By Reynold Hert
Musculoskeletal Injuries (MSIs) are defined in Occupational Health and Safety Regulation as an injury or disorder of the muscles, tendons, ligaments, joints, nerves, blood vessels or related soft tissue; including a sprain, strain and inflammation, that may be caused or aggravated by work. These are one of the leading types of injury in the silviculture industry. As a result, much research and work has been done by industry to help prevent MSIs and minimize the resulting lost production and workers’ compensation claims costs.
By Reynold Hert
Weyerhauser, the Western Silvicultural Contractors’ Association (WSCA) and others worked together with sports scientist and industrial performance expert, Dr. Delia Roberts, to develop a “Fit to Plant” program designed specifically to help prevent MSIs. A growing number of silviculture companies have the program linked directly from their websites and encourage all new recruits and returning planters to work their way through it and embrace the practices, particularly the training program to help support sound physical, nutrition and hydration preparation ahead of the planting season. In addition, the WSCA has researched boots and other tools to support safe, injury-free performance.
Working groups within B.C.’s silviculture industry also continue to collaborate on emerging and promising practices to help prevent MSIs. Depending on conditions and individual circumstances, some practices may work better than others, but all have value in supporting better safety outcomes and better overall performance. These include:
Changing schedules to allow for working shorter days early in the season to give the body more recovery time, rather than gearing everyone up for full operating days right out the gate;
- Scheduling more frequent recovery days, such as three days on, one day off instead of the traditional five days on and one day off that doesn’t allow optimal rest and recovery times;
- Providing information on what good hydration and nutrition means in preventing injury and providing access to the same in the block and at camp. Research by Dr. Roberts has established that good hydration and maintenance of steady blood sugar levels help prevent injury, minimize fatigue and improve safety and sustainable performance. Sipping water the whole day and snacking regularly on the right foods is important in helping to prevent injuries;
- Coaching workers to always follow safe work practices, such as using neutral postures and changing hands when planting and not foot-screefing (side to side movement of the foot to move soil that puts knees, ligaments and muscles at increased risk of serious injury). Apart from initial training sessions, improved results are achieved when supervisors spend time each day observing and coaching planters on individual techniques, tools and practices to help prevent injury;
- Wearing good boots (support both the foot and ankle and are non-slip for the terrain) and layers of clothing best suited to the conditions;
- Wearing hand and arm warmers in cooler weather when muscles haven’t warmed up yet to help prevent injury;
- Sharing good practices (stretches, warming up – the when, how and why) and cool downs as well as the how and when to ice, and how to rest to prevent serious injury;
- Having planting crews work with a physiotherapist. A number of silviculture companies have experienced promising results working proactively with health and wellness professionals to support their tree-planters before, during and after the season to prevent injuries and/or minimize the severity when an injury occurs; and
- Continuous improvement within the sector, looking for practical remedies that will work on a case-by-case basis. For example, the sector is working with nurseries and clients to reduce risks to workers from handling unusually heavy seedling boxes that occasionally show up on worksites as a result of circumstances and decisions made upstream in the seedling production process.
For more information, check out the B.C. Forest Safety Council’s Tree Planting Safety Resource Package.
Reynold Hert is the chair and CEO of the B.C. Forest Safety Council.