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Safety on the slopes

March 31, 2017 - Rapid developments over the past 12 months have seen more winch-assist machines make their way onto B.C. coastal and Interior sleep slopes. Two full sessions at the most recent Truck Loggers Association Convention and Trade Show in Vancouver in January 2017 were dedicated to steep slope harvesting – including safety, costs and performance.

March 28, 2017  By Gerard Messier

Dzhamal Amishev of FPInnovations told delegates that there are 22 winch-assist machines operating in B.C. with a further 27 planned or on order, spread across 10 manufacturers, representing a substantial investment over a short time period given that the first machine started operating in B.C. in December 2014.

According to FPInnovations most users of winch-assist systems claim safety is their leading priority when implementing this technology. In New Zealand, approximately 10 million m3have been harvested with winch-assist, equal to potentially two lives being saved based on their manual falling safety statistics. While this is positive, Dzhamal cautioned that it was important to know that incidents have happened, do happen and will definitely happen. As of Jan. 18, 2017, he was unaware of any B.C. incidents with winch-assist systems.

In June 2016, the first and only serious incident to date involving a winch-assist system happened in New Zealand when a single-cable bulldozer anchor machine was pulled down the hill as it lost its footing. The bulldozer started tumbling down the hill. The feller-buncher operator apparently left his cab to get in the clear of the machine heading his way, but was pinned under the dozer, and is now a paraplegic. While the suspected cause was mechanical winch failure, the formal investigation report has not been released yet.

Dzhamal encouraged reporting of all incidents to help shape better safety outcomes. He referenced an article in Forest Safety News (December 2016), where the BC Forest Safety Council (BCFSC)’s director, SAFE Companies, Cherie Whelan, spoke about near misses as “gifts”. The importance of sharing all incidents and near misses with industry means that everyone can learn from everyone else’s experiences and avoid future potential fatalities.


The BCFSC will shortly be sharing links to applicable New Zealand safety alerts on its website, within the safety alert section. A summary of New Zealand incidents, highlighting the need for more research and development, included: 10 to 12 cable failures on both single- and double-cable systems; anchor (excavator) tip-overs; winch drum detachment from anchor; cable released from obstacle/rub tree; attachment point failures; and broken shackles. While no workers were injured in these incidents, they had led to a collaborative approach by contractors, manufacturers and companies to lead improvements in design, process and procedures.

Given the rapid developments in the past 12 months, it is expected the next 12 months will provide more innovation, increased experience of operators in B.C. using the equipment and with more knowledge, more understanding for increased, optimal, safe performance. FPInnovations, together with all B.C. industry stakeholders – including the BC Forest Safety Council – is working on a best practice document. In addition, industry is considering what the best training looks like for operators.

With the help of subject matter experts from Interior and coastal logging contractors and licensees, the BCFSC is developing occupational guidelines for logging, road building and log transportation workers. These guidelines outline what knowledge and abilities equipment operators need to have to be considered qualified to do their job. Companies will be able to use these guidelines to assess their workers to see if there are any gaps in their skills and then provide additional training or supervision to fill those gaps.

While winch-assist is here to stay, a great deal of steep slope logging occurs regularly in B.C. without the use of winch-assist machinery.  It’s important to conduct the appropriate hazard assessment of these steep blocks and develop site specific procedures to be followed while working on these slopes to help ensure a safe workplace for all phases. The BCFSC’s Steep Slope Logging Resource Package has additional information and an excellent form to help guide companies through this process. Please see www.bcforestsafe.org/steep_slope.html

Gerard Messier, RPF, is the program development manager for the BC Forest Safety Council.

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