In a strong message to the forestry sector, police have taken the rare step of bringing a criminal charge as a result of a forestry related death.

Paul Burr appeared in the Levin District Court on 2 September 2014 charged with the manslaughter of 20-year-old forestry worker Lincoln Kidd in December last year. He has pleaded not guilty.

Mr Burr was operating a tree-felling mechanical harvester when Mr Kidd was struck and killed by a falling tree. The police allege that Mr Burr failed to take "reasonable precaution or care to avoid danger" which resulted in Mr Kidd's death.

The prosecution is the first manslaughter charge to be laid in New Zealand in respect of a forestry related death and represents a change in the approach taken by police to dealing with workplace fatalities. It goes against the previous practice of investigating workplace deaths solely under the Health and Safety in Employment Act 1992 (HSE Act).

The personal charge brought against Mr Burr is in addition to charges laid by WorkSafe NZ against the company and two individuals under the HSE Act. While the HSE Act provides for criminal charges, the manslaughter charge has been brought under the Crimes Act 1961 and involves a reckless disregard for safety.

This tragedy also raises questions about the appropriateness of corporate manslaughter in situations such as this. The Health and Safety Reform Bill, currently being considered by the Select Committee, does not provide for corporate manslaughter. It does however significantly increase the penalties for corporations and individuals in breach of workplace health and safety.

New Zealand has a disturbing safety record in the forestry sector. Mr Kidd's death was among ten forestry related fatalities in 2013. This development sends a strong message to employers and employees in the forestry sector and other industries that accountability for workplace health and safety lies with everyone.

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