A union body leading prosecutions over the deaths of forestry
workers has applauded a coroner for tackling the problem,
which it described as unsustainable and intolerable.
Rotorua Coroner Wallace Bain yesterday opened the first of
eight inquests relating to forestry deaths over recent years,
with hopes the step would prove "the beginning of a path" to
prevent further tragedies.
Dr Bain slammed New Zealand's health and safety record as
extremely poor and cited damning figures over our
Ten forestry deaths were recorded last year - a rate seven
times the average of Australia's.
While Australia had 6800 forestry workers and Canada had
29,000 over the past six years, compared with 4500 in New
Zealand, our fatality rate was four times that of both
countries for the period.
More than 30 workers were killed between 2007 and 2013, and
the rate of ACC claims for work-related injuries in the
industry was six times the rate for all sectors, he said.
Among those who died were Robert Thompson, killed in Thames
in February last year, and Reece Reid, crushed by a falling
tree in Pongaroa, Tararua, in November 2012.
Inquests into both cases began yesterday, with Dr Bain
hearing from Michael Thomas, who was supervising Mr Reid when
he died, and Murray Clunie, whose company Great Lake
Harvesting employed the gang and was later prosecuted.
Both men grew emotional when recounting the circumstances of
the 23-year-old's death, which came after he began felling
trees without first waiting for Mr Thomas to reach him.
While Mr Thomas was operating a loader, Mr Reid felled one
tree, then a second, which became "hung up" against another,
before starting a third. When the first tree fell, Mr Thomas
was making his way toward Mr Reid, who had received five
days' training and had been instructed not to begin work
After the second fell, Mr Thomas leapt from his machine and
began running toward the trainee, stumbling at times, but
could not reach him.
The hung-up tree had crashed down, crushing him.
"I wish he had never started that morning and waited for me,"
Mr Thomas said.
Mr Thomas told the inquest he believed there was nothing he
could have done to prevent the death, and disagreed that Mr
Reid should have been under more direct supervision, given he
was close by.
But Dr Bain questioned why Mr Thomas did not get off the
machine or try to communicate with Mr Reid.
Council of Trade Unions president Helen Kelly, whose group
will be taking private prosecutions against four other
companies, said the case was a disgrace.
Ms Kelly was pleased Dr Bain was holding inquests into the
deaths, some of which had been adjourned until newly filed
criminal prosecutions had been concluded.
She expected the inquests would be a "piece in the puzzle" of
solving the problem - something she believed could happen
swiftly if the Government imposed stricter regulations and
companies heeded recommendations to come from the inquest and
an industry-led review.
Since 2008, there had been 900 recorded "serious harm"
incidents and 32 deaths, but only a dozen prosecutions.
Ms Kelly said poor working conditions, a lack of training and
not enough investment in safety infrastructure were among the
Since the CTU announced it would be prosecuting M&A Cross
over the death of Charles Finlay, killed while working in
bush near Kinleith last year, emails had flowed in with
offers of assistance, she said.
"These prosecutions are now very much public prosecutions.
People have had enough."
David Beamsley. Killed near Murupara November 2013.
Charles Finlay. Killed near Tokoroa July 2013.
Robert Epapara. Killed near Rotorua March 2013.
Robert Thompson. Killed near Thames February 2013.
Eramiha Pairama. Killed near Whakatane January 2013.
Reece Reid. Killed in Tararua November 2012.
David McMurtrie. Killed near Opotiki June 2012.
- Jamie Morton of the New Zealand Herald