivot trees was warranted and the death was simply the result of a "sudden freak weather event".
However, both companies did acknowledge that as a result of the incident they had become more vigilant in the management of trees and the safety of employees.
Fitzgibbon concluded that while, if the tree was felled earlier Goodwin would not have died, it was her belief that the company would not knowingly leave hazardous trees on site, and that they were satisfied their risk assessments had been adequate.
Fitzgibbon added appropriate steps had been taken by both companies subsequent to the incident, and no further recommendations were made.