web analytics

The tale of Michael Stevens – killed 27 May 2008 – hit by falling tree

Written By: - Date published: 6:11 pm, July 4th, 2013 - 19 comments
Categories: uncategorized - Tags:

I have collected up the available documentation on the men killed in the forest since 2008. I am going to try, using the documents I have, to tell their story – one at a time. I haven’t been able to contact all the families of these men and hope if any of them read this, they are not surprised or upset to see the details set out like this.

The documents are public but have never been pulled together in one place. If we have an inquiry – they will provide some of the clues to what is going on. I have OIA’d the last 50 serious harm injuries as well – but the MBIE won’t provide them. MBIE have not collated and looked at these deaths as a set – I think collectively they paint an important picture.

This week the Forest Owners said they would welcome an independent inquiry into the industry and we hope to meet with them to talk about this soon, but really we need Mr Bridges to get over the line on this and agree to support it. I am hoping telling these stories will help.

Michael Stevens was killed in Ngaumu Forest in the Wairarapa on 27 May 2008. He was 40 years old. He was employed by Montana Logging working in a Juken NZ forest. He was struck by a falling tree. The foremen became concerned when he had not heard any cutting from the area Michael was working in for a while and went to look. He was found dead.

Michael had only started work 7 months before the accident and had been to polytech for a training course before hand. He was basically a trainee and was working towards his first tree felling unit standard on the week prior to the accident. Montana records indicated that it had clear faith in his ability to work competently, safely and productively on his own with limited or no supervision. He was cutting a tree which had a large wind thrown tree leaning heavily against it creating a large amount of pressure on the standing tree, thus causing the tree to fall quicker after the back cut was completed and causing the wind thrown tree to spring forward in the direction the falling tree would have taken. Other wind thrown trees nearby made it difficult to establish an uphill escape route. The falling tree hit other trees on the ground and slid sideways and backwards striking him in the area of his predetermined escape route.

The inspector found Michael’s decision to cut a particular dangerous tree was the critical factor in his death – he blamed him. “In this case DOL believe that there has been a breach of Section 19, in that an employee’s inactions have been the major contributing factor into the cause of the accident” “In this case there are no clear recommendations that can be made to dramatically improve processes or procedures to ensure this does not occur again”.

He wrote in the report that Michael was a worker “who could be trusted, who had initiative, a great work ethic and immense passion for tree felling”.

The inquiry report has no details of an employment agreement, nor record the hours of work that week , nor the weather conditions at the time. It does record that Michael tested negative to drugs. Five contributing hazards and four contributing causes were identified by the inspector but none included the weather or fatigue. The inspector found Montana had a comprehensive management system for this logging operation – the Coroner concluded it did not.

Coroner Garry Evans carried out a full inquiry into Michaels death. He found the DOL had been wrong to attribute health and safety duties to Michael that actually sat with his employer. After hearing from an expert witness he concluded Michael was cutting a tree beyond his experience and in fact lacked the training to even recognise that he was out of his depth. He found the health and safety plan was a generic one and insufficient for the specific site, and that Michael had only two months tree felling experience and was doing work usually done by the most experienced fellers.

Coroner Garry Evans recorded that it “cannot reasonably be said that … an employee’s inactions have been the major contributing factor into the cause of the accident”. An expert witness found that other contributing factors to the poor decision made by Michael included weather conditions (raining, wet, poor light, cold), time of day and having had only one day of rest (Sunday) before starting the next weeks work, maybe some personal problems but this was questioned, and not enough experience. The expert said that with the wet conditions the likelihood of the tree sliding backward or sideways into the escape route was very high.

No prosecution was taken in relation to this death. It is unclear if the Coroners recommendations were adopted by the Department – there is no legal requirement under the Coroners Act for any party to formally respond.

19 comments on “The tale of Michael Stevens – killed 27 May 2008 – hit by falling tree ”

  1. vto 1

    Oh well at least we know the risks in working in a forest now

    • Chris 1.1

      Obviously you have no understanding of the industry or the job at hand. Until you’ve been out there & do what we do I think you should keep your opinions to yourself! We’ve personally buried 8 people in 17 years, you have no idea of the risks. Id like to take you to work in our industry for a month & then see what you think. Signed, 24 years tree felling.

      • vto 1.1.1

        Well actually I have worked in forestry fulla and now work in a similarly dangerous sector. And in case you hadn’t noticed, my point was in support of your position. It was trying to highlight the evilly flippant manner of this government when it comes to safety of workers. Witness also Pike River.

        And no, I wont keep my opinions to myself, no matter whether they are decent or useless.

  2. karol 2

    So who was the inspector appointed by, who did the initial inquiry? An employer representative? Sounds like it as the blame was put onto the employee, Michael.

    Surely it is absolutely essential that an independent inquiry be held into all the forestry deaths. The findings by the coroner, that is totally opposed to the initial inquiry report blaming the health & safety provisions by the employer, indicates that the “inspector” cannot be trusted.

    • Chris 2.1

      Cheers karol, awesome post. You obviously know what the industry is about. Us who do the job, respect your opinion. From a veteran cutter.

      • karol 2.1.1

        Erm. Chris, I hope you aren’t confusing me with the writer of the above, “awesome post”: ie Helen Kelly. She clearly knows way more about the forestry industry than I do. I’m just going by her post.

        And clearly you do know about the industry, Chris. Hope they can get better and safer conditions for all forestry workers.

  3. Suitably Clueless 3

    Thanks for this Helen, I know a few people in the industry, and I hope I am never in the position of this man’s family and friends.

  4. Chris 4

    Classic example of poor cutover management by the foreman, contractor & all staff members on site. Anyone with any experience should’ve never have put that man out there with such little experience & time on the felling face. Clearly he was out of his league & didn’t know it. Those that had experience in the crew, i.e foreman & contractor therefore should be liable & prosecuted for this man’s death. I would like to know if he was a registered tree feller, under training in the company that he was employed & if he was, for the experience he had, the company (forest owner), therefore should be just as liable as the foreman & contractor. Its just a classic example of negligence towards the worker.

  5. Sable 5

    Yes and crappy Keys made it worse with his 90 day law. Now anyone new to a job has to put up with unsafe working conditions or face the sack.

  6. Hazel 6

    Helen, I agree with you that Gary Evans recommendations should be formally responded to by DOL. I wonder if the Ombudsman would be interested? Or perhaps a member of a Select Committee could ask the DOL to respond. The DOL ought to learn from the Coroner in cases like this.

  7. Wendy 7

    Keep highlighting these issues and telling these stories Helen. Crucial public work in these increasingly unsafe times. Completely unacceptable that Michael was blamed by the first ‘investigation’.

  8. fender 8

    Montana didn’t have the “comprehensive management system” that the first inspector believed them to have, is he a liar, corrupt or just incompetent, I wonder. This company allowed someone with only two months experience to attempt work he shouldn’t be expected to perform, especially without adequate supervision and guidance from an expert. Don’t mind betting that Michael wasn’t being paid as an expert, despite being expected to perform the tasks of one. He himself may have felt like he could tackle these tasks, but the company has an obligation to manage their less experienced workers until they have been fully trained in the hands-on complexities of tree felling.

    The Coroners Act needs more teeth if Montana don’t face prosecution for negligence I believe.

    Keep up the great work you are doing in this area Helen.

Links to post

Recent Comments

Recent Posts

  • NZ announces a third P-3 deployment in support of UN sanctions
    The Government has deployed a Royal New Zealand Air Force P-3K2 Orion (P-3) maritime patrol aircraft to support the implementation of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions imposing sanctions against North Korea, announced Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters and Minister of Defence Ron Mark. “New Zealand has long supported ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 days ago
  • Pacific trade and development agreement a reality
    Pacific regional trade and development agreement PACER Plus will enter into force in 60 days now that the required eight countries have ratified it. Trade and Export Growth Minister David Parker welcomed the announcement that the Cook Islands is the eighth nation to ratify this landmark agreement. “The agreement represents ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    6 days ago
  • Securing a pipeline of teachers
    The Government is changing its approach to teacher recruitment as COVID-19 travel restrictions continue, by boosting a range of initiatives to get more Kiwis into teaching. “When we came into Government, we were faced with a teacher supply crisis,” Education Minister Chris Hipkins said. “Over the past three years, we ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • Border exceptions for a small number of international students with visas
    The Government has established a new category that will allow 250 international PhD and postgraduate students to enter New Zealand and continue their studies, in the latest set of border exceptions. “The health, safety and wellbeing of people in New Zealand remains the Government’s top priority. Tight border restrictions remain ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • First COVID-19 vaccine purchase agreement signed
    The Government has signed an agreement to purchase 1.5 million COVID-19 vaccines – enough for 750,000 people – from Pfizer and BioNTech, subject to the vaccine successfully completing all clinical trials and passing regulatory approvals in New Zealand, say Research, Science and Innovation Minister Megan Woods and Health Minister Chris Hipkins. ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • International statement – End-to-end encryption and public safety
    We, the undersigned, support strong encryption, which plays a crucial role in protecting personal data, privacy, intellectual property, trade secrets and cyber security.  It also serves a vital purpose in repressive states to protect journalists, human rights defenders and other vulnerable people, as stated in the 2017 resolution of the ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • Ministry of Defence Biodefence Assessment released
    The Ministry of Defence has today released a Defence Assessment examining Defence’s role across the spectrum of biological hazards and threats facing New Zealand. Biodefence: Preparing for a New Era of Biological Hazards and Threats looks at how the NZDF supports other agencies’ biodefence activities, and considers the context of ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    1 week ago
  • New Approaches to Economic Challenges: Confronting Planetary Emergencies: OECD 9 October 2020
    New Approaches to Economic Challenges: Confronting Planetary Emergencies: OECD 9 October 2020 Hon David Parker’s response following Thomas Piketty and Esther Duflo. Good morning, good afternoon, and good evening, wherever in the world you might be. I first acknowledge the excellent thought provoking speeches of Thomas Piketty and Esther ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Kaipara Moana restoration takes next step
    A Memorandum of Understanding has been signed today at Waihāua Marae between the Crown, local iwi and councils to protect, restore and enhance the mauri of Kaipara Moana in Northland. Environment Minister David Parker signed the document on behalf of the Crown along with representatives from Ngā Maunga Whakahī, Ngāti ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • New Zealand and Uruguay unite on reducing livestock production emissions
    Agriculture Minister Damien O’Connor and Uruguayan Minister of Livestock, Agriculture and Fisheries Carlos María Uriarte have welcomed the launch of a three-year project that will underpin sustainable livestock production in Uruguay, Argentina, and Costa Rica.  The project called ‘Innovation for pasture management’ is led by Uruguay’s National Institute of Agricultural ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • 3100 jobs created through marae upgrades
    Hundreds of marae throughout the country will be upgraded through investments from the Provincial Growth Fund’s refocused post COVID-19 funding to create jobs and put money into the pockets of local tradespeople and businesses, Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones and Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta have announced. “A total ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Health volunteers recognised in annual awards
    Health Minister Chris Hipkins has announced 9 teams and 14 individuals are the recipients of this year’s Minister of Health Volunteer Awards.  “The health volunteer awards celebrate and recognise the thousands of dedicated health sector volunteers who give many hours of their time to help other New Zealanders,” Mr Hipkins ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Community COVID-19 Fund supports Pacific recovery
    The Minister for Pacific Peoples, Aupito William Sio says a total of 264 groups and individuals have successfully applied for the Pacific Aotearoa Community COVID-19 Recovery Fund, that will support Pacific communities drive their own COVID-19 recovery strategies, initiatives, and actions. “I am keen to see this Fund support Pacific ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Community benefits from Māori apprenticeships
    Up to 50 Māori apprentices in Wellington will receive paid training to build houses for their local communities, thanks to a $2.75 million investment from the Māori Trades and Training Fund, announced Employment Minister Willie Jackson today. “This funding will enable Ngāti Toa Rangatira Incorporated to provide its Ngā Kaimahi ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Training fund supports Māori jobseekers
    Rapidly growing sectors will benefit from a $990,000 Māori Trades and Training Fund investment which will see Wellington jobseekers supported into work, announced Employment Minister Willie Jackson today. “This funding will enable Sapphire Consultants Ltd. to help up to 45 Māori jobseekers into paid training initiatives over two years through ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Ruakura Inland Port development vital infrastructure for Waikato
    The Government is investing $40 million to develop an inland port at Ruakura which will become a freight super-hub and a future business, research and residential development for the Waikato, Urban Development and Transport Minister Phil Twyford, and Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta announced today. The funding has been has ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Appointments made to Defence Expert Review Group
    Defence Minister Ron Mark announced today the establishment of an Expert Review Group to review a number of aspects of the New Zealand Defence Force’s (NZDF) structure, information management and record-keeping processes.  The Expert Review Group’s work arises out of the first recommendation from the Report of the Government’s Inquiry ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • No active community cases of COVID-19
    There are no active community cases of COVID-19 remaining in the country after the last people from the recent outbreak have recovered from the virus, Health Minister Chris Hipkins said today. “This is a big milestone. New Zealanders have once again through their collective actions squashed the virus. The systems ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Clean energy upgrade for more public buildings
    More public buildings will be supported by the Government to upgrade to run on clean energy, the Minister for Climate Change James Shaw announced today. Minister Shaw announced that Lincoln and Auckland universities will receive support through the Clean-Powered Public Service Fund to replace fossil fuel boilers. Southern, Taranaki, and ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Schools back donations scheme for the second year
    More schools have opted in to the donations scheme for 2021, compared to 2020 when the scheme was introduced. “The families of more than 447,000 students will be better off next year, with 94% of eligible schools and kura opting into the scheme,” Education Minister Chris Hipkins said. “This is ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Ruapehu cycle trails gets PGF boost
    The spectacular Mountains to Sea cycle trail in Ruapehu District will receive $4.6 million in funding from the Provincial Growth Fund for two additional trails, Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones announced today. “This is an exciting development for the local community, and one that will provide significant economic opportunities ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    2 weeks ago
  • Update to air border order strengthens crew requirements
    Additional measures coming into effect on Monday will boost our defence against COVID-19 entering New Zealand through the air border, Health Minister Chris Hipkins said today. “As part of our precautionary approach and strategy of constant review, we’re tightening the requirements around international aircrew,” Chris Hipkins said. The COVID-19 Public ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 weeks ago
  • A true picture of Māori business activity
    A better picture of the contribution Māori businesses make to the economy will be possible with changes to the way information is collected about companies and trading enterprises. Māori Development Minister Nanaia Mahuta and Small Business Minister Stuart Nash have announced a new option for Māori enterprises who are part ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 weeks ago
  • PGF funding for Taranaki projects
    The South Taranaki museum, a New Plymouth distillery and a Pasifika building firm will benefit from a Government investment totalling more than $1 million, Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones says. The $1.05m in grants and loans from the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF) will help the recipients expand and create ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 weeks ago
  • Fijian Language Week 2020 inspires courage and strength during COVID-19 pandemic
    The Minister for Pacific Peoples, Aupito William Sio says the theme for the 2020 Fijian Language Week reflects the strong belief by Fijians that their language and culture inspires courage and strength that is strongly needed in times of emergencies, or through a significant challenge like the global COVID-19 pandemic ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 weeks ago
  • Trades training builds on iwi aspirations
    An investment of $2.025 million from the Māori Trades and Training Fund will support Māori to learn new skills while making a positive difference for their communities, announced Employment Minister Willie Jackson today. “K3 Development Limited Partnership will receive $2,025,000 for its Takitimu Tuanui apprenticeship programme, which will support the ...
    BeehiveBy beehive.govt.nz
    3 weeks ago