2 Dec 2013

Restructurings linked to forestry accident rate

9:42 pm on 2 December 2013

Forestry contractors say the restructuring of the Accident Compensation Corporation and the reorganisation of safety inspection services have contributed to an increase in logging injuries and deaths.

Two forestry workers were killed on the job in Nelson and the central North Island last week, bringing the total number of deaths in the industry this year to nine.

The Forest Industry Contractors Association says restructuring has caused a delay in inspections and in accident prevention work in forests. It says funding for joint safety programmes was withheld for 18 months and is only now resuming.

Chief executive John Stulen says moves by ACC to reduce levies by 17% will mean less money for accident prevention work.

The association is welcoming current Government inspections of logging sites and the action it is taking in shutting down dangerous operations. However, it says forestry inspections have been neglected for years.

Mr Stulen says the industry does not know how many inspectors are used to monitor forestry contractors - but it is obvious that there aren't enough of them.

"The inspectors have been under-resourced and a number of them left the inspectorate because they were so frustrated by, in actual fact, two or three years of restructuring."

Mr Stulen says those inspectors were spending so much time on internal matters that they were not doing their job. He says it is great more inspections are being carried out, but he does not think they can keep it up.

"I guarantee you the rate of inspections they are doing now is not sustainable with their current inspectorate workforce."

Safety inquiry ruled out

The deaths this year have prompted calls for the Government to do more to reduce the high accident rate in the industry. However, Prime Minister John Key on Monday ruled out an inquiry, saying it is not in crisis.

"We're not convinced that the inquiry would actually do that much. I think in the end, we've got a new regulation with workplace safety, we're doing all of these things.

"What is better is actually to focus on what are the knowns, which is we need to lift safety standards there and right across the board we need to deal with the issues that are there."

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment is looking at the industry and says action needs to be taken now to prevent further deaths.

Health and safety group manager Ona de Rooy told Radio New Zealand's Nine to Noon programme on Monday that the ministry has issued 182 safety enforcement notices in its investigation so far and the time for talk is over.

"Two more families lost loved ones last week, two more communities had key people within their communities killed. It's really important that we move past talk, we need to be out there taking action and working with the industry now to change behaviour."

Company calls for zero harm in workplace

New Zealand's largest forestry management company is calling on its contractors to aim to reach a target of zero harm in the workplace.

Concern over the number of deaths and injuries prompted Hancock Forest Management to call an urgent meeting of its contractors in Tokoroa on Monday morning. The workers who died last week were not employed by the company.

About 80 people attended the 20-minute meeting, each coming away with a two-page health and safety handout.

In a copy obtained by Radio New Zealand, Hancock Forest Management says the goal of zero harm is contentious and could easily be dismissed as impossible in an industry that processes 25 million tonnes of wood a year. However, it says a goal of anything less would be a failure in its duty of care.

In a written statement, general manager Bill McCullum says workplace accidents are an industry-wide issue and every person in the sector has a role to play in minimising them.