Gramlich’s lasting legacy
By Tanner Elton
Tn most of Canada’s forest industry, Ted Gramlich’s name is not well known. But it filled media reports across BC a little more than two years ago — and with the worst possible news. The veteran faller had been working on a remote, steep hillside when he was hit by the tree he was harvesting. Seriously injured, he died in hospital two hours later. The tragic event, about a month before Christmas, came to symbolize a truly terrible year for timber harvesting in BC.
By Tanner Elton
Forty-three of our forest workers, seven of them fallers, died earning a living in 2005. But it was Gramlich’s death that drew much public attention, and led to the first coroner’s inquest here into a forest worker’s death in decades. Remembering Ted Gramlich is especially fitting now, as the BC Forest Safety Council broadens its system of training and certifying fallers. Not only is it unlike any other in Canada, we believe it was the first such mandatory program in North America.
The heart of our system is the BC Faller Training Standard that was developed jointly by industry, worker representatives, and WorkSafeBC (formerly the Workers’ Compensation Board of BC). The training standard is the benchmark for the formal Council faller certification that WorkSafeBC requires for anyone working as a faller in this province.
In practical terms, this means that uniformly safe and productive falling techniques that reflect real-life situations should be used everywhere in BC. Our approach to mandatory faller certification has been similar to that for drivers’ licences, which requires fees and qualifies individuals for specific driving situations.
This year, in addition to introducing faller certification renewal fees, the Council plans to go a step further. While drivers can renew their licences simply by paying fees, we are preparing for formal on-site re-evaluations of the work practices of the province’s 3,600 certified fallers.
This is the next phase in the evolution of faller certification — assessing individual certified fallers every three years to assure they continue to perform according to the training standard. Those with the appropriate skills will also be able to raise their certification levels, reflecting the maximum slope and tree diameter at which their previous evaluations were conducted. We’re starting in 2008 with a pilot faller re-evaluation system, and expect it to be fully operational next year.
But this is not the be-all and end-all of BC’s efforts to make timber harvesting safer. Important as it is, faller certification is one part of a broader, concerted industry push to keep all forest workers alive and well on the job. Taking advantage of several Council programs, companies of all types and sizes are investing money and commitment in the effort. The need is undeniable.
It’s not an overstatement to say that more has been done about forestry safety in BC recently than in the previous decade. Safety is now front and centre. Hundreds of our companies have proved that they meet necessary standards by passing formal safety audits, and the entire industry is focusing on this critical issue.
It’s a dramatic shift, one that pays clear dividends in addition to fewer lives lost and disrupted. The industry is learning from experience. It no longer accepts injuries and fatalities as inevitable, and stands committed as never before to the safety of workers. Together, we’re meeting that commitment.
The ultimate goal is to eliminate serious injuries and fatalities in the working woods; and slowly but surely, we’re getting there. As I write this, no BC faller has died on the job for two years, and this may be the most important and lasting legacy of Ted Gramlich and others like him.
Tanner Elton is CEO of the BC Forest Safety Council. For more information on faller certification and other forest safety initiatives, go to www.bcforestsafe.org.