Opin­ions split on forestry deaths

South Waikato News - - NEWS - By HARRY PEARL

Dar­ryl Felling­ham has seen the worst of the forestry in­dus­try.

He started work­ing in the rough Toko­roa hill coun­try as a 19- year- old and, al­though he left full­time forestry work in 2004, he’s had his fair share of close calls.

He has sev­ered his right calf mus­cle with a chain­saw, al­most lost the toes on his left foot and had two for­mer work­mates killed in forestry ac­ci­dents.

Part of that comes with work­ing in a ‘‘hard in­dus­try’’, he said but he’s sick of hear­ing work­ers blamed for ac­ci­dents – es­pe­cially when cul­pa­bil­ity starts at the top.

The 43-year-old, who now works mostly as an ar­borist, be­lieves the pres­sure put on con­trac­tors by for­est man­agers and own­ers is lead­ing to se­ri­ous safety is­sues.

‘‘It’s a pro­duc­tion-based op­er­a­tion. The more [tim­ber] the con­trac­tor pulls the more he makes.

‘‘ But he has to pull a de­cent amount of wood to make a liv­ing.’’

And that pres­sure was be­ing passed down to work­ers, he said.

In win­ters, Mr Felling­ham said he would of­ten be off at dawn, work­ing on steep ter­rain in mud up to his knees.

Some­times it would be in rain or snow.

‘‘It’s the kind of in­dus­try that be­cause ACC charges are so high, if a worker has an ac­ci­dent it doesn’t mat­ter if the doc­tor says you should have two weeks off.

‘‘ Your boss wants you back at work be­cause it’s classed as a lost time ac­ci­dent and levies go up.’’

The Min­istry of Busi­ness, In­no­va­tion and Em­ploy­ment (MBIE) is nearly half­way through an in­ves­ti­ga­tion into the safety per­for­mance of more than 330 log­ging con­trac­tors and has al­ready handed out 182 notices for non-com­pli­ance with the Ap­proved Code of Prac­tice for For­est Har­vest­ing.

Nearly half the notices were is­sued be­cause con­trac­tors did not have ad­e­quate health and safety plans, with 14 con­trac­tors – in­clud­ing two in Waikato – be­ing closed down.

Ear­lier this month, MBIE’s gen­eral man­ager of health and safety op­er­a­tions, Ona de Rooy, said the death toll was the ‘‘re­spon­si­bil­ity of ev­ery­one’’.

Shel­don Drum­mond, chair­man of the New Zealand For­est Own­ers’ As­so­ci­a­tion ( FOA) health and safety com­mit­tee, wel­comed the Gov­ern­ment’s stance.

‘‘I think it’s good. It’s pro­mot­ing our safety cul­ture pro­gramme and the things that we need to change.

‘‘ There is no room for in­ac­cu­racy in this busi­ness.’’ How­ever, Mr Drum­mond said he strug­gled with that ar­gu­ment that con­trac­tors were be­ing poorly paid by for­est own­ers.

He said the per tonne rate paid to con­trac­tors varied hugely but among cor­po­rate for­est own­ers and man­agers, it was ad­e­quate.

‘‘The cheap­est might be $15 or $16 per tonne . . . and the dearer wood might be over $ 50 per tonne. It de­pends on the ter­rain and tree size.’’

That typ­i­cally trans­lated to an hourly rate of $18 to $20 per hour for work­ers in the cor­po­rate for­est sec­tor, he said.

But that’s not the feel­ing of Mr Felling­ham.

He said un­like the dairy in­dus­try, where high milk prices mean larger pay outs for farm­ers, the forestry in­dus­try did not pass on wind­falls from high mar­ket prices.

‘‘As a worker the rate of pay is just so low, it’s not worth get­ting out of bed for.’’

Photo: BRUCE MERCER/FAIR­FAX NZ

Sharp mes­sage: Dar­ryl Felling­ham is speak­ing out about the high rate of deaths in the forestry in­dus­try.

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