Occupational Health And Safety In The Forest Industry

Posted by Amanda Nieweler

on October 7, 2015

Protect your employees. Protect yourself!

Since January 1, 2015, eight forest workers have died industry-wide in BC.

2014 saw ‘only’ four forest workers killed – though the industry average rate over the last few years remains at eight fatalities a year. This is an incredibly unacceptable number in an industry that, in theory, has strict policies and processes in place. It certainly makes you ponder what’s going on.

WorkSafeBC and industry leaders were certainly pondering this in an emergency meeting that was called this summer. Clearly there’s a problem in the bush.

Those working ‘on the ground’ in BC forests are required to manage occupational health and safety issues that the rest of us are completely oblivious to. The problem is, the unique dangers of working under the tree canopy have resulted in tragedies over the years and have subjected the forest industry’s health and safety performance to intense media scrutiny. Compliance in the Forestry Industry

Under the Workers compensation Act and Regulations (the Act), employers and must ensure the health and safety of their workers and others on the site. Owners must provide and maintain their workplace lands in a manner that ensures the health and safety of any person working at the site. Supervisors must ensure the health and safety of all their direct employees. Even workers on the ground must take some responsibility to ensure their own safety and the safety of their co-workers. All of these people are potentially subject to prosecution under ‘the Act’ if they fail to act on their respective responsibilities for health and safety at the workplace.

On the corporate level, every officer and director must ensure that the corporation complies with its health and safety obligations under ‘the Act’. If a corporation fails to comply with the obligations that are imposed upon them under ‘the Act’, then every director and officer of that corporation is potentially subject to prosecution on account of that failure, exposing them to personal liability for the corporation’s violations of the occupational health and safety requirements of ‘the Act’.

So where are things going wrong? To understand that, you need to understand what happens right on the ground itself. And one of the factors that workers say is creating such an unsafe working environment is what’s called ‘multi-phase logging’, where fallers, road-builders, logging equipment and trucks are all operating at the same time on a single ‘cutblock’.

This logging practice provides companies with a quicker response time to market changes, reduces their financial costs, and reduces the cost of carrying inventory. The time between the different phases of logging – fallers cutting the timber to road building and yarding the logs out to trucks – has been gradually compressed into less time (three months), now squeezing workers ever closer together.

There are worksites where fallers were working alongside numerous pieces of heavy equipment. And this is now leading to raised risk of death and injury for forest workers.

This logging practice requires greater industry attention – WorkSafeBC recognizes this. Al Johnson, WorkSafeBC’s vice-president of prevention services says “Now that it’s recognized, it needs to be managed. Our expectation is, first of all, employers are aware of it and are managing it.”

He also said there are concerns that these raised safety practices have been put into writing at the corporate level, but are not being relayed down to the job site. WhistleBlower Security has had experience with this type of ‘office make-up’. This isn’t just limited to the forestry industry. We see this type of structure in the mining industry as well. It may be a case where these ‘remote’ types of locations have one portable that doubles as an office, containing one computer for communal use. Communicating policies and procedures down to this level within this type of structure is very challenging. If nobody logs onto that computer, or happens to not talk to a manager before leaving their shift, they haven’t received any important corporate communication.

Anyone working in the forestry industry, whether sitting on the board, or in management, and is responsible for the safety of employees, should have plenty of motivation to exercise rigorous due diligence when it comes to occupational health and safety. With the above mentioned stats of employee loss of life, this really is a pressing issue that companies need to look at. These types of companies really need to have a dedicated ethics reporting hotline that all employees on the ground can use to anonymously raise their concerns of safety.

Download a free eBook that explains how a dedicated ethics hotline can help.

eBook: 7 Reasons to Implement a Whistleblower Hotline