A case in point is Joseph Leroux. He died one spring evening on the Finlay-Philip Forest Service Road, 190 km north of Prince George. The 52-year-old’s loaded logging truck unexpectedly met another empty one at a corner, and went over an embankment.
The case was unusual not because of the circumstances, but because it led to a highly publicized coroner’s inquest in 2007, believed to be the first into a logging truck fatality in northern BC. The coroner’s jury produced recommendations to the BC Forest Safety Council, the provincial government’s Insurance Corporation of BC (ICBC), the Ministry of Forests and Range, and WorkSafeBC (formerly WCB of BC).
Early this year, BC auditor general John Doyle issued a comprehensive report, and recommendations to the provincial government on safety in forestry. He also directed attention to roads like the one where Leroux died. I had covered similar ground six months before the Leroux inquest with a report on the impacts of labour shortages and inadequate training on the forest sector. Among other things, I recommended that the Forest Safety Council develop a system to certify logging truck drivers and that ICBC introduce a related licence endorsement.
That 2007 recommendation reflected information on resource road problems given to me by forest licensees, contractors, logging truck drivers, training institutions, and agencies that fund truck-driver training. In months of province-wide input, they offered a clear consensus that existing minimum employment requirements for drivers often fall far short of the expertise actually required to operate loaded logging trucks.
This February, I released No Longer the Road Less Travelled, a new and separate report focusing entirely on the problem of BC’s resource roads. As well as the mushrooming traffic volumes and high log hauling fatality rate, an additional factor led to this work. The largest percentage of calls received by my office involves resource road maintenance and construction, regulatory jurisdiction, and cycle times.
For this new report, I looked beyond the forest sector in another months-long round of information-gathering across BC, as resource roads serve many industries. Mining, oil-and-gas development, tourism, agriculture, and general freight cargo are but a few. As well, resource roads are literally the only points of access to the public highway system for some communities, especially first nations.
The broader input led me to make 17 recommendations (which can be found with my complete report at www.bcforestsafe.org/nav-ombud.html). Three proposals are central to the challenge of dealing with our risky resource roads.
• On-the-ground oversight – Through the Ministry of Forests and Range, the BC government should establish regional road safety management groups to oversee effective problem-solving for specific resource road networks. The province is crisscrossed with 400,000 km of these roads, and it’s unrealistic to expect a single body to deal with all of them.
• Recognize non-industrial use – The province should also designate resource roads as public highways where they serve as primary or secondary access routes to communities.
• Well-prepared drivers – The Forest Safety Council should take the lead in developing an industrial drivers’ certification program that includes the full range of commercial vehicles and trailer configurations on resource roads, no matter what the industry. I am also proposing adding training for drivers of light vehicles such as pick-up trucks, ATVs and four-wheel-drive vehicles. All resource road users must be trained for this environment, and pick-up truck drivers accounted for four of the five fatalities on those roads last year.
The demand for better, safer management of resource roads will only grow in the coming years, given factors ranging from the development of inland ports in Prince George, to steadily expanding activity in all industries. We must meet that demand. Last year’s coroner’s jury saw this clearly; the auditor general marked the need, and it has been confirmed by contributors to both of my reports on forest safety. All agree that action is needed now, because time is not our friend. It is a deadly enemy of all the men and women who drive BC’s resource roads every day. We must make sure that none of them becomes the subject of a coroner’s inquest.
Roger Harris has held the independent ombudsman’s position created by the BC Forest Safety Council since 2006, investigating forest safety issues and recommending how to address them. www.bcforestsafe.org.