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“If the new truck drivers of the future are going to be coming directly off the street, we can’t be having them just through a basic Class 1 and find themselves on the top of a mountain the next day,” said ombudsman Roger Harris. “We need to make sure that, depending on the application of the vehicle they’re going to drive, they’re actually trained to the competency that gets them there.”
The B.C. Forest Safety Council has also introduced TruckSafe, a program that will include new regulations and operating guidelines for drivers. As well, they are implementing a Resource Road Act, which creates tougher standards for logging roads.
Also, the provincial Ministry of Transportation will spend $30 million to repair highways that have been impacted by the increased traffic that has stemmed from all the additional cutting that has resulted from the pine beetle epidemic.
For his part, Hunt is skeptical that hiring an ombudsman will have that much of an impact, given that the provincial government that employs Harris is also responsible for the changes to the industry that he says have compromised worker safety.
Roy Nagel, who is retiring as general manager of the Central Interior Logging Association, says logging truck drivers accident rates are lower than the general population, given the number of hours that drivers work and the number of trucks on the road. However, he says the trucking industry is in danger as drivers walk away from the job.
“It’s not that terribly busy, but drivers are swamped by orders. There’s a huge demographic bulb moving through the industry, and a lot of guys are now in their 50s and 60s and are leaving the business. They’ve had it. It’s been a challenge to recruit good people with the credentials to drive these rigs. Most companies are not equipped to train logging truck drivers,” he said.
“It’s one thing to take commercial driver training, if you’re driving the streets you can get a Class 1 license, but that doesn’t equip you to drive in the terrain where the logging happens, in the winter, in the conditions that these guys are driving in. We need a system to get better training for logging truck drivers.”
While the number of forest industry deaths was below average in 2006, Nagel believes that not all deaths and injuries are recorded properly. For example, a forest worker that gets into a car accident driving home from a long shift in the bush or behind the wheel of a logging truck is not counted as a forest industry death. He thinks it should be.