'Raft' of safety breaches before worker's death

There was a culture of acceptance of the "huge raft" of health and safety breaches at a forestry contractor company before a young worker was killed, an inquest has heard.

Reece Joseph Reid died on November 27, 2012 while felling trees for Taupo-based Great Lakes Harvesting company at a forestry block near Pongaroa, south of Dannevirke. He was working unsupervised when a hung tree - one he had been cut but was resting above on another tree - fell down and killed him.

The two-day inquest into the death of the 23-year-old adjourned today at the Coroner's Court in Rotorua before Coroner Wallace Bain.

WorkSafe New Zealand Lynda West was the final witness to be called and said there were several breaches of the Health and Safety in Employment Act made by the company.

These included inadequate supervision of Mr Reid who only had days' experience tree felling and failing to report within 24 hours of tree felling to WorkSafe NZ.

There was also a lack of proper working hours with the crew having to be picked up at 4.30am, driving two hours to the forestry site, finishing at 3.30pm before driving another two hours back home. Backpacker accommodation closer to the site was offered to the workers but they would have to pay for it themselves.

Mr Reid had also driven the work van despite being a disqualified driver and two weeks after he started had not been given the proper safety footwear required, which the crew also needed to reimburse the company for.

Mrs West said the day of Mr Reid's death was not the first time he was left unsupervised felling trees. According to health and safety legislation, he needed "close one-on-one supervision" while still undergoing training.

His supervisor Michael Thomas gave evidence yesterday that he was in direct sight of Mr Reid but was working on a loader about 100m away from him. He and company director Murray Clunie said during the inquest specific instructions were given to Mr Reid not to start felling until Mr Thomas joined him but Mrs West said there was no evidence to support that Mr Reid disregarded instructions.

"It wasn't out of character for Mr Reid to be working on his own while Mike was working on the loader," she said.

An employee from another forestry company had submitted a critical report of Great Lake Harvesting's practices saying he didn't want "cowboy operators like Murray working in this industry".

Mr Clunie denied yesterday that he had a "flippant" attitude towards health and safety, which was supported by Mrs West, but said he did lack respect of the policies which was reflected throughout the company.

In October, Great Lake Harvesting was fined $67,500 and ordered to pay $60,000 in reparation for failing to take all practicable steps to keep Mr Reid safe.

The inquest was adjourned to allow Dr Bain to receive expert industry advice.

- Dana Kinita of the Rotorua Daily Post

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