Ground-breaking health and safety case reaches verdict

A forestry contractor has been found not guilty of manslaughter in the first workplace health and safety trial of its kind.

Ground-breaking health and safety case reaches verdict
In a ground-breaking case, forestry contractor Paul Robert Burr has been found not guilty of the manslaughter of a worker who was crushed to death.

The case was the first in which a workplace incident has been subject to a manslaughter charge.

According to a statement from WorkSafe NZ, the manslaughter charge was laid by police.

In December 2013, Burr was operating a felling machine without realising that Lincoln Kidd was standing nearby. A tree fell in an unexpected direction, crushing Kidd.

The High Court at Palmerston North heard three weeks of evidence before a verdict was reached.

During the trial, the Crown argued that Burr violated a “cardinal rule” of forestry in not observing the two-tree lengths technique, which forbids people from being in that radius of the tree being chopped down.

However, it was also accepted that Burr was unaware of Kidd’s proximity to him, and was under the impression that Kidd had vacated the felling area.

According to Justice Brendan Brown, the prosecutor “suggested there has been a series of failures, oversights and assumptions at the site – and the focus has been on the wrong issue, that is production over safety”.

He added that the prosecutor had identified the company’s failure to take all practicable steps to ensure employees’ safety.

This included insufficient high-visibility clothing, lack of radio communication, not following the two-tree rule and Burr's failure to check for workers in the area after moving between mechanical and manual felling.

The prosecutor referred to Burr’s actions as a “major” departure from the expected standard of care.

Burr and his company will face sentencing next month for a further health and safety charge laid by WorkSafe NZ, to which Burr had previously admitted to.

Timothy Hunt, who hired Burr to work on the forestry block, has also admitted to that charge, for which he has already been sentenced.

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