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Trouble in Lotus Land


January 1, 2006
By Pulp & Paper Canada

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BC newspapers are full of nasty logging fatality stories and finger-pointing these days. After several studies in recent years, the BC government, WorksafeBC authorities (of the Workers’ Compensation…

BC newspapers are full of nasty logging fatality stories and finger-pointing these days. After several studies in recent years, the BC government, WorksafeBC authorities (of the Workers’ Compensation Board), along with private industry and various industry associations, introduced a number of positive initiatives in 2004 / 2005 such as the creation of the BC Forest Safety Council and a Faller Certification program. Notwithstanding these efforts, lack of progress in just slowing these fatality rates, let alone reducing them, has reached the point that the WCB had to act as explained in the following excerpts from recent articles in the Vancouver Sun:

TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 22, 2005

B.C. to get tough on logging safety

Gordon Hamilton, Vancouver Sun

“WorkSafeBC says it’s about to get tough on the forest industry in a bid to bring down the death toll in the woods — including holding major companies accountable for deaths and injuries on their timber licences.”

And a day later,

WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 23, 2005

Money vs. men — the carnage in the woods goes on and on

Stephen Hume, Vancouver Sun

A report that 40 loggers have now been killed in 2005, the worst industrial carnage in the woods in almost 30 years, brings only a sad and ironic sense of dja vu. This was the year a new BC Forest Safety Council launched the “comprehensive strategy to dramatically improve the safety record” recommended by a forest safety study group. Instead we get a fourfold jump in deaths while everybody passes the buck. Where’s the forest minister on this file? Where’s the Opposition — isn’t it the worker’s party?” and Hume goes on to add, “I sat in a coffee shop with a boothful of angry women, the wives of loggers. They were incensed by slackening safety standards they said they were hearing about from husbands — once again about young loggers encouraged to take risks to boost production, risks that experienced men refused. Now here I am again, pausing over WorkSafeBC’s terse summaries of the moments that destroy families: Hit by snag. Skidder rolled over. Struck in the chest by 12-metre log. Crushed on the log deck. Struck in the head by bucked log. Brakes failed on steep slope. Skull crushed against cab when boom moved suddenly. Struck by log while helicopter logging. Pulled into planer. Cable parted Run over by loader. Pinched. Buried. Burned. Ejected.”

How big is the problem?

It may be that some of the recent safety initiatives have not had time to work their way down to the workplace. But time is running out. By whatever incident rate criteria one may apply, the accident toll is far higher than neighbouring states and/or other provinces. To November 30, 2005, the BC Forest Safety Council reported 149 incidents composed of 40 fatalities, 98 severe injuries, and 11 reported close calls. The vast majority of these are confined to the following activities: Manual Tree Falling, Yarding/Mechanical Harvesting, Log hauling(trucking), travel to/from work on logging roads, and sawmills. Of the 40 fatalities, 16 involved truck or personal travel to/from work on the logging roads,18 in tree harvesting activities with four in the sawmills. All these activities are fraught with hazards that ideally, should be eliminated if it was reasonably possible and economically practical. But this will not happen today, or even tomorrow. Maybe someday technological breakthroughs will make it possible, but this is not on the horizon. Answers are needed now. The next best solution is to manage these hazards to reduce the residual risks that remain when they cannot be eliminated totally.

Residential risk reduction:

A deliberate review and analysis of the BC Forest Council’s short descriptions of the 149 incidents seems to indicate that most of them could have been avoided by better pre-task planning and risk assessment by the workers themselves to handle continuously changing conditions and hazards during their shifts. The question is, do the workers have the knowledge and skills to perform these pro-active measures and if so, why are they not doing so? Second, are they motivated and do they have the opportunity to perform them or are they under pressure to produce and not encouraged to comply by their supervisors/employers/ or the owners of the logging rights? The logging operations are performed by a broad mix of contractual arrangements with some license holders running their own operations with their own employees. However, much of the work is farmed out to a whole range of sub-contractors down to, and including, single employee contractors or autonomous workers. The legal liabilities, accountabilities and responsibilities for safety in this contractual dog’s breakfast become very clouded and vague. Pressures to rush logging of beetle diseased forests before the trees rot adds to the problem.

Suggested solutions and recommendations:

The problem seems to come down to one of Contractor Management and Worker Competency (having sufficient skill, knowledge and opportunity to manage residual risks). Improving the safety performance of forest workers should focus on the following actions:

Who should ultimately be responsible? Clear assignment of legal and operational responsibilities and accountabilities is needed for all logging safety to owners, employers, contractors, sub-contractors, managers, supervisors and workers. This covers tree falling, yarding, hauling, sawmill operations and forest road construction/maintenance standards and traffic rules (except on public roads which presumably are a provincial jurisdiction). The best option seems to be the assignment of ultimate responsibility and authority for logging safety to the owner/employer with all responsibilities flowing down from there to contractors and employees (mutatis mutandis, as the lawyers say). But the buck should stop with the owner/employer! The owner/employer is in the best position to direct, coordinate and monitor safety management and activities of all parties performing the logging operations.

Stop the Haemorrhaging! Focus on the ‘Point of Risk’! The most pressing need is the urgent deployment by owners/employers of hazard management techniques to be performed on a continual basis by all workers. Most important, such activity must be monitored to ensure its application and to positively encourage and assist workers in its use. Supervisory/monitoring/training/coaching responsibilities of such activity should be clearly defined and assigned to appropriate personnel with equally clear legal authority as part and parcel of the owner/employer responsibilities. Surely, there has to be some prime examples of well run safety operations by top performing owner/employers in the province that can be used as models to accelerate the race to reduce the high severity accident rates while avoiding the bureaucratic wrangling and paralysis. One possible excellent model might be that of Interfor Woodlands of BC, no less.!! (See reference below.)

(If asked, the author can come up with several! Contact jelittle@videotron.ca )

Reference: (1) See Forest Safety Council web site: www.bcforestsafe.org/media_center.asp Then go to Recent Articles and click on article titled “Forest Industry aims to change ‘Culture of Risk'” by G.Hamilton, Vancouver Sun, 12 Nov.05

John Little, B.Eng/CRM, is a consultant, dynamic maintenance safety and risk assessment(DMS/RA). He can be reached at jelittle@videotron.ca