By Adam Bennett
More prosecutions of forestry operators for health and safety law breaches are likely, Labour Minister Simon Bridges said after the industry formally started its own safety review yesterday.
Mr Bridges has resisted Opposition and union calls for a government review of health and safety in New Zealand’s forests after 11 deaths in the past 13 months.
But he was pleased the Forest Owners, Forest Industry Contractors and Farm Forestry Associations had begun their review, led by a “strong, independent” panel.
“It shows the industry showing ownership of what is obviously a very significant problem.”
He hoped the panel would work as quickly as possible to give him recommendations he could take to the Cabinet, “and we can find more solutions to this issue”.
He believed the panel was willing to “tackle everything in this area, including possibly more regulation in different areas than perhaps they’ve been wanting to see in the past”.
Meanwhile the Government would continue with “a series of urgent actions” in response to the spate of deaths. That included an urgent review of the forestry industry’s code of practice that Mr Bridges said would focus on clarifying the obligations of forest owners and those in the boardroom.
Those obligations will be toughened up in legislation scheduled to be introduced within two months.
Nearly half of the 164 forestry operators visited since last August were failing to meet their health and safety obligations.
One operator had been prosecuted, two were facing prosecution and Mr Bridges expected more prosecutions to come as a result of 14 ongoing inquiries.
Labour’s forestry spokesman, Shane Jones, said the review was a step in the right direction.
“We need to be honest about how dangerous the forestry sector is but that’s not an excuse for sloppiness or tolerating the current casualty rate.”
But he said Mr Bridges had “outsourced this issue to the industry” and was neglecting his duty.
“One of the essential functions of the state is regulation and governing for public welfare, and that public welfare has to stretch through to industrial safety.”
John Stulen of the Forest Industry Contractors Association said his organisation suggested the review, “so we are pleased to see that a strong and completely independent team of experienced safety professionals has been engaged to carry out the work”.
“All workers in our industry and their families can be assured they can speak frankly and openly and expect to have their concerns heard.”
NZ’s deadly forests
• 11 forestry worker deaths in the past 13 months
• 1 forestry operator prosecuted for breaching safety rules
• 14 operations shut down because of imminent danger of serious injury or death