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Resource roads are not workplaces

With changes to regulations, Rick Walters of the BC Forest Safety Council says it's up to the industry – individually and collectively – to ensure safe operations along resource roads.


November 20, 2012
By BC Forest Safety Council

On October 15 2012, Pat Bell, British Columbia’s Minister Responsible for Labour signed Order in Council 692 approving changes to the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation 296/97. The amendment declares:

(2) Subject to subsection (3), in this Regulation, “workplace” does not include a resource road.

(3) A portion of a resource road is a workplace during any period within which it is being built, maintained, repaired, rehabilitated, stabilized, upgraded removed, or deactivated.

(4) Although a resource road does not constitute a workplace for the purposes of this Regulation, other than in one of the limited circumstances referred to in subsection (3), a reference to a workplace in this Regulation continues to include a thing or place that constitutes a workplace even though that thing, or an activity or the result of an activity initiated or carried out at that place, is in whole or in part on a resource road.

It defines “resource road” as a road or portion of a road on Crown land, and includes a bridge, culvert, ford or other structure or work associated with the road, but does not include a highway within the meaning of the Transportation Act.
Quite a few folks – from log haulers to woodlands managers to regulators – are wondering what the OIC means, and the way forward to ensure safe travel on BC resource roads.

The Ministry’s press release says the amendment intends to clarify that sites where road construction, maintenance or deactivation occur, logging blocks adjacent to a resource road and the vehicle you drive to work will continue to be workplaces, but the (resource) roads themselves are not.

This amendment might be an interim measure – the anticipated Natural Resources Road Act (NRRA) should provide clarification. Government replaced its initial plan of having the full NRRA prepared for legislative approval this fall with a more realistic plan to prepare and pass a Safety Framework bill this year. However, because a fall sitting will not occur, the soonest politicians might address a safety framework is during 2013. And, given an election next spring, a new government might be hesitant to immediately tackle the NRRA. If that occurs, the earliest an NRRA might be passed is late 2013, with implementation not until 2014.

WorkSafeBC reps seem uncertain of how to react to the changes. Their understanding is that the OIC curtails their authority to write orders related strictly to resource roads. They probably no longer have authority to enforce requirements around coordination and communication among road users. To determine their next steps, WSBC has formed an internal working group to develop advice for their managers and Occupational Safety Officers. Early thoughts are that because WSBC now has significantly less ability to compel road owners to plan and coordinate road safety, the only remaining avenue is to look to employers and contractors for confirmation they have conducted appropriate risk assessments, and are providing means and mechanisms for their employees’ safe travel.

The Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations intends to move patiently ahead with their next steps. They will be looking for greater accountability among employers and individuals operating on resource roads to accomplish results, but also recognize they may have to invest additional efforts to enforce regulations. Unfortunately, with a limited number of Compliance and Enforcement personnel trying to enforce existing meek legislation it is unclear how such enforcement might occur. Instead, a more successful route may be to engage with resource road users to educate them around government’s expectations.

Because the NRRA and its safety framework are not in play (and might not be for quite some time), and because WorkSafeBC has been stripped of some core authorities on resource roads, it is a little unclear who now has the mandate to plan and achieve effective coordination and safe travel on busy resource roads. Who, if anyone, is in charge of the hen house?

At the end of the day, in spite of the uncertainty generated by these changes, maybe it’s really up to us – individually and collectively – to ensure safe operations along resource roads. Indeed, it is probably because of shifting political nuances that each member of the forestry community needs to acknowledge their shared accountability for achieving and sustaining safety performance. Regardless of whether there is an Act requiring owners to notify contractors about hazards, or a regulation that compels employers to coordinate work sites and communications, it’s likely more effective to look to the practices and policies industry has demonstrated to work. Applying the Rules of the Road, radio call protocols and best driving practices built and advocated by your local Road Safety Committees have delivered results so far. Building upon and sticking with those practices and supporting those committees are essential to successfully navigate the road ahead.

A period of uncertainty and change might open up exposure to risks as we sort things out. It also presents an opportunity for our industry to hone and prove its metal. Perhaps its best to acknowledge that busy resource roads deserve at least as much individual accountability and mutual investment, employer diligence and employee engagement, driver skill, courtesy, concentration and professional attitude as we apply on public highways, and cooperatively carry on with the efforts necessary to accomplish that. Not because there’s a rule or regulation that says we have to, but because it’s the way we do things around here to make sure everyone gets home each night.

Rick Walters, RPF
Director Transportation Safety
BC Forest Safety Council

www.bcforestsafe.org