April 7, 2014 - As those in the forestry sector know well, truck driving is not for the faint of heart. It is a potentially very dangerous occupation with many risks to manage, especially in B.C.’s mountainous terrain. That’s why industry groups in that province are doing more than ever to make sure workers are protected, with new safety training programs, stepped-up awareness campaigns and plans to lobby the government for changes to federal transportation legislation.
In 2005, seven forestry sector truck drivers died in British Columbia. This breathtaking level of tragedy spurred the formation of the B.C. Forest Safety Council’s ‘Trucksafe’ program. “That year was a terrible year with all the deaths, and something had to be done,” says Mary-Anne Arcand, who headed the program for its first five years and is the long-time executive director of the B.C. Central Interior Logging Association, based in Prince George. “When we started the program, it largely started off as an awareness-raising initiative,” Arcand says. “The average age of forest industry truck drivers was 58 at the time, and there can be some complacency with people who have done anything a long time. Providing some reminders about safe and unsafe practices was a very good thing, and we continue to do that.”
Arcand points out that most of the forestry truck drivers in B.C. who get hurt or killed are not behind the wheel when the incident occurs. “Drivers might get hit by a log as they are tightening a load, they might fall, they get crushed because all the brakes aren’t applied properly,” she explains. “That’s why the job is different than other types of trucking jobs. There are very large machines involved, and very heavy objects.” Arcand adds, “We have a million loads of chips, hog fuel, logs and lumber delivered each year in B.C. Only a few of them aren’t safe, but that’s not good enough.”
In the years after 2005, it’s heartening to see that number of B.C. forestry industry trucker fatalities and injuries dropped and stayed steady. From 2006 there were three deaths, from 2007 to 2010, one death a year. In 2011 and 2012, there were none and one. (Note however, that a few of these fatalities involved heart attacks and strokes.) Injury rates involving trucks also decreased. These good results were due to TruckSafe, as well as better safety education by individual companies, but the economic downturn that started in 2008 was also a factor. The recession resulted in much less forestry industry activity, with a great deal fewer trucks and drivers on the roads. Many of the logging and chip truck drivers left the forestry business and went to the mining or oil industries.
Then last year, an astonishing eight drivers met their deaths. As with the decrease in fatalities due to the recession, that situation was partly a result of forestry activity having picked up again, with more log-hauling and chip/hog fuel-hauling trucks making runs. “There’s also an economic imperative to hurry, to try to make up for lost time,” Arcand says. “Another factor in the accident and fatality rate is that other industries such as mining are using the roads that were previously only used by forestry. There are safety issues created from too much traffic, and from the fact that the roads and bridges are being used by trucks that they were never designed for.”
So, the outreach and education continues. ‘Trucksafe’ has evolved to become the ‘Transportation Safety’ program, and has been expanded to include aircraft and boats. It is still run by the B.C. Forest Safety Council. “I’ve been in presentations where it was explained how someone was seriously injured or died,” says Arcand, “and I’ve seen the faces of truckers go white and they say ‘Oh no, I do that.’ And they realize ‘There by for the grace of God, go I’ and it’s a wake-up call. So, they hopefully never use that unsafe practice again.”
The B.C. Forest Safety Council (BCFSC), in collaboration with the province’s trucking and logging associations, is also creating an industry standard of skills and knowledge for forestry sector drivers. It should be completed by the end of this year. “The standard will address regional issues as well, such as the terrain in different parts of the province,” says Arcand, “and it will have room for improvement and change. It will always be a work in progress, as different truck designs and new issues emerge as time goes on.” Administration will likely be handed by BCFSC.
The industry has also created a driver-training program. First, students get their commercial truck driver licenses, and then they are partnered with a trucking contractor for mentoring in hauling logs or chips and hog fuels. Arcand says they are all usually hired by the contractor who mentored them. “The need for drivers and operators is great,” she says. “There are some companies where 40 per cent of the equipment is sitting idle. That’s no good for anyone.”
Exemption for ABS brakes
All across Canada, anti-lock ABS brakes and automatic slack adjusters cause lots of trouble for logging trucks. “ABS brakes are designed for highway trucks, and not suited to off-road use,” says Mary-Anne Arcand, executive director of the B.C. Central Interior Logging Association. “They are required on all trucks under federal legislation, but they fail in the bush on rough terrain, and in the snow and ice.” The ABS valves seize. Mud, snow, ice and dirt damage sensor cables and plug ABS sensor discs or tooth wheels, causing the entire system to malfunction. Schedule X braking systems are tougher and safer – all that is required, says Arcand.
“We are being penalized with fines for broken parts and malfunctioning ABS systems when we come out of the bush and onto main roads, and this is not fair,” she explains. “Our association is working with the three other B.C. logging association and we are taking a two-pronged approach. We have convinced a brake manufacturer to come and look at the buckets of broken parts, to try and start a discussion about modifications and solutions. The other part is that we are pulling together recommendations for lobbying to change federal law in co-operation with other provinces, requesting a 100 per cent exemption from having to have ABS systems in logging trucks.” There is a precedent, in that low bed trucks are exempt already.
Wayne Lintott, general manager of the B.C. Interior Logging Association, describes a recent survey of contractors, owner-operators and truck drivers involved in log hauling. “We found that there are many premature failures with ABS braking systems, particularly in off-highway use situations,” he says. About 84 per cent of survey respondents felt that the ABS systems did not perform satisfactorily in log hauling applications.
In a recent article in the Association’s magazine ‘Truck Logger B.C.,’ Lintott quotes a couple of experienced industry stakeholders about their concerns, one of which is runaway vehicles: “When going down a hill, a driver is able to maintain control by using both the brakes and the Jake brake. If a computer shuts off the Jake brake, then the truck has lost one of the two holdbacks that a driver has. With the Jake brake gone, speed dramatically increases and it is nearly impossible to keep control…with my experience, I feel ABS brakes are a hazard to the safety of drivers.”
Another drive person Lintott quotes, a driver with 30 years’ experience, says: “ABS brakes…have no place in the logging industry. Then comes the most concerning of all, the safety factor. ABS will either work or it will not and in most logging applications it will not work. This causes the driver to have to continually adjust driving to compensate for the faulty ABS system. The driver never knows if he is locking up one axel or all axels. This is not a good feeling when you are on 12 per cent grade in a snowstorm. Another safety concern of mine is that ABS valves are supposed to not interfere with normal braking if the ABS fails. I have seen more than one case where an ABS valve has failed and has not allowed air to get to the service brake which takes the brake out of service.”
We asked Transport Canada (TC) if it agrees with these findings about ABS brakes under off-road conditions. The Ministry responded “TC is aware of concerns related to the maintenance and operation of ABS-equipped logging trailers used off-road within B.C. The Defect and Recalls Division of TC has not received any complaints regarding ABS brake systems on vehicles operating in off-road conditions in other provinces or territories.”
When asked if TC was going to consider an exemption of mandatory ABS brakes on logging trucks, why or why not, and if so, what would be the likely timeline, TC responded: “At this point, there is insufficient evidence for TC to consider exempting the braking systems of logging vehicles from the requirements for ABS. TC mandates the installation and performance requirements of ABS brake systems on new and imported heavy trucks and trailers. TC does not have jurisdiction over vehicle use, maintenance or modifications. While the regulation of new and imported motor vehicle safety standards falls under federal authority, it is within the jurisdiction of the provinces and territories to regulate vehicle usage, maintenance and modification. As such, provinces or territories could authorize vehicle modifications (such as to braking systems), if they so choose.”
Recruitment of forestry sector truck drivers in B.C. is going well, but Arcand says current recruitment levels are not sufficient to replace those retiring. Wayne Lintott, general manager of the B.C. Interior Logging Association, says it’s tough to attract workers due to a combination of factors, such as the lure of big salaries in the oil patch, the seasonal nature of forest industry work, and the long hours each day.
On the plus side, some of the drivers who used to drive log trucks and left to go to the oil patch and the mines are returning, and some new drivers want to try the forestry industry over these other sectors. “I’ve heard that some of the drivers who’ve been in the mining industry are leaving because it’s so boring,” Arcand says. “They want to be out on interesting roads and see nature.”
She adds that with log or chip hauling, a driver gets to go home at night and for a young man with young kids, that’s very attractive compared to having to stay nights away in an oil camp or mining camp. “Forestry in B.C. may involve some camp situations in the future, but right now, it’s community-based and that’s important for lots of drivers. And wages are going up a little.”
Stay tuned in the coming months for updates on this story.
Note: Mary-Anne Arcand has passed away since this article was written. We extend our condolences to her family and colleagues.