19 Jul 2013

Safety crackdown after sixth forestry death

9:53 pm on 19 July 2013

The Government says it will work harder to ensure all logging contractors in New Zealand follow workplace safety guidelines following a sixth death in the forestry industry this year.

A 45-year-old man was killed by a falling log near the Kinleith forestry area in Tokora about 5am on Friday.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment says the industry has to strengthen its commitment to worker safety. It is sending inspectors to every logging site in the country over the next three months and promises it will shut down dangerous operations.

Health and safety operations general manager Ona de Rooy said there are about 330 logging contractors in New Zealand - many with multiple crews - and visits would be made to at least one from each contractor.

The Forest Industry Contractors Association supports the move to make the industry safer. Chief executive John Stulen said they had a very good safety record in the three years up to 2011, but it's clear that something has gone wrong in the past eight to nine months.

Mr Stulen told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme there would need to be more than nine inspectors to cover all the work sites.

Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly said the Government's announcement doesn't go far enough and an inquiry is needed. Ms Kelly said fatal accidents like that on Friday are being caused by fragmentation of the industry, long hours and a lack of training and enforcement.

Gisborne City Councilor Manu Caddie has been calling for an independent inquiry into the industry, but is sceptical of the Government's plan.

"Well, it's a step in the right direction, I suppose. It's good to hear that they are starting to take this industry more seriously, but it's the regulations that we need to look at as much as it is the contractors themselves. What are the rules that those contractors have to work within, and whether or not they're adhering to them is another story."

Roger Callow, whose son Ken was crushed by a rotten tree as he was working in the Wharerata forest near Gisborne in 2011, told Checkpoint the work is driven by the need to make money - and safety is secondary.

"We just feel so much for those families. Nobody really seems to be doing anything about it - the machine just keeps rolling on. Things that aren't being taken into consideration is general fatigue amongst the guys, the weather conditions they're working in. I don't think anything's gonna change that."

Mr Callow said all groups involved in the industry - including the Government - need to get together and sort the problems out.