Death rate drops as B.C. loggers embrace safe practices on the job

Posted by Rumin Mann
April 25th, 2011

Horrendous number of fatalities in 2005 prompted a public outcry for industry-wide changes.

Ric Slaco, Interfor vice-president and chief forester, is part of an industry in which safety has become a much higher priority over the past six years. The culture is changing, companies say.

When Otto Schulte, coastal woodlands vice-president for International Forest Products, boarded a float plane last week for a trip from Nanaimo to Vancouver, he was the only passenger wearing a flotation device.

The life-vest attracted attention among the passengers, and the pilot told him to take it off.

“I had two choices to make: Either I am wearing it, or I am not flying in that plane,” Schulte said in a later interview.

He wore the vest, waiting until the pilot was aboard and had his back turned before putting it on.

A decade ago, Schulte would not have worn that vest. Now, it’s a binding company rule. If you want to work at Interfor, you follow the safety rules.

Wearing life-jackets in float planes is one small indicator that reflects how safe practices are becoming the new standard in the B.C. forest industry, regularly going well beyond federal and provincial regulations.

The focus on safety has paid off, cutting down the number of deaths and accidents in B.C. forests. In 2010, six workers died in B.C.’s forests for the second consecutive year. It’s still nothing to be proud of, but compared to 43 deaths in 2005, and an average of 22 in the years before that, it’s a clear indicator of a change for the better in the way people work in the woods.

The horrendous number of deaths in 2005 prompted a public outcry, and forced both government agencies and companies to reassess the approach to safety. Safe practices were often near the bottom of priority lists six years ago. Now, companies want documented proof that their contractors and employees are operating safely.

There’s no single reason behind the change. Some say executives fear being held legally accountable for deaths on their watch. Others say it’s publicity about logger deaths or safety certification programs developed by WorkSafeBC and the B.C. Forest Safety Council. A smaller workforce is a factor. Regardless, there’s been a change in the woods that’s now showing up in statistics.

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