Pulp and Paper Canada

BC Logging Safety in 2006

October 1, 2006  By Pulp & Paper Canada

Logging fatalities in BC received a lot of attention after an article by Gordon Hamilton appeared in the Vancouver Sun on the subject of the BC logging situation in 2005. However, the mention of the 4…

Logging fatalities in BC received a lot of attention after an article by Gordon Hamilton appeared in the Vancouver Sun on the subject of the BC logging situation in 2005. However, the mention of the 43 fatalities reported by Worksafe BC in 2005 does not accurately reflect the situation. The average for the last ten years is actually about 31 per year, with the lowest in that period being 16 in 2004, only one year before the peak in 2005. The problem with this form of measurement is that it is an absolute rather than a rate (example: The 43 fatalities were per how many hours of exposure? Or per how many full-time workers?).

Up to the end of June this year, the total fatalities were six, versus 21 last year. At first glance, this is a huge improvement. However, the number of severe injuries is about 50 versus 51 last year at the end of June, indicating that all is not necessarily well. A better safety outcome measure in BC logging would be the use of medical case rates (includes fatalities, lost time, restricted work and simple medical treatment cases) per 100 full-time employees or per 200,000 hours of exposure. This is necessary in order to be able to assess the ultimate performance of smaller contractors and is an important safety indicator for contractor pre-qualification and monitoring by licensees/owners and prime contractors.


Ron Neil, owner of the BC Forest Industry Advisory Service (FIAS), has kept such statistics for timberland owners on a voluntary basis since 1992 but has seen a steady decline in the number of participating member companies (from seven to three in the last eight years). Total exposure man-hours have declined from about 10 million to 2.5 million as these companies gradually contracted out their logging operations. But the contractors now doing the logging seem reluctant to report to the FIAS, believing it somehow reveals their productivity levels which they consider a trade secret. They would be well-advised to use the reputable FIAS service to demonstrate their own safety performance versus that of their peers.

Economic hard times

Over the last ten years, economic fluctuations and inconsistencies in logging programs have had an impact on the management of safety, as well as safety programs. Cost-cutting initiatives by the forest industry have led to the adoption of contracting-out practices, which most believe are here to stay in BC. Contracting out has accelerated over the last three or four years. Interfor Woodlands of BC is contracting at 100% since 2005 and they had one of the top safety programs in BC logging up to that time. However, Interfor experienced six fatalities in its logging operations in 2005, three of its own employees (plane and helicopter crashes) and three contractor employees. This shocked Interfor into focusing on properly transferring its safety expertise to hired contractors. Experience with contracting out in Quebec and Ontario in the 1980s was actually quite positive from a safety point of view. Here is a good example: with their own equipment, contractors took very good care of their skidders and did not abuse the equipment, resulting in lower maintenance costs and low back injuries for drivers. Where the employer supplied the skidders, maintenance costs and back injury rates skyrocketed.

Culture of risk

Is the whole logging industry (workers and management alike) resigned to the high risks in logging and complacent as a result? Otto Schulte, VP of Interfor Woodlands of BC, believes that safe work methods are essentially well-known and understood but not followed. He is emphatic when he states that these safe work methods are not only sound and productive, but are simply good business for the worker, the contractor, prime contractor, licensees and owners, without exception. He feels there is no advantage to taking shortcuts.

Worker Competency

Better worker risk assessment skills are needed in order to focus more effort on preventing high-severity incidents. Incident statistics kept by the FIAS and Interfor Woodlands indicate that overall medical case rates have been declining over the last ten years but the high severity injury rate is not. In November 2002, Worksafe BC’s Risk Watch Newsletter stated that high severity injuries constituted 4% of the injury volume but such claims represented 70% of total claims costs. Low severity injuries represented 72% of the volume but only 7% of total claims costs.

Joint effort

With the growing use of contracting, there appears to be a much greater need for the improvement in the knowledge and continuous use of hazard detection and control skills by every individual worker. All workers must acquire the necessary pre-requisite skills in order to survive the transition to the new contracting system in BC logging. There is a need for a universal type of personal or individual ability to manage workplace hazards that is transportable from one employer to another. The BC logging industry must ensure that every single worker has acquired these skills and that they apply them 100% of the time. The industry must decide who is responsible for performing and monitoring this initiative. All parties have to acknowledge and support the belief that these risks can and will be managed, and that workers will be permitted and encouraged to manage workplace hazards without fear of pressure and reprisals from licensees, employers and even from impatient fellow workers. It is essential that all workers and management participate in the development and implementation of work methods and practices that are both safe and productive and be able to demonstrate that they are so, especially where piecework is concerned.

Certainly from a safety perspective the conclusion is that the BC logging industry is going through a painful transition to contracting-out of logging operations and that it will take time before it is fully successful, perhaps five to seven years. The new culture that they must acquire is that it is more macho to be safe than to be a high-risk taker. It is crucial not to leave the workers out on a limb, so to speak.

John E. Little is a risk management consultant and can be reached at: E: jelittle@videotron.ca and T: 418 826-0541

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