Wood Business

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Fatalities Trending Downward

Five years ago safety in the B.C. forest industry, particularly the coastal industry, was receiving negative public attention.  The Financial Post ran a two page article on the poor state of safety, using a subtitle “the West Coast’s dirty secret”.

November 8, 2011  By Rob Moonen

Industry, the union and government took on the challenge of changing that record.  Up until 2004, the industry had been averaging 22 fatalities per year in the woods, a number that spiked in 2005 to 34 fatalities.  Using tools such as SAFE Companies certification and Faller Certification, industry has reduced the fatalities to an average of five in the past two years.  If industry had stayed on the old trend, even with a reduced harvest, there would have been an average of 15 fatalities per year.  The number of lost time accidents per 100 people working has also decreased by 30%.  The B.C. Forest industry used to have a serious injury rate three times as high as the provincial average.  It is now down to twice as high.  The gap is closing, and at a faster rate than some other major industrial sectors. More importantly, the forest industry used to have a reputation of being one of the most dangerous places to work – that may still be the case in much of North America, but in British Columbia, the industry is changing that and making forestry a more attractive place for our young people to consider working.

The economic outlook for 2011 for the B.C. forest industry is expected to be more positive and while significant strides have been made in the reduction of serious injuries and fatalities, there is a concern that the efforts of industry to continue to improve its safety record may be at risk. The concern relates to the potential for the industry to suffer from the “we’ve arrived syndrome” – a complacent lethargy that can arise once a goal has been achieved. Jim Collins, the author of business best seller Good to Great coined the phrase, “the enemy of great is good”. The challenge for the B.C. Forest industry in 2011 will be to keep focused on making permanent and sustainable change and continuously improve on the efforts made towards reducing the number of serious injuries and fatalities. The industry can continue the improvement trends to reach the provincial averages, and then be a leader by achieving lower than the provincial averages. As the forest industry faces retirements and economic improvements, it will be looking to attract new people. Telling them they are going to work in an industry dedicated to getting them back to their family injury-free after work – and proving it with a great track record that shows it can be done is a positive selling point.

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