Plea on work safety 'from the heart'

Guest speakers Marsella and Wiremu Edmonds, of Rotorua, and Dr Kyle McWilliams (right), of...
Guest speakers Marsella and Wiremu Edmonds, of Rotorua, and Dr Kyle McWilliams (right), of Christchurch, at a forestry safety seminar in Invercargill yesterday. Photo by Allison Beckham.
Two years ago, Wiremu Edmonds launched a company offering leadership programmes and values-based training to corporate clients.

But a family tragedy in March last year has led to a major shift in focus for the Rotorua businessman and his wife, Marsella.

Their 23-year-old forestry worker son, Robert Epapara, died instantly when he was hit by a tree being felled by a co-worker in a private forest near Rotorua.

Although still grieving, Mr and Mrs Edmonds have since spoken to more than 6000 people in the forestry, roading, farming and construction industries about being work safe and the consequences of taking risks and short cuts.

Yesterday, they reinforced their message to about 110 forestry workers, contractors, forest managers and forest owners at a safety seminar in Invercargill - the first held in Southland.

Mr Edmonds, a fourth-gener-ation bushman, said he was well aware forestry was a risky business where short cuts were taken.

But he said he wanted people to learn from Mr Epapara's death, which he said could have been ''absolutely preventable'' with better communication and safer work practices.

''Marsella and I could sit at home and be bitter and twisted about [what happened to our son].

"But we have chosen to talk about it - to use this as an example and help people understand the impact of short cuts and risk-taking.

"And maybe we can provide a free lesson for people by showing them what the pain of grieving parents looks like ...

''We speak straight from the heart. We don't hide any facts. There is no written script.

"We share our story in the hope it will inspire people to change - that's ultimately what it's all about.''

The most important message was for all workers, however insignificant they felt, to speak up if they believed something risky was happening in their workplace, Mr Edmonds said.

''We're telling people to stand in the gap - for the small person, the small company, those who don't feel they have the confidence to speak up, those who might think they are a small voice, to speak up.

''If something's not quite right, do something. It is better to speak up and address the concern.''

Forestry gangs worked closely together and treated each other like family, he said.

''But the irony of it is when it comes down to it we allow other people to take short cuts, and that can have severe consequences.''

New Zealand's forestry industry has an appalling safety record calculated to be 34 times higher that of the United Kingdom's.

In the six years to the end of last year, 28 people were killed, and Mr Epapara was one of the 10 people - all men - who died last year.

Christchurch consultant Dr Kyle McWilliams spoke about changing behaviours in workplaces, a topic he specialises in across a wide range of businesses and industries.

He said while the forestry industry was seen as ''blokey'', that culture could also be used to improve safety.

''The key issue is to not just to get the job done, but to get it done safely ... It's about mate looking after mate.''

The seminar was organised by Invercargill forestry management company IFS Growth in conjunction with Invercargill City Forests Ltd and the Southland District Council.

IFS Growth managing director Dan Minehan said the aim was to bring together everyone ''from the worker at the coal face to the guy in the boardroom making the decisions'' and start the process of a safer work place.

The seminar had gone ''really positively'', he said.

''It's certainly got people thinking.''

allison.beckham@odt.co.nz

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