Forestry death an avoidable tragedy
A logging company director, Major Nelson, has been fined $35,000 and ordered to pay $15,000 in reparation over the death of a worker who was killed by a falling tree.
Robert Ruri-Epapara was working as part of a Complete Logging Limited logging crew at Waione Forest near Rotorua in March 2013 when he was fatally injured by a falling tree cut down by Major Nelson.
Mr Nelson was the crew’s foreman and was operating a Timberjack machine, which is a tracked excavator with an attachment used for felling trees. It is also used as an anchor point for cables used to haul logs up a slope.
Mr Nelson was attempting to manoeuvre the Timberjack onto a level position so it could be used as an anchor point, and decided to fell some trees that were in his way. He was unable to see Mr Ruri-Epapara, who was working without any radio communications on a steep slope with thick undergrowth.
Mr Nelson contacted another worker with a radio who could see up the slope to try to check on Mr Ruri-Epapara’s location. It is unclear exactly what Mr Nelson was told, but his understanding was that the slope was clear. He went ahead and cut down a tree which struck Mr Ruri-Epapara and another tree which also toppled over.
The fact that a second tree had fallen alerted Mr Nelson to the fact that someone may have been working in the area. He stopped the machine and went to check the area. When he found Mr Ruri-Epapara he began CPR but when emergency services arrived they confirmed his injuries were fatal.
Major Nelson was convicted under sections 19(b) and 50(1)(a) of the Health and Safety in Employment Act of failing to take all practicable steps as an employee to ensure that no action of his while at work caused harm to another person.
WorkSafe New Zealand’s chief investigator, Keith Stewart, says Mr Ruri-Epapara’s death was a tragedy that could have been avoided if the Code of Practice for Safety and Health in Forest Operations had been followed.
“Mr Nelson should have established the location of Mr Ruri-Epapara before he moved the Timberjack machine into his work area and began bringing down trees.
“Mr Nelson should also have made Mr Ruri-Epapara aware of what he was doing with the Timberjack so that he could move into a safe zone, at least two full tree lengths away from the tree being felled.
“Forestry as an inherently dangerous industry, and the Code of Practice is designed to save lives. There is no room for short-cuts and a ‘she’ll be right’ attitude. As foreman Major Nelson should have known better,” says Keith Stewart.