SAFETY IN THE FOREST
Addressing the danger of falling trees
Falling trees in BC continues to be extremely dangerous work, but the province’s WCB is taking steps to address that with a new faller training and certification program.
By Don Dahr
starts with—and ultimately depends on—getting timber out of the bush. This
makes the work of falling trees the heart of the industry in British
Columbia. Continuing the analogy, falling is like the heart in at least
two other ways: It’s a relatively small part of the industry, and how well
it functions carries far-reaching implications for the well-being, even
the existence, of the main body. Unfortunately, what we’ve seen in the
past has never been the picture of good health, and it looks particularly
grim today. The occupation of falling is in critical condition now, with
disturbing symptoms totally disproportionate to its size. Making up only
about a tenth of the forest industry’s work force, production fallers:
An even bleaker picture emerges when the comparison is to all other BC workers. Average compensation costs for hand fallers run three times higher, and they are off work 30 per cent longer. The truly terrible thing is that none of this seems as shocking as it would be if we were talking about almost any other industry employing skilled workers. It’s as if someone decided that a condition of employment for fallers must be to endure unnecessary risks that result in serious injuries or fatalities. What drives the carnage is more complicated than the fact that fallers earn a living doing hazardous work in hostile, physically demanding and remote terrain. Anyone accepting that as a complete explanation is basically saying, “That’s the way it is…nothing can be done,” or “It’s the cost of doing business in a harsh environment.” Both are wrong.
Diagnosis and Treatment
The remedy developed by the joint effort is a new BC Faller Training Standard that establishes uniform safe work practices and procedures to be used everywhere in the province by all forest production fallers. When fully operational, the program will give our province Canada’s most rigorous falling standards. Its system of training and certification will protect fallers in BC. The goal is to make this skilled but hazardous occupation safer and more professional for both experienced fallers and those just starting their careers. Part One of the program is underway now. It involves a “grandfathering” process to certify qualified fallers already on the job. Until the end of 2004, those having worked regularly as fallers for at least two years will receive certification after passing a written or oral test and a skills demonstration. The application fee is $150 until July 31, when it rises to $250. Information on how to apply for the grandfathering process can be obtained by downloading applications from www.worksafebc.com , phoning toll-free to the WCB 1-888-621-7233, local 3060 or contacting any WCB regional office.
The Employer’s Stake
Others—possibly with more resources and certainly an eye on the future—go further. They make an investment that begins with the relatively short grandfathering process, but also promises permanent, in-house training expertise. The opportunity they see lies in the WCB’s expectation of broad industry participation in and eventual take-over of the program. This begins with evaluating experienced fallers’ tests and skills demonstrations against the standard, now done by trained board officers, and it goes on to include overseeing the certification of new fallers. To prepare industry personnel for those roles, the WCB is offering a 10-day Qualified Supervisor Trainer (QST) course for individuals like faller/bucker supervisors employed by licensees and contractors. Graduates can not only evaluate applicants for grandfathered certifications, but also oversee refreshers for those who may need remedial training, as well as train and evaluate fallers new to the industry—all under the new faller standard. The QST course can be made available in most regional centres for a fee of $1,000 per participant, including all instruction, materials and facility costs. More information is available from WCB Forestry Specialist Mike Nielsen at 1-888-621- 7233 Local 3060.
For Future Fallers
The standard sets out a practical program that revolves around a 530-page lesson plan based on what happens in the real world of logging. Supporting materials include 52 short, how-to videos shot in all weather conditions on different terrain from the Coast to the Interior. New fallers can count on 30 days of one-on-one training followed by an apprenticeship period of 180 days or less if they develop competency sooner. The training ends with an oral or written certification exam. Part of the process is instilling a greater sense of professionalism in an occupation that has always required high degrees of skill and knowledge. In that sense, the training echoes other joint industry efforts to improve safety in the woods— developing innovative falling practices, reviewing duties of faller/bucker supervisors and conducting regional FallSafe presentations.
Partnership Pays Off
When the full program is in place next year, falling will be well on its way to being a safer occupation. Ultimately, we should see risks to individuals drop, injuries and fatalities decline, and lower compensation costs for a forest industry operating in a relentlessly competitive world market.
Don Dahr is manager of primary resources for the Workers’ Compensation Board of BC.
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