De-risking remote mechanized logging
By Budd Phillips
March 26, 2018 - On Oct. 18, 2017, a logger was killed in a tragic incident near Mackenzie in northern B.C. While using a feller buncher to cut timber on a slope, the machine tipped over backwards leaving the operator no escape route when the machine caught fire. His death was devastating for his family, his community and his coworkers.
By Budd Phillips
While the cause of the incident is still under investigation by WorkSafeBC, the question arises: What can we do now to try to prevent this happening again? That was one of the key issues discussed when WorkSafeBC’s Forest Industry Advisory Group met in November 2017 to talk about concrete steps employers can take to make remote mechanized logging safer. Here are the considerations:
First, it’s critical that employers have an effective plan in place for those who work alone. The worker must designate a contact person to check in with on a regular, agreed-upon schedule. The worker must always carry a functioning communication device — a satellite phone, cell phone, two-way radio or satellite transceiver — as well as the check-in contact information.
The designated contact must have a copy of the working-alone procedure and any applicable emergency-response plan, contact information, locations and/or maps that may be necessary for a rescue. Every check-in call must be recorded, and if the worker fails to check in, the contact must initiate search procedures as outlined in the plan, be that rendering assistance personally or contacting someone close by who is trained, equipped, and able to assist.
Second, employers should consider situations in which their machines have the potential to roll over, and particular hazards that may result. In recent years, the changing landscape of logging operations has meant an increase in the use of steep slope harvesting equipment. Employers, suppliers, and manufacturers must ensure their mobile equipment meets the requirements outlined in the Workers Compensation Act and Parts 16 and 26 of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation.
That includes ensuring mobile equipment weighing 700 kilograms or more has a rollover protective structure (ROP), as well as structures that guard against falling, flying or intruding objects or materials. Similarly, any tools carried inside the cab need to be secured so as not to create additional hazards.
Should a roll-over happen, the employer needs to consider: Do they have the equipment necessary to respond in such an emergency? And is it easily accessible and transportable to the work site? During a rescue, minutes saved can potentially save a life.
Third, every piece of mobile equipment must have an alternate means of escape that is clearly marked both inside and outside the cab. The exit must:
- not be located on the same surface as the cab door;
- be usable at all times; not pose additional hazards;
- be openable from inside or out without tools when the equipment is in use;
- and provide a clear opening with dimensions that comply with the relevant ISO Standard.
The employer should test the alternate exit regularly, and train workers to be familiar with its location and operation, as well as ensure they can fit comfortably through it in an emergency — physical fitness or size may be obstacles to a quick escape. If the backup exit is blocked or the worker is unable to move, employers must consider what tools could be used to extricate a trapped worker.
The fact that machines are designed to keep hazards out poses a particular challenge: specialized cutters might be needed to pierce cab windows. And a supplementary fire extinguisher for use by the rescue crew should always be within reach.
Finally, consider where this rescue equipment might be stored; ideally it will be attached to the machine itself for ease of access. For more information on these prevention measures, please see the following resources:
Working Alone or in Isolation Safe-Work Procedure and Checklist from the BC Forest Safety Council (www.bcforestsafe.org)
Working Alone: A Handbook for Small Business from WorkSafeBC (www.worksafebc.com)
Requirements for Mobile Logging Equipment in B.C. from WorkSafeBC (www.worksafebc.com)
Budd Phillips is manager of prevention field services for WorkSafeBC.