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Perceived Safe

I’ve been given some grief through the years over some photos in which the subjects were not wearing all of the required safety gear, or at least not all the gear that some of my more safety-conscious readers wish they were wearing. Fair enough. Safety is no accident, and we have an educational role to play. Still, some explanation may be in order regarding the role of magazines like Canadian Wood Products, and the reality regarding safety in the wood products sector.

First, I fully understand that most in the industry would like us to show perfectly attired workers doing perfectly safe things in 100% safe environments. And we will – as soon as that’s all we see when we’re out in the field. For now, we’ll try to portray the industry as it actually is, which is our job.

The hard reality that I most often see is this – Large companies with well-oiled safety procedures that are for the most part strictly enforced, and mid- to small-sized operations that can be much more hit and miss when it comes to safety gear and procedures (don’t even get me started on the wide safety range among logging contractors). We see it all. We report it all, either in editorials or in photographs.

Of course, the managers we interview know full well why we are on site, and what we may do with the photos we take. To me it speaks volumes when they stand by and watch us take photographs of workers missing a key piece of safety gear for the environment involved (i.e., no one needs a hardhat sitting at a computer screen, standing next to a pickup in town, or in the fileroom). Worse still is when we remind workers that we may use the photo, so they should grab a hardhat, or glasses, or hearing protection, or that they should borrow my high-vis vest, and they and the manager just shrug. Admittedly this happens more often in the bush than the mill, but it happens. Hey, I had one logging contractor last year ham it up by jumping into the delimbing arms of a harvester head for a picture, before I literally knocked some sense into him and got him out. If it makes you feel better, he was wearing all the required safety gear, even a tear-away hi-vis vest and glasses.  

This range in safety behaviour narrows with each year as the industry’s overall performance continues to improve (we hope). Still, it is an industry challenge, and one the industry needs to know about, accept, and continue to improve. It is not something magazines can solve by doctoring photos or playing industry spin doctor.

So what should trade magazines do? I’ve listed a start below, and would welcome any more ideas or comments:

•    We should let managers and operators know who we are, and that we may be using any of the photos we take. Typically I have a magazine shirt or my billboard-style magazine jacket. That and the over-sized camera and flash make it pretty clear that I’m not on site to check the scanners.

•    Remind them as we take a photo that they may want to have all the safety gear required for their situation and jurisdiction.

•    Wear appropriate safety gear ourselves, which in my case includes safety boots, hardhat, hearing protection (in mills), eye protection, hi-vis vest (thanks to the folks at Bowater Thunder Bay for my new tear-away version), and tight-fitting work gloves for operating my camera. Not all of this is required in all circumstances, just as I do not expect every worker in every part of the mill to be wearing all this at all times (i.e., control rooms). Still, if you see me in the woods, mill yard, or mill floor without this range of gear, give me hell (or worse – take my photo and run it in your corporate newsletter).

•    Ask about safety in the interview process, and mention innovative procedures when we see them. Once again, the clear identification of student workers at Bowater Thunder Bay springs to mind, but there have been many over the past 15 years.

•    Mention the issue from time to time in these pages, as I am doing right now, or as we have in recent years regarding young worker safety, the plight in BC, etc…, to help keep things moving in the right direction.   

Let’s be honest. The industry does not yet have a level playing field when it comes to safety attitudes and behaviour. But we won’t help resolve that by pretending otherwise in the pages of this magazine. Here’s to a year where I don’t even have to worry about which picture to use, because they’re all safe.

Scott Jamieson, Editor
888-457-3155 Ext. 24

November 24, 2011  By  Scott Jamieson

I’ve been given some grief through the years over some photos in which the subjects were not wearing all of the required safety gear

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