Unstable snowpack can put workers at risk
Richmond, B.C. — Workers whose jobs take them into B.C.'s backcountry are at potential risk of serious injury or death in avalanche hazard zones, and need to be diligent about understanding how those risks can be identified and mitigated. In particular, workers in B.C.'s primary resource and construction industries face risks at their worksites, on forest service roads, during work-related snowmobile activity, and during highway maintenance.
Since 1998 in B.C., avalanches have caused three worker deaths and 47 accepted time-loss injury claims. While the majority of workers injured were in occupations within the ski hill and winter lodge industries, a land surveyor and a truck driver were also injured.
WorkSafeBC forest industry specialist Carole Savage, an Active Member of the Canadian Avalanche Association, says workers and employers often do not realize the risk.
"Early in my forestry career, it was common practice to zip back and forth across snow-covered cut blocks without thinking about avalanches," she says. "We were aware of a number of near misses. I've learned a great deal since then. Today, as a WorkSafeBC industry specialist, it's my job to increase avalanche safety awareness for foresters and their employees."
According to Savage, snow stability can change daily but also by the hour or even the minute, and avalanches can occur anywhere there is steep enough terrain with sufficient snow depth and the right weather conditions.
"A safety plan needn't be complicated," Savage says. "Sometimes, the best plan is to avoid areas of high risk entirely until the end of the avalanche season, and the risk diminishes."
WorkSafeBC's Occupational Health and Safety Regulation 4.1.1 requires all employers whose workers travel through, work around, or within a potential avalanche hazard zone to have a qualified person conduct a risk assessment; develop and implement avalanche safety plans; or, if applicable, meet the requirements of Regulation 4.1.2 to provide and train workers in safe work procedures. Employers can work with their local WorkSafeBC prevention officer to determine the appropriate compliance measures.
To learn more about avalanche safety for workers and employers, view the cover story in the Jan/Feb 2016 issue of WorkSafe Magazine.
Trish Knight Chernecki
Media Relations, WorkSafeBC