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Kelly praised at forestry death inquest

NZ NewswireNZ Newswire 11/05/2016
Helen Kelly on cannabis, assisted dying and unions: RNZ Checkpoint © Radio New Zealand Helen Kelly on cannabis, assisted dying and unions: RNZ Checkpoint

The work of former trade union boss Helen Kelly to seek justice for forestry workers killed on the job has been praised by a coroner overseeing the last of eight inquests into deaths in the sector.

Bay of Plenty coroner Wallace Bain said she had been the prime driver in the bid to have prosecutions brought against forestry companies after the Labour Department had failed to take court action.

"In nearly every case she was successful in having these companies brought to account," Dr Bain said on Wednesday.

He referred to the significant publicity this had generated about dangers in the industry and its need for more accountability.

"Kelly, together with the families, are to be commended for highlighting the series of deaths, in doing so they have made the industry a far safer place to work."

He noted that despite battling terminal cancer Ms Kelly has been present at the final three forestry inquests he had presided over.

The coroner said in every case he'd dealt with the deaths were preventable.

On Wednesday, he presided over an inquest into the death of 49-year-old David Wayne McMurtrie, 49, who died in the Houpoto Forest near Opotiki in June 2012.

Mr McMurtrie was described as a highly regarded, very experienced and safety conscious tree feller.

Evidence was given that his death had been caused by a branch breaking away and crashing on top of him as he felled another, crushing him.

Lawyers acting for his family and the Council of Trade Unions questioned WorkSafe inspector Roger Merriman, who investigated Mr McMurtrie's death, asking him if a similar fatality could happen tomorrow.

"If we continue to plant forests in such remote areas these hazards will most probably continue," Mr Merriman said.

Donna McMurtrie said outside court she remained upset her husband's employers were not prosecuted and attempts to bring a private prosecution failed because it was lodged too late.

Dr Bain reserved his findings.

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