26 Mar 2015

Fatal forestry accident 'tragedy'

7:53 pm on 26 March 2015

A rescue helicopter attending a fatal logging accident in a remote Taranaki forest today was held up from taking off while it was equipped with a winch that proved unnecessary.

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Photo: 123RF

The forestry worker, a man in his 70s, died at the scene after being struck by a log in Te Wera Forest near Stratford.

Emergency services were alerted to the accident just after 8am but the helicopter did not leave the Taranaki base until 8.48am, reaching the scene about 15 minutes later.

Helicopter crewman Ben Wallbank said take-off was delayed while the winch was fitted.

"Because we weren't aware of the location, we went as a winch-capable aircraft, with our medic who can be winched down," he said.

"As it happened, there was a landing site at the scene, so we deployed a St John paramedic on the ground."

Mr Wallbank said the man could not be revived.

Police and Worksafe are investigating the accident, which is thought to have happened when a log rolled off a truck.

WorkSafe said it was the first forestry death reported since January 2014. It said the death highlighted the need for people in forestry to make safety their top priority.

'Tragedy for a number of reasons'

First Union, which successfully pushed for an independent inquiry into the forestry industry after 10 deaths and 169 serious injuries in 2013, said today's fatality was a "tragedy".

The union's general secretary, Robert Reid, said while its recommendations have yet to be fully implemented, the review did prompt a massive overhaul in attitude across the sector, from unions to forest owners, contractors and regulators.

"We've been working closely together to introduce changes that will, we were hoping ... bring down to zero deaths or serious harm accidents in the forest," he said.

"So this death is a tragedy for a number of reasons."

Mr Reid said today's accident would need thorough investigation, and he was confident the forest industry would "rally around" and make any changes necessary to ensure it never happened again.

Forest Owners Association spokesman Glen Mackie said the industry had been working hard to improve safety and that the statistics reflected that, with no deaths in the last 14 months.

"However, this fatality just shows that we have to be on the top of our game at all times and that tragedy can strike without great warning."

Mr Mackie said work was still underway to establish a forestry safety council, which was a key recommendation by the independent review panel in October.

"We have contracted a recruitment company to help us recruit a national safety director and a chair and we hope that process will be completed within six weeks," he said.

"But that will depend on the availability of the best candidates ... We think it's worth the wait to do it properly."

Mr Mackie said the association would wait for the full investigation by Worksafe and the police before making any further comment.

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