By Jim Stirling
It’s a bit like a chat around the kitchen table. But this one is taking place at the front counter in the office of a small log harvest contracting company.
There’s plenty of paper getting shuffled and good-natured bantering going on. During the process, clarifications are made, recommendations offered and answers provided. By the conclusion of the session, considerable time has been saved for the logging company, frustrations spared and the operation’s annual SAFE company audit is much closer to being satisfactorily filed.
Mike Pottinger participates in lots of sessions like that one while taking the audit filing process direct to B.C. loggers. Pottinger works for the BC Forest Safety Council and is the regional safety advisor for the northwest and central interior areas of British Columbia, operating from a base in Houston, B.C., about 300 kilometres northwest of Prince George. Pottinger extends the process to the bush, spending considerable time visiting a logging company’s harvesting operations. When there, he chats about the current state of the forest industry and talks safety issues pertinent to both the specific machines being used on site and the log harvesting operation in general.
BC Forest Safety is passionate about safety issues. Among its tenets are that all forestry fatalities and injuries are preventable, and that the safety of forestry workers is an over-riding priority that’s key to the long term success of the industry. Pottinger doesn’t adopt an evangelical fervour to the work or present a dictatorial approach. “I’m a support mechanism for loggers,” is how he modestly describes his role.
Pottinger is quick to appreciate the good safety-enhancing initiatives whenever he comes across them on a logging show. But, he adds, he will also explain the benefits of compliance with safety regulations. One of the flip sides of ignoring them is the possibility of a financial penalty. “That tends to grab the owner’s attention,” notes Pottinger. That’s understandable, given the squeeze on tight operating margins small logging businesses face these days.
The subject of penalties introduces a recurring theme for Pottinger and the council. The BC Forest Safety Council suffers from a continuing case of mistaken identity, he says. The council is not safety’s policeman—WorkSafeBC does that. BC Forest Safety representatives can’t show up unannounced on a logging show, for example, nor can they write tickets for regulatory non-compliance. Enforcement of regulations is WorkSafeBC’s domain.
BC Forest Safety’s role is first and foremost to make log harvesting operations safer—for everyone working on them. When that occurs successfully, there’s less likelihood WorkSafeBC inspections will provide examples of regulatory non-compliance.
Pottinger is well qualified for his job. He’s spent many years working in the B.C. forest industry at different jobs and in varied parts of the province. And he’s got the scars to prove it.
“I know from my own experience the specific pressures on the body from running a skidder all day; the risks of fire in a feller buncher and the repetition of operating a processor for a 10-hour shift,” he says.
Pottinger’s past experience and understanding allows him to communicate easily with loggers—and appreciate their working environments and problems.
BC Forest Safety has tried hard through the years to make the SAFE company audit process, for example, more user-friendly. “There is an audit standard that’s been developed that is simplified and easier to understand,” Pottinger explains. “We’ve tried to make it both simpler and functional. We’re here to help people achieve compliance.”
Logging contractors are encouraged to create a paper trail, he continues.
“We try to influence them to the benefits of documentation. When things aren’t properly documented, they can be hard to verify and that can lead to complications.”
Pottinger reckons one of the most important strategies logging companies should prepare and maintain is a functional Emergency Response Program (ERP). What that means is having the right information, training and equipment on hand to respond safely when there’s an injury on site, or some unexpected event occurs. Fires and floods are examples of unexpected events. The ERP is essentially designed to reduce confusion and panic, and instead respond efficiently to the situation.
The ERP lists all contact information that may be required for help, including everything from 911 to summoning helicopter assistance. The ERP should also involve pre-work information, explains Pottinger. This includes things like detailed area maps showing prominent physical features like streams and steep ground. These can be especially useful to new workers to a site or for those who work on multiple shows.
“The ERP is more complex than just a piece of paper,” he continues.
One thing tends to lead to another. For example, in an isolated region, satellite communication devices can literally be life savers in an emergency situation. That is as long as people know how to properly operate them, points out Pottinger. An emergency situation is not the best time to be fumbling through an instruction manual.
Safety in forestry is not a concept workers in the industry need to be sold on. “I’m not selling anything,” agrees Pottinger. But what the BC Forest Safety Council is doing, however, is reminding the forest industry to proactively think safety and develop and practice safe working habits. They are applicable to bush operations, in and around the logger’s offices and vehicles, and in equipment repair and service shops. They all have their own specific sets of potential hazards. It’s like another of BC Forest Safety’s guiding principles eloquently states: “Injury prevention is most effective when the overall industry owns and leads the change.”
On the Cover:
Building components manufacturer Katerra recently opened North America’s highest volume cross-laminated timber (CLT) factory in Spokane Valley, Washington, and Logging and Sawmilling Journal has all the details on the new production facility beginning on page 28. The new plant has an annual manufacturing capacity of 185,000 cubic metres, the equivalent of 13 million square feet of 5-ply panels (Cover photo courtesy of Katerra Inc.).
Advocating safety—in all parts of logging
The BC Forest Safety Council is a leader in forest safety, and its employees such as Mike Pottinger are great advocates for industry safety, from the bush to the repair shop.
COFI Conference coming up in April
Logging and Sawmilling Journal outlines the issues and previews the B.C. Council of Forest Industries’ (COFI) annual convention coming up in April in Prince George, B.C., the largest gathering of the forest sector in Western Canada.
Giving ‘er in B.C. logging…
Young logging contractors may be in short supply these days, but the ones that are out there, like B.C.’s Brandon Connolly, are extremely effective with their equipment, and are—as Connolly says—“giving ‘er”.
More chips, please!
B.C.’s Valiant Log Sort has seen big-time growth in its wood chipping operations, with the closure/curtailment of a number of sawmills, and it has added to its equipment line-up with a new CBI 7544 Flail Debarker and Disc Chipper.
Manufacturing CLT state-side—with Canadian lumber
Building components manufacturer Katerra has opened a $150 million, high-volume cross-laminated timber (CLT) factory in Washington State—and feedstock, in the form of dimensional lumber, is all coming from Canada.
Breaking down wood—without breaking the bank
B.C. custom sawmiller Bob Jerke has discovered how to break down timbers into high volumes of boards without breaking the bank, thanks to a lower cost, manually-operated band sawmill.
Logging and Sawmilling Journal takes flight with this Tech Update, with a focus on drones in the forest industry.
Included in this edition of The Edge, Canada’s leading publication on research in the forest industry, are stories from Alberta Innovates and Canadian Wood Fibre Centre (CWFC).
The Last Word
The present may look gloomy for the B.C. Interior forest industry, but it is tackling adversity and planning for the future, explains columnist Jim Stirling.