December 2005 & January 2006 - The Logging and Sawmilling Journal
Taking care of the heli-logging details
When it comes to carrying out heli-logging in a safe way, it can all come down to training, planning and taking care of the details, whether you’re working on the sidehill, the landing or up in the helicopter.
By Paul MacDonald
When it comes to safety in the logging workplace, it can all come down to taking care of the details. And those safety details are extremely important in heli-logging, considering it is often carried out in the most rugged steep slopes of both the British Columbia Coast and Interior.
Heli-logging offers a huge advantage for loggers in terms of getting into inaccessible areas—without building a single kilometre of road. In just about any logging program in BC, there are inevitably areas where it would be cost prohibitive— if not close to impossible—to build road into. Environmental considerations can also be a complicating factor in building road.
Heli-logging practices in BC have evolved over the last several decades. In the 1970s, there was a handful of pioneering companies that did heli-logging on the BC Coast. There are now more companies doing this specialized work, and with the evolution of the business and development of safety practices, they can now do it in a much safer way—if they take care of the details.
“Practices have changed considerably,” says Patrick Davie, occupational safety officer with WorkSafe BC (formerly the Workers Compensation Board of BC).
Davie was part of the heli-logging scene in the 1970s and 1980s, working as a faller and bull bucker for a Vancouver Island logging contractor that was involved with one of the major helilogging outfits, Helifor. He then joined the WCB, and one of his areas of focus is heli-logging safety. Davie, in fact, helped write the heli-logging manual for WorkSafe BC.
“Heli-logging practices have developed a great deal in that time,” he says.“There is more supervision and there are recognized safe procedures on what and what not to do.” In spite of the potential safety hazards with the helicopters, most of the injuries WorkSafe deals with are on the ground. Helicopter operations fall under federal jurisdiction and are overseen by Transport Canada and Human Resources and Skills Development Canada.
“One of the biggest problem areas can be the landing,” explains Davie. “When the helicopter comes in with a turn of timber, things are happening at a very rapid rate.” The key is to get that wood off the hillside in the safest and most cost-efficient manner possible, considering the high costs of the helicopters. You could liken them to very expensive taxis with the meter running, and that meter is running at thousands of dollars per hour.
“The biggest consideration in heli-logging is the pre-planning, co-ordination and supervision of activities because everything is going so fast,” says Davie.
In terms of the people on the ground, the level of experience and training is very important. Supervisors need to be familiar with all aspects of the operation, from falling to equipment operation on the landing, so they can make sure everything is being carried out safely.
Regardless of who is overseeing the ground crew, whether it be the heli-logging company or the logging contractor, everyone has to receive a thorough orientation. “They need to know how to do their specific jobs, but they also need to know about the overall heli operation and how they need to work as a team to succeed, both in production and in safety. Everyone has to be reading off the same card,” says Dane.
“Supervisors should look at the upcoming hazards in a block and discuss them with the crew before they get started. There are always unexpected things, but the more you can reduce them, the better.”
The training has to extend beyond workers simply reading written procedures and signing off on them. “That’s education,” says Davie. “Training is when you spend the time and effort to have your people not just read something, but demonstrate it back to you proficiently.”
Crews can change as contractors and heli-logging companies move from one location to another, making safety orientation even more important. In these kinds of situations, companies have to ensure that a continuing training program is in place.
The greatest risks in heli-logging operations continue to also be on the hill, the slips and trips. “Helicopter logging is not done on flat ground,” emphasizes Davie. “It’s usually on steep broken ground. And on the hill, you need to be clear of the turns and be able to get out of the way on that steep ground. Workers also need to know the sequence of turns, that they have a set amount of time to set a turn to ensure everything flows smoothly and that they leave themselves enough space to safely clear the turn.” One of the changes the industry has seen is that helioperations are often using grapples, rather than chokers, to secure the loads, which reduces the size of the hill crew required and the hazard level.
When the crew is on site, and the helicopter in the air, the contractors should be at the point where they have an extremely well–developed plan, says Davie. “The pre-planning is very important. The landings are laid out but what volume is going to the landing? How many sorts are you going to have in that landing? Are you landing bucked 40-foot logs or full-length trees? How much processing is going on? There are a lot of things to consider from a safety standpoint.”
he time to make changes to a logging plan—in a heli-logging or conventional operation—is, ideally, before operations start. “You make the changes then,” says Davie. “When you push a bad plan, it just gets worse.”
Unique to heli-logging operations is the rotor blade downwash that ground crews have to work with. The downwash varies with the size of the machine and its lifting capabilities. A Sikorsky 64 capable of lifting over 20,000 pounds is going to have much greater wash than a Bell 206 which is handling relatively light loads of 1,200 pounds. And Davie notes that the Russian-built Kamov helicopter, with its unique counter-rotating double rotor, has a downwash that is“formidable.”
Special attention needs to be taken to ensure that any standing trees at the tree line area are “windfirm,” and that there are no danger trees or limbs that the rotor wash would force down or out into the work area. This is especially true in areas of selective logging, where standing trees are being left.
The on-the-ground heli-operations need to be flexible. If there is a component failure on the helicopter, and the machine is down for repairs, contractors have to review whether their employees should still be out there working on a side hill, if it is not accessible.
Davie notes that WorkSafe BC has a role greater than just being safety cops. “Sometimes we don’t have a choice but to tell someone to pack up the saws and shut things down.” In the operations that safety officers visit, they want to ensure that safety is being practised, but they are also there to provide direction and information.
“Our value is not in going out there and quoting a regulation—just saying yes or no to something. We can provide direction. We can say ‘no’ to something, but we might add ‘have you thought about doing it this way? Or have you tried it that way?’
“We can help evolve the logging plan and make it as safe as possible.”
In logging, as in all industries, supervisors and the company have their safety responsibilities. But WorkSafe BC emphasizes that workers are ultimately responsible for their own safety and actions. “For example,” says Davie, “if you are working with mobile equipment in the landing, don’t go out until you have eye contact and clearance from that loader operator. You need confirmation that he knows you are there.
“Or when that helicopter comes in to the landing with a max turn, it’s coming in now. They are committed—they’ve got all this weight and they can’t just automatically stop and go to another spot on the landing. You have to be aware of that and have a commitment to your own safety above all.”
Davie has investigated a large number of fatalities in his 16 years with WorkSafe BC. He notes the awful, tragic impact someone’s death at work leaves on the family. But those tragedies also leave their mark on the tight crews of a logging contractor. Davie tells of a logger who was quickly trying to get in behind a loader to buck a log. The worker thought the operator knew he was in behind—but the operator didn’t, and backed up.
“That was a terrible tragedy for the fellow’s family,” says Davie. “But it had a big impact on the crew. This fellow had worked with the loader operator for 10 years, and that operator is going to be left with that for the rest of his life.”
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