Another death in New Zealand's forestry industry has
prompted the Council of Trade Unions to again call for an
inquiry into the safety standards of New Zealand's fourth
largest export industry.
Whakatane man Eramyha Eruera Pairama (19) was killed when he
was struck by a tree during forestry work in Taneatua, last
week. His death has been referred to the coroner. And this
week coroner reports have been released for two other
forestry deaths, one for a Hawkes Bay man and one for a
CTU president Helen Kelly says the year barely started and
there were two serious accidents and a death in what she
calls the most dangerous industry in New Zealand. It was not
viable for the Government to sit back and allow that type of
safety record to go unchecked, she said. An inquiry was
needed to examine best international practice, look at how
poor working conditions in the industry were contributing to
accidents and investigate what needed to change to make the
In November, the CTU released a list showing 13 fatalities in
the forestry industry since January 20, 2010. The latest
death brought that total to 14, but the list does not include
those killed in logging truck accidents or the many injuries.
It is not just the forestry industry contributing to an
appalling toll of people killed or injured at work. In the
wake of the Pike River Mine disaster, the Government last
year set up the Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and
safety to carry out the first wide-ranging review of the
system in two decades.
The Safer Workplaces report by the task force revealed New
Zealand's workplace safety record was twice as bad as
Australia's and four times as bad Britain's and that those
injured in the workplace each year would fill Eden Park four
times over. The toll included 100 dead each year, 25,000
people hurt badly enough to be off work for a week, and 370
hospitalised and diagnosed with a life-threatening condition.
The task force, headed by Shell New Zealand chairman Rob
Jager, was tasked with formulating policies aimed at cutting
the toll 25% by 2020. Among the options could be much tougher
laws aimed at forcing directors to make their workplaces
The report suggests there are too few health and safety
inspectors - meaning it is unlikely companies are visited
often, if at all. In New Zealand, the consequences of
prosecution range from a discharge without conviction to a
fine of $500,000 and two years' imprisonment. While that
might sound tough, the report said of the 2438 fines imposed
by the courts since 1992, the average fine was $8275. In
Australia, the top fine can be $A3 million ($NZ3.8 million)
and in the United Kingdom it is unlimited.
This week, New Zealand's health and safety record was
labelled woeful and a national disgrace by a consultant with
20 years' experience in the sector. In a submission to the
task force, Robyn Levinge said New Zealand had never made
workplace health and safety a priority, like it had with road
safety, domestic violence and drink driving. By contrast, in
Australia and the UK, continual change and improvement was
being led by industry.
One of the biggest problems, she said, was a lack of focus on
small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), the sector which
employed most New Zealanders. There was no robust data
showing how many accidents and injuries occurred in that
sector, partly because it was so hard to keep track of them
Any workplace death or injury is a tragedy because of the
consequences it brings to families and society in general.
But as Mr Jager points out, while leadership from directors
is vital, workplace safety is a matter for everybody -
workers and customers included. A 25% reduction is a
realistic target, but the task force is more ambitious and
wants nothing short of the kind of cultural shift that has
seen attitudes to smoking, drink-driving and the use of
sunscreen change for the better.
Forestry is a risky industry because of the nature of the
work and machines operated by workers. But other industries
are not immune. As a country, we need to take better care of
our workers and ourselves. The task force's final report in
April should be seen as a watershed.