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In 2005 at total of 43 forestr industry workers were killed in B.C., a record for an industry that was already considered among the most dangerous in the province. Several agency and organizations responded by launching safety campaigns, including the B.C. Forest Safety Council, WorkSafe B.C., and ICBC, while the union launched its own “Stop The Killing” campaign. Some of the solutions tabled include cutting back on hours for logging truck drivers, new certifications for hand-fallers and drivers, and new safety regulations that could be applied to every stage of the forestry process. WorkSafe B.C. also put more investigators into the field to conduct health and safety inspections, while the B.C. Coroner’s Service assigned a full-time coroner to investigate all forestry deaths and make recommendations.
Those programs are definitely having an effect, with only a dozen workers killed in 2006 — well below the annual average of 30 deaths. However, Hunt believes most safety issues are systemic to the industry, and can’t be addressed by adding new certifications and regulations.
“Right now the Forest Safety Council charges fees to certify workers and big and small companies can get Safe Company rebates, which is good in some respects,” he said. “But if someone is certified and then they change the rules — and the rules are constantly changing — then they would have to recertify to be in compliance. What we would prefer is for all parties to sit down and talk about ways to make things safer at the most basic level.”
According to Hunt, the foundations the industry is built on are fundamentally unsafe and the industry will, in a sense, have to be rebuilt from the ground up to incorporate safety at every level.
While Hunt hopes the recent rule changes can have an impact, he says they will be effective only as long as they are followed.
“Right now they are still subject to quite a bit of abuse,” he said. For logging truck drivers, who are often paid per load, he says recent changes don’t go far enough.
Under recently amended federal laws, logging truck drivers are allowed to work 14 hours a day and seven days a week for consecutive weeks, reduced from 15 hours. A recent provincial regulation, however, reduced that further to 13 hours a day and six days per week, with two hours a day for vehicle servicing.
“I don’t think we went far enough, because drivers are still being forced into the position, especially when they are owner-operators, to drive longer hours than what the law says. They get pushed into dangerous positions because they have to make their payments.