What does qualified mean? This important question has relevance for forestry operators from two perspectives. First is the business aspect, including injury management, as the industry faces a high rate of operator turnover over the next decade. Second, is the legal regulatory requirement that operators and their supervisors must be qualified.
Often, during a serious injury or equipment damage incident investigation, it is found the operator did not have knowledge of specific operating methods of the equipment, or the ability to recognize a hazard. In other words, the operator was not well-trained in the basic skills and techniques, or was not well-trained in the advanced knowledge required for complex situations. Too often we rely on “common sense” rather than well-thought-out, detailed training. The operator may have some good knowledge, but is not fully qualified.
For example, processor operators have been seriously injured when the processor head was aligned with the cab and the chain drive became tensioned resulting in “chain shot.” Investigators often found the operator had received general instruction by an experienced person, but had not been given the operator’s manual (they were tough to find after several years), which has clear warnings about aligning the head, to face the cab of the machine.
In other situations, the equipment operators had solid basic skills, but not advanced skills for varying conditions on road construction. There have been instances of excavators caught in road bed slides during construction on steep slopes. The operator or supervisor did not recognize the various factors that can affect ground stability under the excavator, such as changes in saturation due to rainfall. When the road slid, the excavator ended up several hundred feet down the hillside.
Now imagine yourself in a court room after a serious incident facing possible criminal charges and being asked by the prosecutor how you know the operator and supervisor were qualified for the situation they were in.
We often talk about getting a warm body in the seat – this is a response to get the most production today or this week. If instead, we want to make the most money over the year, we need to be ready to do business effectively. That means giving serious thought to what an operator needs to know, how to get them that skill, and how to reassess their knowledge as conditions change. Even changes as simple as going from fall to winter need to be thought through. Ask the operator who didn’t know he needed ice lugs on his excavator once the road froze over. The resulting slide across the ice and over the edge of the bank was an expensive lesson.
So what can we do as key operators reach retirement? A group of companies in B.C. had that question about falling supervisors. They supported a process where highly credible falling supervisors from across the province were brought together with a facilitator to describe the role and knowledge requirements of a supervisor. The individuals were confident in their expertise before getting together, but learned through the discussions and debates that there was room to improve their skill, knowledge and techniques. The best part of the process was even the top falling supervisors learned from each other (“You do that – I never thought of doing that - great idea”). In the end, they had a very comprehensive role and knowledge description to train falling supervisors.
There are many ways to determine what qualified means. These may include sessions where the best existing operators are brought together, materials and training are supplied by the equipment manufacturers, qualified instructors are contracted, course outlines are obtained from historic operating companies for their operators at the time, or operators are sent to recognized courses.
When the equipment runs smoothly and steadily, operators don’t get injured. You make more money, and you lower your chances of serious equipment damage or ending up in a courtroom. Win-win all around!
Reynold Hert joined the B.C. Forest Safety Council as chief executive officer in March 2009. Hert brings to the council a firm belief that safe businesses are the best businesses.