Father of worker crushed to death wants changes to workplace safety

10:10 am on 18 February 2020

A grieving father wants a crackdown on logging companies, saying they should have to prove they are safe before they are allowed to hire workers.

logging pine generic

Photo: 123RF

Doug Laing's son, Les, died three years ago when he was crushed between a shipping container and an excavator.

His employer, Guru NZ, was sentenced yesterday in the Manukau District Court and must pay almost half a million dollars in fines and reparations.

In September 2017, Les was helping put logs in a container that was so warped the doors wouldn't close. The workers decided to use a large excavator to try to slam the doors shut. When the machine's heavy grapple hand came unhooked, Les was trapped between it and the shipping container, fatally crushed him.

His father said the family would never be the same - he was angry and he wanted change.

"The loss of Les' life would be in vain if there weren't significant improvements across the board in attitudes towards workplace safety," Laing said.

He had this warning for employers.

"There'll be a lot of employers, particularly in Auckland industrial sites, that have to [ask whether] they want to get hit by fines, and have the guilt of having a staff member that loses their life, or do they want to wake up now and get their A into G."

Guru NZ has been fined $330,750, and must pay $110,000 to the family for the emotional harm caused.

WorkSafe, which brought the charges, said the work practices were unsafe and cost someone their life. Chief inspector Steve Kelly said no-one should have been within seven metres of the excavator while it was in use.

"The risks of crushing injuries are well-known in the logging industry. Workers on foot in these environments should not be in close proximity to any kind of heavy machinery," Kelly said.

Fifteen forestry and logging workers have been killed on the job since Les Laing's death.

Richard Wagstaff

Richard Wagstaff. Photo: Supplied

Richard Wagstaff from the Council of Trade Unions said there continued to be too many serious and fatal accidents in the industry.

"What we hear from forestry workers that while there is some attention given to health and safety, it tends to be trumped by a drive for efficiency and higher productivity, so people are pushed hard to get the logs out and the work done," Wagstaff said.

In sentencing, the Judge Richard Earwaker, told the court the company expressed remorse and had been voluntarily sending money to Laing's family. Guru NZ had also accepted responsibility for what happened and made changes.

But Laing was wondering how the company that employed his son was able to operate like it was in the first place.

"The political powers really have to look. Is the current legislation actually doing the job, or are there some holes in that? You've got to have a warrant of fitness to drive a car down the road, but do you have to have a warrant of fitness to start a business at an industrial site?"

Even if there was no law change he hoped it was a wake up call for the rest of the industry.

"That's really not what you want to go through - have someone die under your watch, in circumstances where you could have prevented it ... and pay a big fine as well. Employers need to be right out there making sure their places are safe. I certainly want to see things improve."

The company, Guru NZ, couldn't be contacted.