Forestry worker's death sparks call for safety review

The death of a 23-year-old forestry worker who was crushed by a falling tree has prompted urgent calls for a safety review in the industry.

New Zealand Council of Trade Unions said the death, the 13th in three years, showed the industry had a "serious health and safety crisis".

The fatality occurred just after 7.15am yesterday in a remote forestry block south of Pongaroa on Route 52, south of Dannevirke.

It was one of two forestry accidents yesterday. In the second, a 49-year-old man received serious leg injuries after being crushed by a tree in the Kaingaroa Forest, near Rotorua.

The dead man was named yesterday afternoon as Reece Joseph Reid, from Wanganui.

Senior Sergeant Dylan Earle of Dannevirke Police said Mr Reid had just started his shift with a forestry crew of seven fellow workers.

"The worker was cutting a tree which became caught up, before clearing itself and continuing to fall, crushing the man beneath it," Mr Earle said.

Mr Reid was working with another person who was about 100m away in a loader.

The victim was "an experienced forestry worker," who had begun working with the crew four months ago, Mr Earle said.

Emergency services, including St John ambulance and the Pongaroa Volunteer Fire Brigade were called, but the man died at the scene.

Investigators from Occupational Safety and Health are conducting their own investigation.

Tararua police have referred the incident to the coroner.

CTU president Helen Kelly said the death showed the industry needed a "rigorous review into its employment practices".

"We welcome the work the Government is doing in health and safety including the Independent Taskforce Review but something is seriously wrong in this particular industry and a special investigation is required," she said.

Ms Kelly said the industry was controlled by a few big forest owners who largely contracted out cutting work to small employers that were forced to compete on price to win work. She said this practice led to long working hours, low pay, higher risks and extreme working conditions.

Glen Mackie, senior policy analyst of the Forestry Owners Association, said he believed health and safety practices were improving in the industry.

"We're not happy when any serious incident occurs. We have an active health and safety programme. We are a high-risk hazardous industry, which has to be recognised, but we are improving year-on-year," he said.

"We have a goal of zero serious-harm incidents and we are working towards that goal."

Forestry fatalities

January 2010, Port Underwood, Marlborough, Forestry accident
January 2010, Forest Block Tokoroa, crushing injuries
February 2010, Paeroa, crushed by bulldozer;
September 2010, Whenuakite, crushing;
December 2010, Wharerata Forest, crushing;
February 2011, Marlborough, struck by tree branch;
August 2011, Dunedin, hit by tree;
February 2012, Boy aged 5, Motueka, killed by log;
March 2012, Atiamuri, hit by hauler rope;
April 2012, Wanganui, crushed by tree;
June 2012, Gisborne, killed by log;
June 2012, Opotiki, falling branch;
November 2012, Pongaora, crushed by falling tree.

- By Trevor Quinn of the Wairarapa Times-Age


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