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Forestry field work and COVID-19 safety

WorkSafeBC recognizes the challenges the forest industry has faced in the months leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic and the exacerbating effect that the outbreak has on this industry. We will continue to support this industry by reaching out to forestry workers, employers, and industry associations to ensure their worksites are healthy and safe during the COVID-19 outbreak.

We are providing information to workers and employers through worksite inspections focusing on the controls that the employer can use to limit exposure, including maintaining distance between workers and ensuring adequate hygiene facilities. We are continuing to engage in inspection, consultation, and education activities within the forestry sector to ensure everyone in the workplace is fulfilling their obligations.

For more information from WorkSafeBC, please see:

COVID-19 safety plans

Every employer is required to have a COVID-19 safety plan that assesses the risk of exposure at their workplace and implements measures to keep their workers safe. If a formal plan is not already in place prior to operation, you are expected to develop it while protecting the safety of your workers.

To help you develop your plan, the pages in this section provide information and resources on keeping workers safe in industries that have been providing essential services since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak. We will continue to update these pages, but you can also refer to COVID-19 and returning to safe operation for additional information, including a template for a COVID-19 Safety Plan.

WorkSafeBC will be reviewing plans of individual employers during their inspections of your workplace. Please be reminded that in accordance with the order of the provincial health officer, this plan must be posted at the worksite. During a WorkSafeBC inspection, we will ask employers about the steps they have taken to protect their workers and to see the plan if it has been developed.

Forest licensee, prime contractor, employer, and sub-contractor responsibilities

All workplace parties have responsibilities for ensuring that work is planned, coordinated, and conducted in a manner that limits worker exposure to COVID-19.

Forest licensees must ensure that all activities of the forestry operation are planned and conducted by all parties at the worksite in a manner that limits worker exposure to COVID-19.

Prime contractors must ensure that the activities of employers, workers, sub-contractors and other parties at the workplace are coordinated. The prime contractor must also do everything that is reasonably practicable to establish and maintain a system or process that will ensure the compliance with the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation and the Workers Compensation Act.

Forestry employers and sub-contractors are responsible for ensuring the health and safety of workers by putting policies and procedures in place to keep workers healthy and safe, which includes instituting policies and procedures necessary to abide by orders and guidance from the Provincial Health Officer. They are also responsible for providing workers with up-to-date instructions, training, and supervision on those policies and procedures.

Prime contractors, employers, and sub-contractors must have a mechanism in place for workers to raise issues and concerns about COVID-19 exposure so that additional precautions and controls can be put in place where required.

Controlling the risk of COVID-19 exposure

Employers must take all necessary precautions to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission and illness to themselves, workers, and others in the workplace. This includes adhering to the Provincial Health Officer’s directions.

The following guidance is provided to outdoor forestry worksites on how guidance and orders issued by the Provincial Health Officer might apply at their worksite.

  • Implementing policies that reflect the following guidance from the provincial health officer and the BC Centre for Disease Control around self-isolation:
    • Anyone who has had symptoms of COVID-19 in the last 10 days must self-isolate at home; symptoms include fever, chills, new or worsening cough, shortness of breath, sore throat, and new muscle aches or headache.
    • Anyone under the direction of the provincial health officer to self-isolate must follow those instructions.
    • Anyone who has arrived from outside of Canada, or who is a contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case, to self-isolate for 14 days and monitor for symptoms.
  • Maintain a distance of two metres between workers by revising work schedules, organizing work tasks, and limiting contact between people. Examples may include using digital or electronic methods of transfer of scale and load slips (such as cell phone photos and email) rather than physical exchange of paper slips.
  • Avoid large groups congregating in one area by reducing in-person meetings and other gatherings.
  • Provide portable handwashing stations in areas accessible to workers. Hand sanitizing stations equipped with gels or wipes or water jugs with soap and disposable towels may be used where handwashing stations are impractical. Ensure all employees know where the facilities are located.
  • Maintain a list of all employees who are currently working at a site and update this list daily; this includes log truck drivers and all others who visit the site or work there intermittently.
  • Clean all common areas and surfaces, including inside cabs of mobile equipment, instruments, and door handles, at the end of each day or when the operator changes.

Worker transportation

  • Employers should assess the number of workers being transported at any one given time and employ measures to ensure distance between workers is maintained.
  • Whenever possible, workers should travel alone in their vehicles in order to practice physical distancing. If that is the case, employers must implement all the necessary safeguards related to working alone or in isolation, to ensure the safety of these workers.
  • Measures that may be taken to ensure appropriate distance include having workers sit one to a seat, with riders staggered to allow maximum distance, adjusting the number of workers taken per trip, and the overall number of trips needed to transport workers to a worksite. It may mean using larger vehicles to ensure maximum spacing, or using multiple vehicles.
  • If it is not possible to ensure 2 metres of distance between workers in a vehicle through these measures, the employer must consider other control measures, such as PPE where appropriate.
  • Employers must also implement a process that allows for physical distancing when loading and unloading buses or other vehicles. Workers waiting for loading/unloading should maintain physical distancing while remaining safely away from traffic.
  • Employers should have hand washing facilities or sanitizing stations available to workers as they enter and exit the vehicle.
  • Employers must ensure that high contact surfaces within the vehicle are routinely cleaned. These include seatbelts, headrests, door handles, steering wheels, and hand holds.

Work camps

Work camps provide an environment that can foster the transmission of infections, so it is important to implement effective infection prevention and control measures that can reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Employers must ensure that everyone is trained in these measures and that they are communicated to everyone at the camp and posted in a prominent place at the accommodation and the worksite.

On April 23, 2020, the provincial health officer issued an order to all forestry operations providing worker accommodation. Employers are required to read and comply with this order in its entirety. It includes requirements for employers to:

  • Develop a COVID-19 infection prevention and control protocol to reduce the risk of transmission both in worker accommodation and in vehicles used for work and to transport workers to and from their accommodation;
  • Appoint a coordinator to oversee all aspects of the protocol, including monitoring workers daily for COVID-19 symptoms and for compliance with the provincial health officer order. The coordinator will also serve as the point of contact between the employer and health officers or provincial infection prevention and control officers; and,
  • Arrange for a health officer or a provincial infection prevention and control officer to inspect the worksite, worker accommodations, and vehicles at the worksite. The required timeframes for these inspections are laid out in the order.

The order also contains specific requirements for workers, including requirements for self-monitoring, hygiene, travel, and physical distancing. The employer must post and communicate these requirements to all workers.

On May 13, 2020, the BC Centre for Disease Control provided updated guidance to employers, camp operators, workers, and contractors working in the natural resource sector and living in employer-provided industrial camps during the COVID-19 pandemic. For more information, please see:

Silviculture

The BC Centre for Disease Control and Ministry of Health have developed guidance that applies to employers, camp operators, employees, and contractors working in the silviculture sector during the COVID-19 pandemic.

This document assists employers to develop operational protocols that implement the orders, notices, and guidance issued by British Columbia’s Provincial Health Officer. In particular, reading this guidance will help operators to implement the requirements in the Industrial Camp Order.

Resolving concerns about unsafe work

Workers have the right to refuse work if they believe it presents an undue hazard.

An undue hazard is an “unwarranted, inappropriate, excessive, or disproportionate” hazard. For COVID-19, an “undue hazard” would be one where a worker’s job role places them at increased risk of exposure and adequate controls are not in place to protect them from that exposure.

If the matter is not resolved, the worker and the supervisor or employer must contact WorkSafeBC. Once that occurs, a prevention officer will consult with workplace parties to determine whether there is an undue hazard and issue orders if necessary.

For more information, see Occupational Health and Safety Guideline G3.12.

For more information

Note: The information on this page is based on current recommendations and may change. Content from health and safety associations and other parties is also subject to change and WorkSafeBC has not reviewed this material for the purpose of ensuring it is aligned with our guidance. For the latest guidance, visit the British Columbia Centre for Disease Control for health information and see the latest news from the government of British Columbia.

The BC Forest Safety Council is the health and safety association established for B.C.’s forestry industry. They have developed an information page of resources to help employers manage the risk of COVID-19 exposure.

If you have a question or concern

Workers and employers with questions or concerns about workplace exposure to COVID-19 can call WorkSafeBC’s Prevention Information Line at 604.276.3100 in the Lower Mainland (toll-free within B.C. at 1.888.621.SAFE). You’ll be able to speak to a prevention officer to get answers to your questions, and if required, a prevention officer will be assigned to assess the health and safety risk at your workplace.