Kaupapa approach used to curb forestry deaths

A kaupapa approach to a health and safety programme for forestry workers in Tairawhiti has helped people speak up about dangers at work.

Four forestry companies' workers in the Ngāti Porou area were involved in the pilot programme, driven by WorkSafe. It was aimed at curbing the number of people who died or were seriously injured onsite. 

Māori make up 34 percent of forestry workers. In the sector nationally, seven died at work last year and four so far this year.

Together with employers and local iwi, workers' family members were shown around sites so they understood where their loved ones went every day, and what it involved.

Four wānanga were also held at a local marae which helped people relax, Kimberly's health and safety manager Eddie Te Kahika said.

"Everyone's a 'coastie' and everyone likes that environment so it gave them the confidence to speak."

That had translated to workers speaking up on site, demonstrated recently when a worker said the deck under the logs was uneven, foreman Jayson Keelan said.

"[Before] they wouldn't tell the loader driver because he might get into a bad mood and start chucking things around," he said. "But now they speak up."

A blessing now takes place before trees are felled, and visitors are greeted with a formal Maori welcome as a result of the programme.

Tikanga nurtured workers' minds, hearts, bodies, and spirits, and would in time curb the poor statistics, WorkSafe's Maru Toa Hawea Kingi said.

The hope was to uplift Māori workers and families in their work environment, he said.

WorkSafe now wants communities and companies to use the model to empower their workers.

That wero - or challenge - was supported by community representative of Ngāti Porou  Joe McClutchie.

"The industry still has their head in the sand a bit," he said. "They don't see the big picture [and] how this will benefit [Māori]."

He said that was pertinent now times had changed.

"We provide a service to your industry, because the ships don't sail outside of the harbour unless our people are engaged as the partners."

WorkSafe is expected to release a report on the pilot's findings later this month.