13 Dec 2021

Coroner recommends tougher safety rules after forestry worker's death

2:21 pm on 13 December 2021

The father of a forestry worker killed on the job says a coroner's findings could herald a shake-up for the industry.

logging pine generic

Photo: 123RF

Coroner Donna Llewell is recommending stricter safety rules for the dangerous job of retrieving steel cables used to haul logs off hillsides.

Niko Brooking-Hodgson, who was 24, was hit by a flying 9kg shackle on a cable in a forest block near Napier in 2016. It had become snagged, and swung back at him after being pulled free by force.

His father, Richard Brooking, said coroner's recommendations were the most significant for improving the forestry code of practice in almost a decade and changes should be made mandatory.

His extended East Coast whānau had to struggle for years just to get the inquest.

"Niko's whānau have endured the pain of their loss and waited patiently since his death in 2016 to reach this point," Llewell said in her report released today.

Worksafe did not prosecute the logging company, DG Glenn Logging, over Brooking-Hodgson's death. The family are dissatisfied with the Worksafe investigation and want it reopened.

The coroner looked at whether the use of a straw line - a lightweight rope that helps retrieve the cable - might have prevented the wire rope and shackle snagging. The inquest was told not all crews use the lines and that their use adds 5 to 10 minutes to an operation.

The inquest heard conflicting evidence on whether using a straw line would have prevented Brooking-Hodgson's death.

The coroner recommended the use be made mandatory, subject to that being safe, and to add this to the forestry code of practice.

Her report recommends officials give "urgent priority" to upgrading forestry regulations on hazardous work.

The Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE) said it would will look at these regulations after it new rules around plant and structures were approved next year.

During his evidence Brooking identified a disconnect, in that a significant number of forestry workers are Māori and come from rural communities, which is far removed from Wellington where decisions ultimately seem to be made in his view, the coroner's report said.

Brooking is working for Worksafe on improving forestry safety.

Worksafe said it was reviewing the forestry code and would be certain to engage more with workers as it did so.

The 2012 code has been widely criticised as patchy.

"Prior to Niko's death, the forestry industry did not perceive line retrieval as a specific risk, nor was training provided specifically for that operation," Llewell said.

The code was not overhauled despite a big safety push between 2012 and 2016 arising from coronial hearings, and an independent review. Instead, it became subsumed by other major changes to health and safety regulations and legislation.

Brooking's view was "there are many different rules and those rules are not clear", the coroner said.

Just getting hold of a hard copy of the code could be difficult, and getting it online was no option at many forestry sites that were internet blackspots.

"I am hopeful that these findings bring closure for them [the family] and that the recommendations promoted may bring about lasting change and improvement in forestry health and safety," Llewell said.

"Mr Brooking said at the inquest even one death is too many in the forestry industry, and families should have confidence that their young men come home out of the bush safely every night."

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