If it were someone you loved

Written By: - Date published: 10:34 pm, May 9th, 2014 - 55 comments
Categories: uncategorized - Tags:

Today the District Court of Rotorua gave the CTU leave to take a private prosecution against the employer of forestry worker Charles Finlay for failing to take all practical steps to keep him safe. Charles got home at 6pm the night before he was killed and was up again the next morning for his 4am start.  He was dead  by 5.30am in the middle of the night, in the middle of the winter, in the middle of the country on an unlit worksite.   Charles, after 27 years in the bush was on $16 per hour.

He has an adorable family who I have got to know.  His twin 10 year olds call me Aunty Helen Kelly as if both were my first names.  They clearly adored their dad and he sounded fun.  His 21 year  old boy has a wicked sense of humour and I think he probably takes after his dad.  It is unclear why Worksafe has not taken this prosecution but my view is that the attitude has been that regardless of the inadequacy of the safety systems on the site (no lighting, long hours, no one stopped when they were unsure where Charles was on this dark site) the modus operandi of the regulator is to blame the worker.  The reports into these deaths are full of excuses for what are fundamentally safety systems that will never keep these workers safe.

We are now seeking leave for 3 other prosecutions.  I noted today that out of 20 agriculture deaths last year there were only two prosecutions.  It simply isn’t right.  Supermarket workers that stack shelves at night pay our way.  Four prosecutions will cost us a fortune.  Luckily we have lawyers like Nigel Hampton QC,  assisted by Simon Meikle – instructing solicitor and a new quite brilliant  discovery and the wonderful union lawyer Peter Cranney doing lots of the ground work – and giving lots of their time.  We had a street collection for Workers Memorial Day – something we will repeat – we need, and have set up a fund for these families.  We are also supporting the Pike Families contest the dismissal of the charges against Whittal. We collected $4,000 on our street collection and we will continue to build this fund (get in touch if you can help!).  So building on the good will of our brilliant lawyers we are forging on.

Today when the decision was announced two other lawyers got in touch and offered to help.  The goodwill warms the cockles!  But today we finalised our submission on the new Health and Safety Bill in front of Parliament.  Submissions were due tonight and our sub is longer than most we have written! I did the case studies we are including to back up our case for change.  In doing so I finally read the MBIE report into the death of John Sanderson – killed in an NZ forest at the beginning of last year. One of the notorious ten dead last year including Charles.    But today as Charles widow and one of our other mums desperately sent me text messages for updates about the court, I finally got the time to pull out the report into the death of this man.  I have met his partner of ten years.  A gentle, sad, lovely women who feels a strong sense of injustice about the loss of the love of her life.  Someone we have let down, by coming to this late, not having her contact details, not getting this report (MBIE denied us the report for a year, only in January this year did I finally get it from the Coroner) and now hoping to represent John at the Coroner hearing.  I doubt his partner has even got a  copy of the report.  I spoke to her last weekend and she did not even know about the coroners hearing.   I will send it Monday but in the meantime, let me tell you about the death of a man that was loved.

John Sanderson

John Sanderson was killed while felling a tree on 17 January 2013 in Northland.  He had just returned to the bush after a number of years break in December 2012.   He had been assessed at that point as competent and held a number of forestry qualifications in tree felling. He had barley worked 20 days back in the bush when he was killed.

In the MBIE report into the accident a dispute regarding the safety on the site is recorded.  A worker that had been at the site but left in the process of the investigation claimed the practises on the site were unsafe.  It is recorded the worker claimed there was no proper communication on the site and the workers were under production pressure.  He asserted that the company was not telling the truth in regards to the tree felling processes on the site.  This matter is unresolved in the investigation report and not investigated further.

There were four companies involved in this accident – Taumata Plantations was the investment company that owned the trees.  Hancocks Forest Management was engaged to manage the harvesting of the trees.  Moutere logging was engaged by Hancocks to do the work and Moutere logging subcontracted it to  Cable Harvesting Limited.  It appears CHL was a subsidiary of MLL formed especially to fell this block and used Mouteres health and safety systems.  John worked for CHL.

Hancocks identified the dangers of the slope – it was heavy with undergrowth, it was extremely steep and slippery underfoot and had a number of other hazards.

Mr Sanderson’s partner was interviewed as part of the investigation but her views are not included in the report.  In her interview, she said that on this job “for the first time ever” John had come home and spoken about the dangerous conditions.  She quoted him as saying “Fuck Rose, its  fucking dangerous”.  He said it was difficult even walking up to the site it was so steep.  The danger on the site had subsequently been confirmed to the CTU by workers that replaced John.  Rose asked him why he did not say anything to the company but he has said he could not as it was “his job”.  It was his partners view that John did not have the correct gear, that there had been no provision for him to easily carry a radio on his body and that he was low paid with substandard gear that  he had provided himself.  She thought he should have had studded boots and that this area of forest should not have been harvested. She is strongly of the view that having cut a tree he slipped underneath it.  Others on the site subsequently described how on this site you had to “cut and run” to avoid being hurt.  A tree fell on John and amputated his leg.  He shed his safety gear and tried to get down the hill to his RT.  He bled to death half way there.  Had his radio been attached to his body with a mesh vest he may have been saved.

There were no elected health and safety representatives on this worksite.  According to media reports MLL employs up to 100 staff but this subsidiary was small and did not  have representatives.  It is unclear if there are elected representatives in any other part of this company and even if there was an entitlement of these workers to have a representative system, without industrial support they would be unlikely to “ask” for it.  This resulted in a number of elements of the “paper” and “audit based” safety systems recorded in the MBIE report being ineffective.  A representative system that worked on this site may have resolved any of these issues:  the disputed views on the accident itself, the equipment and site concerns, the communication, and the need to John to have called for support when he faced a difficult cutting situation.

Update:  thanks for all the offers of support – here is a link.






55 comments on “If it were someone you loved”

  1. Craig Glen Eden 1

    Bloody hell these workers have died and the state is doing nothing about it. The whole function of a Government is meant to be to keep its citizens safe, unless it seems the citizen has the title “worker” then they are on their own. Keep up your good work Helen.

    • Chooky 1.1

      +100…worker safety is a disgrace!…there should be huge penalties for every worker killed where the employer has been willfully negligent!…..

      ….this should be an election issue rammed home about how New Zealand workers are exploited and their lives put in danger…killed and maimed…their families should receive huge penalty compensation!

      ….if nothing else this should put New Zealand workers off voting for John Key’s NACT!

      • You_Fool 1.1.1

        My understanding is that there is a huge penalty for employers and senior management of companies that have been found to be willfully negligent. Long prison sentences (For manslaughter) and very large fines. The problem appears to be that the government agencies are not finding that there was willful negligence or are not prosecuting such a case. So yes, definitely time to change the government if only so people in these investigative and prosecution roles within government agencies will be held to account for siding with t he employer when there is a tiniest bit of (made up) doubt.

  2. McFlock 2

    This is such important work – a ten percent prosecution rate for workplace deaths shows that something in regulation and enforcement is tragically broken.

  3. Draco T Bastard 3

    There were four companies involved in this accident – Taumata Plantations was the investment company that owned the trees. Hancocks Forest Management was engaged to manage the harvesting of the trees. Moutere logging was engaged by Hancocks to do the work and Moutere logging subcontracted it to Cable Harvesting Limited.

    Three sets of ticket clippers before we get to the company contracted to do the actual work. Well, I suppose that explains why wages and conditions were poor.

  4. Clemgeopin 4

    I am very sorry about many of these preventable deaths of workers in our so called advanced and developed nation.

    Thank you Helen and the union movement for helping these families.

    This present right wing government has systematically undermined and discouraged unions and the workers through its laws, attitudes and misinformation.

    In my opinion, it must be made mandatory for every business, every industry and every workplace to have an approved Health and Safety worker’s representative on site.

    I appeal to ALL paid workers EVERYWHERE to belong to a union for the long term good of the workers and the country, Otherwise, the gains, both monetary and conditions, fought and achieved by the unions over the years will slowly and steadily get wiped out overtime and it will become the survival of the fittest and the most influential, each for oneself, and let other workers be damned.

    In the meantime, the free market wealthy musketeers, greedy businesses and the crooked corporates will happily enjoy their merry ways to their OWN advantage through their OWN employer unions, though with different nomenclature. All workers should recognise this and join a union rather than going alone due to selfishness or fear, for the short term gain for a few.

  5. Huginn 5

    Sad, tragic and completely unnecessary.
    All power to you all for the work you’re doing to improve the culture of workplace safety.

    Is there a link for contributions? I would prefer PayPal, and specified projects – it wouldn’t be much, but every little helps.

    • idlegus 5.1

      yes thank you helen. i would give some money via paypal too if something was set up.

  6. RedLogix 6

    This is a post I simply want to reply to with humility and respect Helen. So may threads of discussion here seem to involve superficial, frustrating and fruitless arguments with people who no longer have any moral compass, and can no longer tell right from wrong.

    Which is why I read your post Helen and decided that there is nothing to add but to honour it.

  7. Murray Olsen 7

    I’d like an account to make some contribution to. Is there one?

    After that I’d like a state that values the lives of workers and a government that puts workers’ rights to life above the rights of wife bashing businessmen to have a chat with a friendly minister.

    I’d like to see forests run and owned by the state and local communities. I’d like to live once more in a country where a worker is worth more than a tree.

    • miravox 7.1

      ” I’d like to live once more in a country where a worker is worth more than a tree.”


      This requires the Labour Party to live up to it’s name. Early on in his leadership Cunliffe suggested it would. Do it! Please.

    • Chooky 7.2

      @ Murray Olsen +100

    • Clemgeopin 8.1

      I have just completed making a small donation for the cause. Keep up the good work. Cheers and best wishes to you and your hard working team.

    • Murray Olsen 8.2

      Helen, I’m in Australia and don’t have a chequebook. To do an internet transfer, I need the SWIFT number and street address for that bank branch. Once I can get that, the money will appear.

  8. karol 9

    Thanks, Helen, for all your (and your team’s) work on this issue. There is clearly something wrong that there has been so much loss of life, and so many families and friendships hurt, and suffering so much loss.

    From your post, it’s glaringly obvious that there needs to be better health and safety and union representation and monitoring in such workplaces.

  9. RedBaronCV 11

    Good on Helen and the CTU.

    Just as an aside why has ACC not levied forestry company employers out of business with top up premiums or insisted that they clean up their act? I know nothing about it but is ACC in breach of it’s own legislation?

  10. bad12 12

    In the dark with no lighting, working in an already dangerous industry where there is no margin of error where if a tree for whatever reason twists as it falls the only safety mechanism is the speed at which those on the saws can run,

    In the dark with no lighting, how would those operating the saws even begin to have a sense that for whatever reason any particular tree is about to come down in an unintended flight path,

    In the dark with no lighting, the industrial practice of the neanderthals, lets send kids up chimneys to sweep away the soot,

    In the dark with no lighting, requires a specific charge of corporate manslaughter,

    In the dark with no lighting, requires those who (supposedly) are tasked with policing the health and safety of workplaces to have them given Legislation which ensures they become proactive in policing all labour practices from health and safety to wage payments with a Legislative requirement to prosecute all breaches of the Law, and an 0800 number for complaints,

    In the dark with no lighting, would require the Legislation of compulsory union membership of all those who earn less than the average so as to begin to address the wages and working conditions of all those in the dark with no light…

    • idlegus 12.1

      ++++++++++++++++1 thanks bad,

    • Murray Olsen 12.2

      Agreed, bad12. It’s hard to see sending guys out in the dark with chainsaws as anything but criminal negligence. Funnily enough, what we hear from the right is how workers need drug testing, usually by Perfed out coppers. We don’t hear about empathy, humanity, or technical competence testing for the asshats who send these workers to their deaths. A few of them really do need to end up behind bars. The Rogernomes who privatised the forests should be in there with them. Blood really is the price of their cursed wealth.

  11. Caroline Evans 13

    Thank god for you taking private prosecution Helen, this poor attitude to our workers safety has got to stop and the only way is prosecution . I feel for the families, you do not expect your partner or son to go to work and be killed because of poor safety measures, what an insult to the families that on top of that this the Government does nothing to address the issues that caused these pointless deaths . I also cannot believe the poor wages paid by these companies, disgusting.

  12. left for dead 14

    Heart breaking work Helen,press on though dear.my heart felt support to you an your team.Alex

  13. captain hook 15

    Hey I’m a big tuff kayonedoubleeweone with a chainsaw and the boss wants wood and we have a bonus plan and and those trees just gotta come down.

    • ianmac 15.1

      The terrible thing is that the workers are proud of their work and keen to put in their best efforts. You would have to be committed to put up with the risks and the long hours.
      And in return for that loyalty? Death.
      Keep up the good work Helen.

      • JAK 15.1.1

        Pride, keenness, best efforts, commitment, risk taking, long hours. Wasted in serving a minion of the Australian and US speculators who “owned” the trees. Perhaps knowingly endangering employees in order to stay in business.

  14. aerobubble 16

    I get it now. I get it why forestry companies don’t want to make profits but want workers to die. I get it why the local swimming pool likes its patrons to pee in the pool, I get it why the local Cinema site doesn’t want to tell me what’s on right now that I can go and see.

    Because it takes effort, it takes time and trouble, to come up with the idea that people on the off chance in town might want to easily see if there is a movie on they might like to see, it takes time and trouble for swimming pool managers to start a practice of asking those they think have just pee-ed in the pool to get back in and fetch a coin they just thrown in (especially applied to children and sports swimmers who seem to be the biggest offenders). I get it that not having to manage workers makes managers feel better about themselves when boasting how great the pay is and how challenging their jobs are, and how good they are at it. Its the cult of National, that they hate government and look how hard they work at doing less and less.

    I get it. Its a management fad, that we should ease up on them, pay them more and not hold them accountable because they are the supermen (mostly) of high finance.

  15. Steve Bradley 17

    Maintaining safe practices and refusing to cut corners can cost you your job. Every worker knows this. In a world of chronic high unemployment, it takes a brave or desperate worker to jack-up and refuse unsafe work. However, history on 5 continents shows there is a well-known antidote to this situation.

    By law, even up the power relationship between workers and employers. Encourage universal unionism and regular intense supervision by delegates and organisers of working conditions in any and all operations, including on ships, and especially in mines and forests.

    In September we’ll all have the chance to vote ourselves safer workplaces. Let’s do it.

  16. cricklewood 18

    I cant understand why there has been no public prosecution in the above case it sounds to me that the slope was so steep that it was impossible to work safely. Identifying the hazard but not seeming doing much to protect staff from is negligent I hope you can prosecute everyone incl the forest owner. We will only see real change when those at the top realise they are liable for what happens on their plot not matter how much they contact out the risk.

    There is a lot of forest that should not be touched due to the terrain and much of it is reaching maturity it was borderline to plant let alone harvest.

    Hope you nail em….

  17. captain hook 19

    congratulations to the union for making the court listen to them. it seems that the government prosecutors are suffering from a lack of backbone or maybe interference. the thing is too much economic and psychologi cal pressure is applied to forestry workers who dont seem to have to o much protection from the avaricious desires of the bosses.

  18. Helen Kelly 20

    I removed a post. First time I have done it and I am not sure what the Standard processes are for this but this person puts the same thing up on every post I write about a completely different issue and it is too indulgent for me to tolerate on an issue like the one in this post. I may have banned them for life – I am not sure quite how the site works, but I assume someone will sort that out!

    • Ergo Robertina 20.1

      In my view it’s high handed and ungracious to delete the comment. Better to have rebutted it – if it has no foundation it would take less effort to do so than to have taken the actions you have.

      • RedLogix 20.1.1


        By convention TS gives authors considerable latitude to moderate the threads on their own posts pretty much as they see fit. If they make the time and effort to put up the post – they’ve earned the right to look after their ‘baby’.

        While debate and rebuttal are the usual first choice, they are not the only one.

        • You_Fool

          And it sounds like debate and rebuttal have been tried in the past but whoever the commenter was is just a troll – and this thread doesn’t require trolls

          • Ergo Robertina

            Authors can do whatever they like with comments on their posts, but it is wrong to assume the objects of censure are always trolls. In this instance Xtasy was the commenter, whom I have always read as sincere and passionate.

            • lprent

              Helen was pretty specific about what she said about it, (paraphrasing) that it was off-topic and irrelevant to her post. As you are probably aware, I tend to view top-level diversion comments as being a form of trolling because they are usually intended to shift the topic of the post and its comments from that the author chose to write about.

    • lprent 20.2

      Sorry. Been dealing with the other parts of life and relaxing yesterday. Job hunting on top of work and blogging wears me out.

      Authors can ban whoever they like from their own posts. It is their post.

      The best way to do it, is to delete any offending bits, including the whole comment if required.


      Then leave a note on the comments .

      [HK: You are banned from leaving comments on my posts because… ]

      This informs the person why they’re banned from commenting on that authors post.

      Then email or txt me and I’ll do whatever else needs looking at. You can then repeat or delete the comments on your post.

      • karol 20.2.1

        Thanks, Lynn, I’ve made a note of this.

        • lprent

          It works pretty well as a technique. The trick with moderating comments is to always let people you have to moderate to know what is going on and why.

          If you ban them, then also throw their subsequent comments into spam. I always investigate why people wind up there. But make sure you give me the link to the comment that triggered the ban in case I miss it.

          If people don’t respond to an author banning them and I have auto-moderate them, they will eventually run into the “wasting my time” ban, which tends towards being quite long. But most people will complainingly stop prior to that point.

          Next time we get into the same room I can show you the editorial techniques for auto-moderation. They’re pretty simple.

          Often it is easier to let me do it because I do it all of the time and I feel I have a vocation in dealing kindly with such poor souls. Also I’m the person cleaning them out of spam, and I have the other levels like removing their edit box or even stopping them being able to read the site at all.

          In the latter case I usually helpfully redirect them to sites dedicated to dealing with their condition. In one case I directed the recipient to a great gif of an arsehole just expanding to do a dump as I couldn’t find a good treatment site and I figured that they really just needed a mirror… (you can find almost anything on the net, especially if you have old searchable usenet archives)

          Anyway enough on this, as it is interfering with Helen’s post.

  19. adam 21

    Helen, arrgggggggg. Whilst in one way I go wooohoooooo. Another part of me just died a little.

    Litigation is a long, drawn out and stressful affair. Especially for workers and their families. There is a well documented history of the stress and heartbreak associated with workers and there attempts at redress through the courts. Indeed submission after submission to the Woodhouse royal enquiry http://www.library.auckland.ac.nz/data/woodhouse/ And Woodhouses conclusions and eventual support of ACC, back that. ACC and the Courts have let people be murdered in the work place – murdered! Murdered for profit, murdered for capital gain, murdered so some bastard from the 1% can make a few more bucks.

    What an odd age we live in, what a hell of an age. When the bat shit crazy individualist have won political debate and their corporate fat cat buddies can kill working people again. Don’t you think it now true, the 1% and working people have nothing in common. The 1% kill because they can get away with it. Bugger the courts, they already failed when they didn’t prosecute these people for murder in the first instance.

  20. fender 22

    The governments got it’s priorities back to front

    “They’ve delayed the law which will keep workers safe in order to pass the law which removes basic work rights and makes work more dangerous.”

    Forester’s widow has message for government

  21. xtasy 23

    why is my comment not published, Lprent, are you not wanting to know the truth? xtasy

    [lprent: I wasn’t around for most of the afternoon yesterday. I was doing things around the house, catching up on reading, going to movies, and having a rare dinner out with Lyn – in other words relaxing. I’m catching up on the backlog of comments now.

    But it sounds like you went well off topic and Helen K trashed your comment but not in the usual standard way. ]

    • Clemgeopin 23.1

      Hi xtasy,
      In my opinion as another poster, this thread is for a very specific purpose to highlight the forestry deaths and for seeking donations for a private prosecution. You raised a different unconnected issue which may have hijacked the original thread in a different direction. I think you would be better off raising your issue in the Open Mike section. Anyway, this is my personal opinion.
      Take care.

    • Delia 23.2

      Yeah, thanks Simon Bridges.

  22. TeWhareWhero 24

    My father worked as a share milker / labourer on a remote hill farm after he was demobbed at the end of WW2. A few years later he had a tractor accident. He’d been working almost nonstop for 10 hours on steep land and the tractor he was driving rolled. His most serious injury was a severely broken and badly lacerated left leg. Had he been knocked unconscious he may have bled to death but he managed to use his shirt as a tourniquet and dragged himself uphill a way before passing out. My mother, 8 months pregnant and with a 3 year old in tow, found him when he failed to come home. The farm was so remote it took several hours more to get him to a hospital where he developed gas gangrene. A doctor who had experience of gas gangrene in the war recognised its distinctive smell, and it was caught early – which saved my Dad’s life. The doctors told him they might be able to save the leg by cutting away the necrotic tissue and using grafts to cover the wounds. Being 27, with the hope of returning to work on the land, he agreed to them taking skin grafts from his rib cage which they applied to the areas of his leg and foot where they’d removed necrotic skin and muscle.

    He spent 13 months in hospital and a further 5 months convalescing. At the end of it he had no job, no home, no compensation, a morphine addiction and a wife and 2 small children to support. AIr Force friends had helped my mother with accommodation while he was in hospital so I spent the first 18 months of my life in a transit camp at an air base. My parents eventually got a state house in a small town and my dad became a travelling salesman.

    His leg was always a nightmare – the grafts ulcerated, parts never healed fully and bits of bone would work their way out from the massive scar that ran from his thigh to ankle, he had to wear a special boot because his damaged leg was shorter than the other one and the foot was deformed. One of my most powerful childhood memories is the smell of mercurochrome antiseptic and various other patent topical medicines he would use to try to treat the constant ulcers and infections.

    I was 11 when he finally had the leg amputated and 16 when his morphine addiction, which he’d fed with powerful over the counter morphine derivatives, caught up with him and he had a complete mental and physical breakdown. He was an enormously strong man but the abuses his body and mind had been subjected to took their toll and he died far too young.

    No worker should ever lose his job, his home, his leg, his health because an employer expected him to work ridiculously long hours doing an inherently dangerous job.

    So – good on you Helen. I’ll be sending you a donation in my father’s memory.

    • Will@Welly 24.1


    • RedLogix 24.2

      Those stories move the hell out of me. Idiots who moan about the ‘evils of the welfare’ state have no idea what went on before it.

    • Helen Kelly 24.3

      What a sad story. It is very nice of you to tell it and to support our work. We haven’t even started contacting the injured workers in forestry but there are over 1200 who are so badly injured they have been on ACC for more than a year (the workforce is only 6500!). At last count there had only been a dozen or so proscecutions in the last 5 years for both the injury and deaths with over 900 serious harm accidents recorded. As your post shows – behind each of these is not only often a life time of disability of one form or another, but families whose lives change forever. Thanks again.

    • In the utopia foreseen by Jamie Whyte, your dad could be a private contractor and therefore fully responsible for his injuries and any costs associated with them. If he hadn’t take out sufficient insurance with a company that actually pays out for the stuff you’re paying it premiums for, he’d just have to take personal responsibility for his slow, agonising death. Vote ACT for a better future, folks!

  23. Will@Welly 25

    I sometimes wonder what has allowed our country to stoop to such a disgraceful state of affairs.
    These are not supposed to be feudal times.
    I always thought Pat Kelly was a top bloke. His daughter, Helen, might even be brighter.

    • Draco T Bastard 25.1

      These are not supposed to be feudal times.

      It appears that the rich want to bring those back.

  24. Clemgeopin 26

    Forestry death stats ‘alarming’ – coroner

    New Zealand’s forestry industry has more work-related deaths than any other work sector, a coroner looking into recent forest fatalities says.

    In Rotorua’s Coroners Court Wallace Bain said the number of injuries ACC dealt with from the forestry sector was six times higher than all other sectors.

    Between July 2007 and August 2013 there was an average of five forestry deaths a year with an “alarming” 10 last year, Dr Bain said.

    He also noted New Zealand had four times more forestry-related deaths than Australia and Canada, countries which employed far more people in the industry.

    Dr Bain had been scheduled to conduct inquests into eight deaths in the sector, but only two are proceeding in full.

    Read more: http://www.3news.co.nz/Forestry-death-stats-alarming—coroner/tabid/423/articleID/343848/Default.aspx#ixzz31Tql7K9Z

  25. Delia 27

    I cannot say a word, it just makes me cry.

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