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Safety in Hand

Even with the Rocky Mountains dividing BC from the rest of Canada, forestry here confronts common challenges and changes. Many are beyond our control, from roller coaster housing markets to our skyrocketing dollar.


November 8, 2011
By Keith Playfair

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But we are moving to control some.  For instance, responding to a serious need to become safer, BC forestry is making big changes. We’re taking responsibility for the safety of our timber harvesting workers and worksites. Being part of this is crucial — whether you’re new to the industry or, like me, have spent a lifetime in it.

Our province’s forestry sector has created the BC Forest Safety Council to drive these safety improvements, and it has the full support of industry, government and WorkSafeBC (formerly WCB). When fully implemented, Council programs will result in profound and lasting reductions in, and ultimately the elimination of, fatalities and serious injuries.  

The key to achieving that ambitious goal is the SAFE Companies program. This initiative allows forestry companies and related enterprises to earn certification by showing that their safety programs meet realistic standards, and that they have a commitment to making safety an over-riding priority. Every forestry company in BC should be in the program by the end of 2008.  This goal comes from industry itself, with the full support of owners and licensees.  

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So far, thousands of companies have registered with the program; hundreds have taken the required training and become SAFE-certified. For the rest, it’s definitely time to move, whether you’re registered but haven’t completed SAFE certification, or haven’t taken the first step of signing up.    

Registering brings you all the material, training and support you’ll need — a step-by-step workbook to help build or review your safety program, access to free advice from a Council safety advocate, and useful feedback during the audit to show that your safety activities meet industry standards that are practical and doable.

Those last three words can’t be overstated:  practical and doable. The SAFE Companies program was built with advice from contractors and workers who know what happens in the real world, and they still help keep things on track. The program’s not about jumping through hoops, or paperwork.  It’s about safety for forest workers. Still, people ask how hard it is, or if it will really make their com-pany safer.  

First, the program requires some time and effort — documenting activities that may have been done informally before, or putting new procedures in place.  But all this is necessary, and useful.
Second, I know that SAFE-certified companies enjoy definite pay-offs.  The most important one is obvious — a safety program you know protects your workers.  But here are some not-so-obvious benefits I’ve heard about:

•    In one case, SAFE Companies led a contractor to look closer at the fundamentals of his business, “the entire operation…managing fuel and people and every detail.”  The results were operational improvements that he knows paid off.

•    Another contractor found employees paying more attention to their jobs as they became more safety-conscious.  One benefit was less equipment damage; it adds up when you can cut back on some of those $2,000 repair bills for pick-up trucks.

•    Safety meetings didn’t turn into gripe sessions, as a third contractor thought they might.  After dealing with safety issues, workers and the employer actually talked about the job in ways that improved productivity.  Safety meetings became useful crew meetings.

Then there are paybacks you get for being part of the program:

•    More licensees and major companies are making SAFE Certification a condition of bidding or working.  Some want this now, and others in early 2008.  Getting certified sooner rather than later puts you ahead of the game.

•    SAFE-certified companies are eligible for annual premium rebates from WorkSafeBC.  But you need to be certified by the end of 2007 to qualify for this year’s rebate.

As I see it, the only downside to SAFE Companies is for forestry operators that hold back.  Delaying affects your employees’ safety, the health of your business and, ultimately, your ability to earn a living in BC forestry.  

 

Long a key figure in British Columbia’s forest sector, Keith Playfair is a principal of the KDL Group of Companies.  He serves as a BC Forest Safety Council director, is active in the Central Interior Logging Association and was on the B.C. government’s 2003-04 Forest Safety Task Force.


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