Lincoln Kidd was killed in a forest just before Christmas last year. He was 20. Rebecca Macfie wrote powerfully about him and his family in this Listener article. The new health and safety organisation Worksafe had six months to press charges in relation to this workplace deaths and as we know of the 900 serious harm injuries and deaths in forestry since 2008, only 12 prosecutions have occurred (leaving a total loss of confidence in Worksafe predecessors, MBIE and DOL), but today, six months to the day of Lincolns death there are signs a new approach is emerging from this fledgling organisation. Today Worksafe has not only announced it has laid charges against three parties in relation to the death, but from the looks of the releases, it has done two things that we think are a first.
Firstly it looks like it has charged a principal party to the contract. The employer Lincoln worked for was contracted to another party – either the forest owner, or maybe another principal contractor- and it looks like one of these parties has been changed moving some of the responsibility at least one further step up the supply chain. Secondly it has laid charges under Section 49 of the Act rather than 50 as it normally does. Section 49 is a higher level charge which alleges the company knew that serious harm was reasonably likely to be caused by its action and the charge carries a maximum fine of $500,000 and 2 years in jail. We are unaware of this provision being used previously and in this case we think it is entirely appropriate.
All this of course raised the question about all those cases where no charges have been laid. The CTU has been granted leave to take two private prosecutions and two other families have filed for leave as well. The cost and stress of this is significant and while we are fundraising for the legal costs, the emotional stress on the families let down by Worksafe cant be avoided. Prosecution is an essential tool in health and safety. In response to the CTU prosecutions Worksafe said “Prosecutions were only one of the enforcement options available” and that Worksafe “.. is focused on trying to prevent harm occurring by working with the industry and workers to improve safety and reduce the rate of serious incidents”. This message in our view makes NZ industry more dangerous and is a strong signal to Industry that prosecution is unlikely.
If you are wondering what my photo is, it is one of those snow shakey things, which arrived today from the family of forestry worker Charles Finlay. His lovely girls made it for me. Its them and their mum and dad safely tucked away in an endless pretty snow scene.