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B.C.'s forest industry is one of the most important economic drivers in the province, but it is also one of the most dangerous.
In the past ten years (1996 to 2005), 311 B.C. forestry workers lost their lives due to work-related causes — an average of 31 per year. Last year alone, WorkSafeBC accepted well over 5,000 wage-loss claims in the forestry sector and there were 49 accepted fatal claims — the highest number of deaths since 1988.
To combat the unacceptably high rate of serious workplace injuries and fatalities in the forest industry, WorkSafeBC has developed a Forest Compliance Strategy. The Strategy emphasizes shared responsibility and accountability for safety through education, inspection, and increased enforcement.
First step to the Strategy was a personal letter from the Chair of WorkSafeBC to counterparts in each major B.C. forest company and agency, advising of the law and consequence for non-compliance, and the potential criminal liability under Bill C-45.
Next step was a pilot project in which WorkSafeBC conducted 300 targeted worksite inspections of forest operations within the first three months of 2006. In addition to the enforcement component of this initiative, WorkSafeBC safety officers also spent more time in forestry workplaces educating workers and employers about their training, supervision and health and safety responsibilities.
The pilot project resulted in 600 written safety orders — nearly double the same period last year. Inspections conducted during the pilot phase resulted in an average 2.95 safety orders written per prime contractor, 2.41 orders per sub-contractor, 1.33 orders per licensee, and 0.85 orders per owner.
A listing of the employers cited can be seen here.
In many cases, prevention officers found a lack of clear understanding of who was responsible for worksite safety in the forest. Most of the worksites visited were operated by more than one employer, yet only 63 percent had written agreements designating prime contractors responsible for the coordination of all health and safety on the site. Alarmingly, 24 percent of workers interviewed reported that they had not received adequate safety training for either the work they were doing nor the equipment they were using, and 17 percent of workers were not supervised.
Other key results:
“Under the new compliance strategy, we will be increasing awareness of stakeholders' regulatory responsibilities and ensuring that all parties are held accountable for their safety performance," said Betty Pirs, Executive Director of Prevention for WorkSafeBC. "And that means looking beyond individual worksites; WorkSafeBC will follow the line of accountability wherever it leads — from the logging camp to the corporate boardroom.”
Enforcement is only part of the strategy. WorkSafeBC is also collaborating with stakeholders from all levels of industry, to find new ways of changing workplace culture. “For too many years, injury and death have been seen as inevitable costs of doing business in the woods” said Pirs. “This is simply unacceptable. If we want to see drastic improvements, all stakeholders need to work together to transform the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviours that directly impact safety in the forest.”
In the spirit of collaboration and shared responsibility, WorkSafeBC has recently partnered with seven major forestry stakeholders — Western Forest Products Inc., United Steelworkers, the BC Forest Safety Council, Island Timberlands, the Truck Loggers Association, TimberWest, and Interfor — to host a forest safety conference themed Leadership for Change. Held in Qualicum Beach on June 2, 2006, the event was a rousing success, bringing together over two hundred employers, workers, union representatives, policy makers, and industry leaders to discuss strategies on how to dramatically reduce and ultimately eliminate fatalities and serious injuries in the forest sector.
“It's encouraging to see this level of participation and leadership from all areas of the industry,” said Reynold Hert, President and CEO of Western Forest Products Inc., and keynote speaker at the safety conference. “It's indicative of just how much concern there is out there. We may bring differing perspectives to the table, but we all share common concerns about the state of health and safety in our forests and we all want to see employees return safely and uninjured to their families everyday.”
WorkSafeBC is currently gathering feedback from industry and labour on the results from the Forest Compliance Strategy pilot project and is working to fine tune the program before it is fully implemented this summer. Once permanently in place, the Forest Compliance Strategy will be a key driver for reducing injuries and deaths, thereby making the forest industry a healthy and safe place to work.
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