May 2006 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal
Addressing BC’s horrific safety record
There finally appears to be some solid progress in addressing British Columbia’s horrific safety record in the forest industry, with a number of initiatives underway.
By Jim Stirling
Finally, there is some solid progress on the safety file in British Columbia’s forest industry. Shamed by years of horrific statistics, culminating in 2005 when 43 people went to work and never came home, the forest industry is moving to reverse the trend.
The BC Forest Safety Council (BCFSC)
is spearheading the effort. It’s trying to
simplify regulations and jurisdictional
confusion surrounding safety issues to
establish a cohesive baseline for safety
standards and practices in the BC forest
industry. The BCFSC is a partnership of
forest industry decision makers including
industry associations, union and government
agencies. Getting all the parties
involved together and sharing a commitment
to eliminating forestry fatalities and
injuries is fundamental to the council’s
A significant point is that a company qualifying under SAFE is also eligible for a minimum five per cent rebate on WorkSafe payments. A company must pass muster by a BCFSC approved auditor to receive the SAFE designation. “We’re trying to make the process as painless as possible,” emphasizes MaryAnne Arcand, based in the council’s Prince George office. “It’s encouraging that several companies have volunteered to be part of the pilot project. It indicates there’s an appetite to do this,” she adds.
There are grey areas to be clarified as the SAFE program pilot matures. One is how best to tailor the safety standards to different sized companies. There are obvious differences between an owneroperator of a truck or skidder and a major licensee. The thorny issue of liabilities between contractors at various levels and those providing services in the woods also has to be addressed.
Some logging contractors acknowledge the program’s overall goals, but have expressed concerns about the SAFE initiative translating into additional time and costs. Apart from the earnest effort to make SAFE qualification as less onerous as possible, safety advocates will be available— at no cost through the BCFSC—to help small and medium size companies participate in the program, explains Arcand.
In theory, the SAFE company thrust is voluntary. But in practice and in time it will become an industry-wide requirement. The minister (provincial forest minister Rich Coleman) has made it clear that if you want to work on the forest land base in BC, you must have the safety accreditation, says Arcand.
Most major companies, the Ministry of Forests and the BC Timber Sales Program are all on board with the SAFE program. A safety ombudsman—former Skeena MLA Roger Harris—has been appointed to act as a problem solver and neutral arbiter to handle “whistleblower” complaints surrounding alleged safety issues. A special forest industry coroner is also to be hired to analyze and identify the circumstances and underlying factors contributing to forest sector fatalities.
TruckSafe is another province-wide BCFSC program. In northern BC alone, at least 25 log truck drivers have lost their lives on the job in the last 10 years. Arcand notes that there is a critical driver shortage and a range in experience levels. Drivers new to a region are often unfamiliar with local weather conditions and equipment types. Several irons are in the fire to standardize operating conditions and improve driver training. Arcand says a graduated licensing program for resource road driving was scheduled for introduction in spring 2006.
A Resource Road Act, that includes establishing maintenance standards on the province’s 600,000 kilometres of offhighway roads, is being drafted and could be ready for public consultation by July. Meanwhile, the BCFSC is launching two major studies this year. One will scan substance use (drugs and alcohol) in the forest industry. The second will be a ground-breaking research project on fatigue. It will attempt to gather empirical evidence on fatigue and safety in relation to factors such as the accelerated mountain pine beetle infestation harvest and the implications of stumpage bingo.
Other moves are afoot on the safety front, outside of direct BCFSC work. Some licensees in BC’s north-central Interior have hired road marshals to monitor drivers on their back road networks. Duties include reporting driving infractions to the appropriate contractor or licensee and to be an observer on road maintenance issues. A Canfor Corp, road marshal has adopted a community-based approach to posting safety roadside signs depicting a young child and the reminder, “We all want to get home to our families. Drive carefully.”
Licensees are also responding to log trucker concerns and working to improve sight lines on hills and/or corners and adding pull-outs in key traffic areas.
Association (CILA) is looking at ways to rationalize
The RCMP are similarly targeting increased enforcement measures in their jurisdiction. WorkSafe is in the process of adding more safety officers in the forest sector. The Steelworkers-IWA Canada kicked off a lobbying blitz in March to urge BC politicians to remain focused on the safety of BC’s forest workers, and to listen to its recommendations for change. The union is also calling for a legislated day of mourning when a forest worker is killed on the job.
Kevin Falcon, BC’s Transportation Minister, has announced $30 million will be spent in each of the next three years to rehabilitate and maintain Interior roads pounded by the escalated mountain pine beetle harvest traffic. It’s estimated log truck traffic will increase by around 250,000 loads to move beetle-killed wood.
For Arcand, making BC’s forest sector safer for its workers is a continuous process of listening to workers’ concerns, trying to incorporate them into practical solutions and educating the public. “We have to find some creative ways to keep up the public pressure (on forest safety issues). One death is one too many.” She believes 2005 was the year the forest industry woke up to its sad safety record. This year is when things start turning around—and she predicts that 2007 will see major improvements right across the board.
For further information and updates visit: www.bcforestsafe.org.
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