Ontario sawmill representatives recently attended a workplace risk assessment workshop to identify the top health and safety risks in the industry—and they identified substance use as the number one risk.


By Tony Kryzanowski

Substance use, where an employee is under the influence of alcohol, prescription, or other drugs, has been identified as the number one health and safety risk by sawmill representatives taking part in a series of workplace risk assessment workshops hosted over the past two years by Ontario’s Workplace Safety North (WSN).

Initially, representatives identified over 80 potential health and safety risks and then narrowed it down to the top 10.

Dr. Sujoy Dey, Corporate Risk Officer with the Ontario Ministry of Labor (MOL) and a risk assessment expert, emphasized that the issue is substance ‘use’, not necessarily ‘abuse’.

The other top 10 health and safety risks identified by the Ontario sawmill representatives were training issues; improper equipment lock-out; inexperienced new and young workers; distractions while working; slips, trips and falls; occupational disease such as hearing loss; job and family-related stress; working at heights; and, dangers working around mobile equipment.

Although substance use was identified by industry reps as the top health and safety risk within northern Ontario sawmills, there was no immediate demand to address this issue with such mitigating measures as random drug testing, which has been implemented in other industries in Ontario, particularly in the mining industry in some of their fly-in operations.

So far, the focus has been on prevention, education, and better supervisor training to identify and respond to perceived incidents of employees being under the influence, and thus representing a health and safety risk requiring removal of that employee from the work environment.

Dr. Dey says that the top 10 health and safety risks identified by these Ontario sawmill representatives are probably not unique and are likely common in all sawmills across Canada, just to a lesser or greater extent, depending on local circumstances.

The top issue of substance use came as a surprise to both WSN and MOL workshop facilitators, which included Dr. Dey and WSN Industrial Director, Tom Welton.

“What was a real surprise to us and an eye opener was that substance use was identified by everyone in the room as a number one priority,” Welton says. “When we started to talk about it through the working group sessions, it wasn’t a surprise to anyone that this was a concern in their operation and something they’d heard in other operations as an ongoing concern, as well.”

DEALING WITH SUBSTANCE ABUSE…IN THE SAWMILLWelton agreed with Dr. Dey that substance use and other issues identified by industry reps on the top 10 list are likely common within the industry throughout Canada.

WSN services northern Ontario communities and is one of four not-for-profit, industry-supported health and safety organizations, focused on consulting, training, ergonomic assistance and industrial hygiene assistance to resource industries, such as forestry, pulp and paper and mining. The MOL provides overall WSN oversight. WSN funding comes from Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) premiums paid by industry, which is Ontario’s version of workers compensation boards in other provinces.

“Historically, we have always based our goals and what we are trying to focus on through lagging indicators and statistics that we get from WSIB,” developed from incident reports from industry, says Welton. Substance use was not identified by WSIB as a concern based on information gathered from those incident reports, which is why it was not on WSN’s radar.

“In most cases, it’s because someone slipped on ice or a guard was removed or a procedure was not being followed. They (WSIB) were not looking deep into why they slipped on the ice,” says Welton. “It may have been because someone was under the influence that made them more susceptible to that type of thing happening.”

However, by obtaining direct feedback from sawmill representatives through the workplace assessment process, Welton says that this has provided WSN and MOL with a fresh look from an industry perspective on what they are witnessing today as some of the highest risks. That’s how substance use surprisingly appeared at the top of the list as a significant potential underlying factor contributing to incidents.

The challenge is that even now, underlying causes like substance use may not begin to appear in incident reports and WSIB stats because Welton says it will be difficult to document unless the employee admits to it or there is some sort of drug testing to prove it.

The desire to hold a risk assessment workshop involving the sawmill industry was spawned by a similar process of risk assessment and ascertaining the root causes of the top workplace health and safety risks started within the Ontario underground mining industry in 2015. The Ontario government had identified mining as one of the highest risk industries in the province.

As sawmilling and logging were also identified as high risk industries, and with WSN’s tie-in with these sectors, the workplace risk assessment process was implemented for forestry as well in 2017. According to WSN, the Ontario sawmill industry has had three fatalities in the past four years, contributing to its high risk designation, although substance use was not identified as a root cause in any of those fatalities.

As with the mining program and after the initial workshop which provided feedback from sawmill representatives, WSN, in concert with the MOL, followed up with a process to identify the top 10 root causes of substance use in the workplace. Dr. Dey says that identifying root causes are important because otherwise only band-aid solutions are developed.

What they found was a lack of preventative tools like policies and procedures, testing, and communication within sawmills to nip substance use in the bud; no consensus within governing bodies on safe limits for consuming cannabis or prescription drugs; variability on how these drugs affect different individuals; lack of management support to tackle this issue; lack of quality training for supervisors; social acceptance of drug use; and, no information or stats on how substance use may be impacting workplace incidents.

Industry, WSN and MOL have drafted five specific and immediate actions that should be taken by industry to address the substance use concern.

They are: clearly defined, well-written, and effectively communicated policies related to substance use; specific training for supervisors on recognizing and dealing with impairment; basic awareness training to all in the workplace, including how to recognize impairment; taking an inventory of safety-sensitive job tasks; and, training for management and supervisors to effectively communicate company policies on substance use.

The highest priority is on supervisor training to recognize a potential problem with substance use impairment, and actions to remove that employee to avoid a potential incident.

Dr. Dey always tells employers to try to get to the root cause as early as possible, to prevent an incident. “But after the fact, when an incident occurs, that means that risk management has failed and it then becomes issues management. That means from a cost perspective it goes off the charts.” But the worst thing, of course, is that if somebody got hurt, he emphasizes.

Welton says that there should be no illusions of just how challenging it is for supervisors to identify and address potential substance use situations—but what makes it worse is if the supervisor has had no training in how to address it. That is what WSN is working to improve with training opportunities in how to identify a potential hazard and remove an employee, who is suspected of being impaired, from a safety-sensitive position.

The legalization of cannabis and the imminent availability of cannabis-infused edibles is something on the horizon that has the potential to significantly complicate the substance use issue in the workplace.

“During a presentation with our slides, we present a cookie and a cannabis-infused cookie—no difference,” says Dey. “Also we show a gummy bear versus another gummy bear. There are huge challenges and that’s why it is complicated. But in the end, the discussion has to be, how do we get the worker home healthy and safe.”

Health/safety workshops provide a refresher to industry

The workshops on the top sawmill health and safety risks that have been hosted by Workplace Safety North (WSN) over the past two years in North Bay, Ontario were an important refresher and reminder on the inherent dangers of working in this environment, says one industry participant.

“There’s a lot of risks in sawmills,” says Jocelyn Lagace, Health, Safety and Risk Manager at EACOM, which operates several sawmills in Ontario.

“There are a lot of aspects to the jobs where there can be situations where an employee can get hurt. It’s there, we know that, and we always aim to make sure that the employee knows the risks, and they know how to react when they encounter a risk,” he says.

Lagace added that he was not surprised that over 80 health and safety risks were identified by industry representatives during the initial workshop set up by WSN and the Ontario Ministry of Labor. It aimed to identify the top 10 health and safety risks—and the single biggest risk—in north central Ontario sawmills today.

“Sometimes we can forget how many risks we can encounter in just one day,” says Lagace. “So I wasn’t surprised that there were over 80 identified because of the nature of the industry we are in.”

There was strong industry participation in the workshops, with representation from all company sizes. For its part, EACOM had representation from both management and employees because the company felt that this was an important topic as a reminder, and to build awareness at all levels. Several companies followed this pattern of employee involvement in the workshops.

Lagace says that he wasn’t surprised either that substance use was identified as the top health and safety risk, partly because of the high public profile of this topic with the recent legalization of marijuana in Canada.

Although marijuana is now legal, Legace says he has not noticed that substance use is any more common in the workplace than prior to legalization, “but we are more aware and more equipped to deal with that issue today.”

EACOM already had specific policies in place regarding drug impairment on the job. More resources became available after the workshops to help companies review current policies and to update them where necessary.

He agreed that the priority of providing better training and resources to supervisors working on the front line was a good approach to ensuring that there was timely and appropriate response when a potential case of substance use and potential impairment is identified.

“It’s really about teamwork,” says Legace. “We have to make sure that supervisors are aware of what can happen and that they are equipped on how to deal with those situations—because they are the interface between the employee and management. So it’s really important that they are well trained.”

Although there are consequences to actions, the ultimate goal is to help the employee to be aware and to arrange help, where appropriate. The goal is to have them fit to work.

Although substance use was identified as the top health and safety risk, Legace says that the other items on the top ten list were equally important, both in terms of reminding employees of these risks, and to instigate a review of policies on how they should be mitigated, and communicated. in the workplace.


Logging and Sawmilling Journal
March 2019

On the Cover:
Saskatchewan’s Freedom Logging harvests about 283,000 cubic metres annually, primarily for the Tolko OSB plant near Meadow Lake, and the logging outfit has a long association with John Deere equipment, including Deere skidders, as the backbone of their logging fleet. Read all about the operation beginning on page 44 of this issue. (Cover photo by Tony Kryzanowski)

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Fitting all the pieces together ...
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Dealing with substance abuse…in the sawmill
Ontario sawmill reps have identified substance abuse as the top health and safety risk in the workplace—and now have some action suggestions on how to deal with it.

Building the base…
Saskatchewan’s Freedom Logging started operations in the jaws of the economic downturn, and has gradually built its volume—and its equipment base—to the point that it now has more than triple the cut that it started with, in 2008.

Equipment evolution
Ontario logger Dave Quehl has made the move into cut-to-length harvesting, and his equipment line-up has evolved—with a Caterpillar 521B tracked harvester with a Quadco 5660 head and John Deere 1510E forwarder now fitting the bill.

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New Brunswick’s GL Wood Products has established a very unique market niche: producing lumber components for fish boxes for shipping smoked and salted fish to overseas markets.

The Edge
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from the Canadian Wood Fibre Centre and FPInnovations.

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