The growing list of coroners’ concerns now extends to the hiring of nail guns

It’s a bit bemusing to hear Courts Minister Chester Borrows say the coronial system is working well but he has ordered a review, regardless.

The Ministry of Justice will lead the review and Mr Borrows wants public input as well.

He can expect a submission from yours truly.

As Alf understands it from a TV3 news item (here), he’s concerned about the system’s impact on grieving families.

“I’m keen to look at how we can improve the timeliness and efficiency of the coronial process to reduce the impact on those families,” he said today.

But Borrows also wants to consider whether agencies should have to make formal responses when coroners make recommendations on ways to prevent future deaths.

The best response anyone can make in some cases is to take the recommendations and ram them through a shredder.

That’s Alf’s instinct today after the suicide of a Paraparaumu feller prompted a coroner to call for tighter controls on the hire of nail guns.

Accoding to a Stuff report (here) –

William McLay, 56, was found dead in his home by police on March 16, 2009. Coroner Ian Smith concluded last week that he committed suicide.

Mr McLay hired a Ramset nail gun two days before he was found by police.

He probably went to the bog a few times, too.

What’s the point?

We are left to suppose the nail gun and the bloke’s demise are somehow related.

And the coroner is bothered that it’s not too hard to hire a nail gun.

In evidence presented to the inquest, it was stated that home handymen hiring powder-actuated nail guns did not require a firearms licence.

Instead, some hire companies would ensure people knew how to use the nail gun and provide written safety instructions.

Mr Smith said it was not the first time he had dealt with a fatal accident involving a nail gun.

And so he has recommended to the Consumer Affairs Ministry that the hire of bolt and stud guns should require a licence to operate them.

Oh dear.

If it could harm you, let’s regulate its use.

“I can accept this is a difficult area to deal with, and that it would be onerous to expect a firearm licence to be issued with respect to a Ramset nail gun or something similar.

“However, I do believe that the operator or hirer of such equipment should hold a licence to operate such a machine and be required to produce it at a hire centre if attempting to hire such a piece of equipment.”

Yet we learn from the Stuff report that Mr McLay was unemployed, lived alone, and had a history of anxiety and depression .

But he had not been on any medication since 2007.

Although he had been a casual patient at a Paraparaumu clinic, he had not regularly checked in with mental health specialists or been prescribed further medication.

And yes, the level of mental health services on the Kapiti Coast was a matter for concern, too, the coroner said.

“It is well known to me as a coroner that communication is paramount when dealing with mental health issues. It is not good enough to simply post out a letter to a patient regarding their next appointment.”

Introducing a process of regular telephone and at-home contact was “not rocket science” but was “simply a process that needs to be implemented”.

There may be some merit in beefing up mental health services in the Kapiti area but the coroner’s urge to oblige we home handymen to be licensed to use a nail gun is going beyond the beyond.

This is especially so in light of the chief coroner saying (here) coroners’ recommendations need to be given “more teeth”.

This was said in the aftermath of Borrows announcing the aforementioned review of the coronial system and the 2006 Coroners Act.

The review will consider the role coroners have in making recommendations as well as whether agencies should be required to formally respond to those recommendations.

Chief coroner Judge Neil MacLean said it was important that agencies responded to coroners’ recommendations, whether it was to agree, disagree or state there was no money to make the changes.

“I’ve made no secret of it with the ministry and relevant ministers that I’m interested in seeing if we might follow the Victorian model and get a little more teeth to recommendations.”

But those recommendations have got to make a bit more sense than a call to licence nail guns.

If someone with a licence was intent on topping himself with a legally hired nail gun – for example – what then?

And if someone intent on topping himself could not get such a gun, he would find other ways of dispatching himself to the hereafter.

Like jumping off a cliff, for example.

Are we going to require people to be licensed to walk along clifftops?

Or he could drink himself to death by downing many, many more litres of Coca-Cola than is good for you, as the inquest for mother-of-eight Natasha Harris (there’s an account of it here) was told.

The coroner – fair to say – made no recommendation about the control of Coca-Cola, so far as Alf can find.

But the Coke addict’s partner’s mother said warning labels should be put on Coke products.

The dead woman’s sister more reasonably said no-one had forced her sister to drink the Coke, and she did not hold Coca-Cola responsible for her death.

“Nobody forced Tasha to drink all that … it’s like anything, we all know anything in moderation is okay,” she said.

And sadly, nobody can stop a determined person from finding a way of taking a premature exit from life on this earth.

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