Monday, April 25, 2011

Death rate drops as B.C. loggers embrace safe practices on the job

read the full article by Gordon Hamilton at The Vancouver Sun
There’s no single event that brought down the death rate, said Reynold Hert, president of the B.C. Forest Safety Council, an agency formed in 2004 to specifically address what loggers called the dirty little secret: The industry killed people. Everybody, from fallers to CEOs, had accepted that as part of a dangerous job.

“People are now coming to the belief that nobody needs to get hurt seriously to do this job, and that it’s a mark of professionalism to do this job without injury,” Hert said.

The industry is much smaller. WorkSafeBC estimates employment has fallen by 40 per cent since 2005, obviously a factor in the declining injury toll.

But the smaller workforce is seeing a lower rate of injury. The number of injuries per hundred person-years of employment is down 31 per cent since 2005.

“The forest industry used to be three times the provincial average severe injury rate; it is now two times. It’s still high but now it’s lower than some of the other industrial groups,” said Hert.

Hert attributes much of the change to the United Steelworkers union, which took over the old IWA in 2004. The union had successfully lobbied for the so-called Westray amendment to the Criminal Code, under which executives could be held criminally liable if their company was shown to be demonstrating a reckless disregard for safety. Steelworkers have launched a private prosecution in B.C. against Weyerhaeuser over a 2004 worker death.

“Quite frankly, the change from IWA to Steelworkers was a key point where a fresh perspective came in; there was a new look and people going, ‘How can this be?’”

Non-union fallers also became vocal about the number of them being killed.

“All of a sudden it wasn’t acceptable any more for people to get killed. It became headlines,” said Ron Corbeil, health and safety coordinator for the Steelworkers. He said news stories, led by The Vancouver Sun, had a strong impact.

“That started to change people’s psyche towards being a logger. It’s just not a price of doing business to injure and kill workers.”

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Tuesday, April 19, 2011