Why is a young forestry worker dead? His boss blames a dearth of safety inspectors

This is a good trick.

When something goes wrong, you say it was the Government’s fault.

In this case, the something that went wrong was a company’s failure to keep one of its workers safe and in good health.

As a consequence of its laxity a young man is dead.

Alf refers to the Taranaki contracting firm whose newly employed tree feller was killed by falling branches.

According to Stuff, the firm has attacked the lack of Government inspectors in their industry.

Adam Tony Olsson, 23, died on April 22 last year when a dead tree he was helping to bring down fell on him on a farm near Bertrand Bridge, Tikorangi.

He had only been a week on the job.

Mr Olsson’s death was one of 10 in the forestry industry last year.

As a result the Government is putting a $3 million investigation in place to look into work practices.

The Taranaki forestry company R&S Dreaver Shelter Trimmers Ltd appeared in the New Plymouth District Court yesterday and pleaded guilty to breaching the Health and Safety in Employment Act in failing to keep Mr Olsson safe.

It was ordered to pay a total of $80,000.

But despite fessing up in court, the company owner – a bloke by name of Richard Dreaver – later said the intense Government scrutiny the forestry industry was receiving as a result of industry deaths, coupled with the hefty fines, was undeserved.

“It’s all about money. It saddens me for the whole industry. I haven’t seen a government bush inspector now for seven years.”

Neither had there been any trainers in the region for the last 5-6 years at the very time the industry was booming with unskilled labour, he said.

“They [Worksafe] come blaming the employers, pounding the hell out of them but we are the poor pricks giving people a job.”

To give him his due, Dreaver has done the hard yards in his industry.

He said he started his business when he was 20 and was now 48.

He prided himself on being very focused on training and cited his company’s apprentice achieving the top national apprenticeship award in 2008.

He probably raised a good question when he asked why Mr Olsson’s supervisor on the day of the death, one Warren Lerke, had not been charged too. He was no longer an employee.

Mr Olsson was “desperate” to learn to be a tree feller, Mr Dreaver said. He had spent $3500 on his own chainsaw and other tools.

“It was all he wanted to do and I gave him the opportunity.”

His family was very angry at his death, Mr Dreaver said.

“But I was the guy who gave him CPR and was trying to keep him alive.”

We have learned a bit more from Worksafe.

It says its investigation found that after making chainsaw cuts into the tree Mr Olsson initially went to a safety zone outside the area where the tree could fall so that his colleague could use an excavator to complete the felling of the tree.

But he subsequently moved back towards the tree and was struck by falling debris, which caused fatal head injuries.

“Adam Olsson was fresh on the job. He had no formal forestry industry qualification and had never previously worked on a tree-felling operation. His employer had a legal duty to ensure he was properly supervised,” said WorkSafe New Zealand’s general manager Health and Safety Operations, Ona de Rooy.

“Mr Olsson was felling trees with a colleague who was operating a long track excavator with a grapple hook, which meant under the best practice guidelines for tree-felling he was effectively in control of the operation – despite only having a matter of days’ experience on the job.

“He should never have been put in that position.

“This death was entirely preventable.”

It does seem to Alf that you don’t have be an industry expert to know that it might not be too bright, putting a rookie in charge of an operation like this.

Blaming a lack of safety inspectors is like a burglar saying – as he pleads for leniency – that it was the police’s fault for not having a patrol car in that area at the time of the offence.

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