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The forestry industry faces significant challenges when it comes to worker safety. BC auditor general John Doyle stated in January that safety in his province’s forest industry compares poorly to other industries, with three times the fatality rate of other high-risk sectors. He also noted that the total cost of forest workplace injuries and deaths over the last 10 years is at least $690 million – and is likely much more.

November 21, 2011  By Fintan Robb

The forestry industry faces significant challenges when it comes to worker safety. BC auditor general John Doyle stated in January that safety in his province’s

Monitoring worker activity, especially in the case of individuals or smaller groups working alone, is always a major concern for forest licensees. A particular challenge for the forestry industry, however, is that it is becoming increasingly dependent on smaller contractors (five or fewer workers) who have fewer resources for monitoring the daily movement of their workers.  

A key part of safety in the forestry sector is maintaining continual communications with field workers. Occupational Health and Safety (OHS) regulations demand that workers alone or in isolation be provided with the means to communicate with their employers. Included in the regulations is the stipulation that an employer:

• Must develop and implement procedures for checking the well-being of a worker assigned to work alone or in isolation, if they are working in
hazardous conditions that may cause injury.

• Must establish regular contact with workers at designated time intervals, as well as establish follow-up procedures if contact cannot be established (including emergency rescue measures). A check must also be done at the end of the work shift.


Even with these guidelines, an element of risk remains for forest workers. When communications are lost, or a worker fails to return to their reporting station in time, the only option is to launch a full-scale search and rescue effort. This presents two problems. On the one hand, there could be a significant time lapse between realizing a worker is injured, and acting on it. On the other hand, a worker may simply have forgotten to check in at the designated time, or was unable to reach the reporting station because they were in the middle of a task.

In either scenario, hundreds of thousands of dollars and countless hours will be spent engaging in search and rescue operations. Without geographical co-ordinates, searchers can end up spending days exploring thousands of square kilometres of terrain to search for someone who may be critically injured or worse. The extra time spent combing broad territorial regions increases the risks for an injured or stranded person. In cases where the worker is in fact safe, search and rescue operations are already underway before they find out that the person has simply fallen behind schedule, or has had some mechanical breakdown.

Out of range?
Addressing all such contingencies presents a special challenge when workers are in isolated areas that are out of reach of cellular or telephone communications. Satellite phones are an option for voice and text communications, but they are relatively expensive for small businesses and individuals, cumbersome compared with today’s cell phones, and dialling out can be difficult if a person is injured or cannot maintain a clear line of sight to the sky.

In addition, today’s satellite phones do not provide GPS location capabilities, which is critical when time is of the essence. While GPS-enabled beacons do provide a means to track an injured worker, they do not have the capability to notify others at the moment of injury. Other types of alert devices will immediately trigger a search and rescue operation whether it is necessary or not, since there is no way of determining the severity of the situation.

A new and affordable option is the SPOT Satellite Messenger from Globalstar, a one-way communications tool that combines satellite and GPS
technology to provide a simple but effective, graduated notification system. Users can send various levels of outgoing text and alert signals at the touch of a button. This helps managers and/or emergency workers immediately understand the worker’s needs, and respond accordingly. In the event that a search is required, the device pinpoints the person’s location, saving considerable time and expense.

At a cost of $169 (plus a $99 annual subscription fee), the technology is affordable enough to be deployed to every person in the field. It’s also lightweight and waterproof, which means it will hold up to the most rigorous environments.

The SPOT Satellite Messenger features four simple buttons that generate different types of messages that can be sent to a series of designated e-mail addresses (up to five), mobile phones (up to five), or to a worldwide 911 facility, depending on the level of urgency. All signals include detailed GPS co-ordinates.

The choices include:

• Alert 9-1-1 – This button automatically contacts emergency responders to dispatch search and rescue teams with GPS accuracy. Signals will be sent every five minutes for up to seven days.

• Ask for Help – For less critical emergencies, workers can press this button to send pre-programmed requests for help to their head office or supervisors’ e-mails or cell phones.

• Check In – Workers simply need to press this button to advise employers if they have arrived at a location and/or to keep them posted on where they are at specified intervals.

• Track Progress – This optional feature allows users to send their location co-ordinates at designated intervals for tracking on a website using Google Maps™. In addition to tracking a worker’s location throughout the day, it also helps employers and workers in uncharted areas to record safe routes for future reference.

Satellite messaging is a simple and easy way to address legislative requirements and improve worker safety. With this type of device, employers can minimize the risks for individuals working alone and enable more accurate and consistent check-in reporting procedures. Given the low entry costs, it can play a key role in helping the forestry industry improve worker safety.


Fintan Robb is senior marketing manager for Globalstar Canada Satellite Co., a leading provider of mobile satellite voice and data services to businesses, government and individuals.

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