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Forest owners easier target on health, safety lapses under new regime, MBIE’s Smol says

Thursday 5th December 2013

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Corporate owners of forestry estates with lax health and safety standards leading to serious injury or death will be easier to target under the new regulatory regime, according to Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment chief executive David Smol.

The forestry sector has come under scrutiny in recent months, with nine deaths in the workplace this year, a level Smol told Parliament's commerce select committee was unacceptable. The ministry has put more resource into monitoring and investigating health and safety issues in high-risk areas, and Smol said he expects new workplace safety regulations will help bring down the number of fatalities and injuries, which the government wants to cut by a quarter within seven years.

"We're not saying for a moment the rate of fatality in the forestry industry is acceptable," Smol told the committee. "We have been far more proactive and allocated more resource in the past. Is the current state satisfactory? No its not. We know we have more to do."

Speaking to reporters after the committee, Smol said MBIE has stepped up its regulatory action, including stopping operations that were dangerous, and anticipates a strong regime under the new legislation, which has yet to be finalised.

"We need to make sure wherever the source of the problem is, the regulator can be effective in addressing it," he said.

Health and safety issues came to the fore after several explosions at the Pike River Coal mine on the West Coast in late 2010 killed 29 men, resulting in a Royal Commission of Inquiry, and the writing of an Independent Taskforce on Workplace Health and Safety report to inform the government on options to re-write the law, which will be introduced to Parliament next year.

Among the measures embarked on to bring down deaths and injuries in the forestry sector, MBIE has released a new code of conduct for best practice for forestry and is taking a more proactive approach in dealing with safety issues in the sector. That's included some 146 assessments, of which 48 percent resulted in some enforcement action, including the shut-down of 14 operations.

Brett Murray, MBIE general manager high hazards and specialist services, told the committee the regulator is of the view that health and safety starts at the boardroom.

Still, the current legislation doesn't allow it to be as effective in targeting forest owners, because "it depends on the relationships in terms of direct links around the chain of duty holders responsibilities," Murray said.

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