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Tertiary provider sentenced after tutor seriously injured

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Waiariki Institute of Technology was sentenced today and ordered to pay reparation of $40,000 after a tutor was seriously injured during a forest operations course.

The tutor’s injuries were extensive - fractures to the right shoulder, the lower back, a leg and five ribs. He also had severe abdominal pain and swelling, a collapse in both lungs and bruised vertebrae. He has needed ongoing physiotherapy and further surgery is likely. He is unable to work.

The tertiary education provider was sentenced in the Rotorua District Court today under the Health and Safety in Employment Act for two failures. Firstly for failing to take all practicable steps to ensure the safety of its employee while at work, and secondly for failing to take all practicable steps to ensure that no action or inaction of any employee while at work harmed any other person.

The tutor - who had not taught a tertiary course before - was employed to teach this basic pre-trade programme where students are primarily taught how to operate a chainsaw. Tree felling is not part of this course. Students usually take the course before starting a forestry apprenticeship.

On 26 August 2014 the students had completed the six week theory part of the course and were in their third week of the practical section. The firewood yard where lessons were usually taught had run out of wood so the lesson was held on a Marlborough farm.

The tutor discussed the hazards of the lesson with the students and filled out a hazard identification and assessment form. The students were told to stand near a van while the tutor manually felled the two trees. After that the students trimmed and cut the felled trees. The tutor decided to fell a third tree which was 24 metres high, on a significant lean and with a large branch jutting out the back. The students were standing closer to the tree than they should have been - the tutor was aware of this. The tutor asked one of the students to "spot" for him while he made a cut in the tree. The tutor then inadvertently cut the ‘hingewood’ of the tree and when the final cut was made, the tree fell in an unintended direction, crushing him.

WorkSafe New Zealand’s investigation identified a number of health and safety breaches. "Waiariki Institute of Technology should have assessed the tutor’s competence in tree felling before he taught any classes," says Jo Pugh, WorkSafe’s Chief Inspector of Assessments in the Central region. "They also should have provided a written process for tutors on how to source wood safely and on when tree felling could occur."

"Waiariki Institute of Technology has reviewed its policies since the incident, sent all tutors a copy of the best practice guidelines for tree felling and had tutors attend a refresher course on tree felling."

"But this serious incident could have been avoided if simple safety steps had been in place in the first instance," says Jo Pugh.

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