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Making Logging Roads Safer

A coroner’s inquest into the death of a BC log hauler resulted in some 17 recommendations— now it’s a matter of implementing the recommendations to make logging roads safer.

By Jim Stirling

Will safer logging roads become Joseph Leroux’s lasting legacy? A coroner’s inquest jury into the death of the British Columbian log hauler made 17 recommendations designed to make that happen. Now it’s a matter of how and when the recommendations are implemented before the question can properly be answered.                                   

Several of the jury’s recommendations focused on issues that have been well documented as risk factors for those working on back country logging roads in the BC Interior. But nothing significant has been done in practical terms to address them. These include jurisdictional overlaps, poorly defined responsibilities, sometimes haphazard operational procedures and precious little monitoring or enforcement. But this time around, however, there are indications the jury’s recommendations won’t sit idle. And more on that to follow.                                   

(Frank) Joseph Leroux was an experienced log hauler. He was killed on a March evening in 2006 while hauling on the Finlay-Phillip Forest Service Road near Mackenzie in north central BC. Forest companies Canfor and Abitibi- Consolidated and their contractors were active on the forest service road at the time of the tragedy. The inquest jury heard evidence that Leroux took evasive action to avoid colliding with an oncoming unloaded logging truck. But he subsequently lost control when his vehicle’s tires caught a snowbank in a narrower section of the road and he plunged down into a ravine.                                   

Most of the five-person jury’s recommendations resulting from the complex, eight-day inquest, were directed to government and its agencies. The Ministry of Forests & Range was in line for eight of them; five others were directed to WorkSafe BC. The others were aimed at the BC Forest Safety Council (BCFSC)—a group representing the forest industry— and the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia (ICBC).                                   

The jury’s recommendations apply to forest service roads, of which there are about 200,000 kilometres in BC. But there’s another 450,000 kilometres of roads without that designation, that are used by industry and the public. That scary statistic is supposed to be addressed through the Resource Road Act, a proposed piece of legislation by BC’s Liberal government that is expected to take an overall approach to safety on back roads.                                   

The inquest jury suggests Ministry of Forests district managers should be required to conduct a road user safety assessment—or be satisfied that one exists—prior to issuing companies with road use permits to haul logs.                                   

The district managers should also ensure that if a road use agreement is required, it should include road safety issues. The jury called on BC Timber Sales to conduct a risk assessment when allocating timber sales. It says the assessments should include the study of impacts on road safety and take existing road users into consideration. Additional volumes were being hauled on the Finlay-Phillip road the night Leroux was killed, partly as a result of a BC Timber Sales award.                                   

The jury also says the ministry should work toward standardizing forest road signage, including kilometre numbers, must-call signs and pull-out locations. Along a similar vein, the jury recommends the ministry develop safety-focused standards for engineering, construction and maintenance of resource roads and be prepared to upgrade those standards when needed.                                   

The ministry’s compliance staff should communicate road infractions and verbal warnings to companies and road user committees, suggested the jury. It also called for allocating adequate resources to ensure road safety-focused enforcement. The jury recommendations targeting WorkSafe BC (formerly the Workers’ Compensation Board) included a requirement whereby the primary road user on a multi-employer forest road create an unbiased road marshall or foreman position to monitor road safety. This would include items like road maintenance, snow plowing, speed limit compliance and radio protocol compliance.                                   

Calling procedures—the delivery and understanding of them—was key in the Leroux case where the loaded and unloaded trucks didn’t expect to be meeting each other in that fateful location.                                   

The jury would also like to see WorkSafe and the RCMP co-ordinate at least two checks per logging season per forest district for drug and alcohol abuse. Evidence was introduced at the Leroux inquest that the deceased had an active ingredient contained in marijuana in his system. The jury wants ICBC to implement a forestry endorsement for commercial drivers which would require 50 hours of ridealong time in a logging truck.                                   

The BCFSC was urged by the jury to continue its development of a standardized BC radio use protocol; maintain its education of truck drivers about compliance with the requirements of pre-trip inspections, seat belt use and brake checks; and elevate the profile of combating substance abuse in the forest industry.                                   

MaryAnne Arcand, who represents the TruckSafe initiative of the BCFSC, says all the jury’s recommendations will be actively pursued. She notes the substance abuse problem nge to address because no hard data exists specific to the BC forest industry. She adds there are indications the aging logging industry work force is self-medicating with over-the-counter substances more than illicit drug use. “We’re taking a good hard look at the whole issue,” she reports.                                   

The BCFSC has developed and continues to work on a draft calling procedure that includes about seven across-the-board radio use procedures supported by regional protocols reflecting issues like hairpin turns on roads and heavy traffic areas.                                   

“We want everyone talking the same language,” Arcand says. Pilot projects are underway to test and fine-tune the proposed procedures. She suggests it would be timely to introduce them when expected changes to resource road radio safety channels are implemented. Arcand says she attended about 95 per cent of the Leroux inquest and overall was quite pleased with the recommendations produced by the jury. “I found it to be a very thorough process. A couple of jury members had log trucking experience and that allowed them to ask very specific questions,” she continues. The industryspecific experience helped provide                                    their fellow jury members with context background, she surmises, in what was a difficult assignment for a layman given all the parties involved.                                   

Arcand believes there are different circumstances existing today that should accelerate implementation of the jury’s recommendations and not allow them to languish as just more well-meaning intentions. Public awareness of forest industry safety issues is at a high and the pressure for action is likely to be sustained. She cites expectation for that in a couple of areas. The BCFSC’s determination to hold parties accountable is one, she says. An anticipated report from the BC attorney-general’s department which is predicted to be critical of safety standards is another. The BC forest ombudsman, Roger Harris’s resource overview is underway and his reports typically mince few words.                                   

It all means the pressure is on for positive action rather than inertia. Arcand believes most of the inquest jury’s recommendations in the Leroux case are achievable, without a lot of extra costs. “They are doable if the government wants to do them,” she says.