PRINCE GEORGE, B. C. - A few decades ago, B. C. logging roads were designed for one main use: hauling logs. The public was warned to stay off, at least during regular log hauling activity, or face the...
PRINCE GEORGE, B. C. – A few decades ago, B. C. logging roads were designed for one main use: hauling logs. The public was warned to stay off, at least during regular log hauling activity, or face the consequences – which could be an unfortunate collision with a logging truck.
That’s exactly what happened to one B. C. logging truck driver. Joseph Leroux was killed two years ago, when the 52-year-old was forced off a narrow forest service road (about 190 km north of Prince George, near Mackenzie), after another truck unexpectedly met him at a corner. Leroux’s truck subsequently caught a snow bank and then descended into a small ravine.
The inquest into his death revealed that there were two potentially conflicting licensed users on the logging road at the time of the accident. There was also uncoordinated and inefficient radio protocol, by two different trucking crews on a service road that complied with minimal safety standards.
Leroux is just one of 16 forest industry drivers who have died on logging roads in the past three years. In 2005, 11 logging truck drivers died on the job, which accounted for 26% of the total fatalities in the forest sector that year. In 2007, there were fewer truck driver fatalities, but the deaths on logging roads accounted for 42%, or five of the 12 total forest sector fatalities that year. It is a complex safety issue that has come to the attention of the office of the B. C. Forest Safety Council’s (BCFSC) ombudsman, which recently issued a report with his recommendations.
“It is important to note that these deaths that occurred are not necessarily logging truck drivers,” says BCFSC ombudsman Roger Harris, who dismissed the term “logging road” in favour of “resource road,” in the report. “In fact, in 2007, only one fatality was a logging truck driver. The other four individuals who died were driving pick-ups, which is why safety on our resource road network cannot be focused only on large industrial traffic.”
B. C. has approximately 400,000 km of resource roads, and Harris observes that the wide network of gravel roads are now used by a variety of users, including the oil and gas sector, the agriculture industry, lighter commercial business, tourism, and First Nations people who access remote communities.
But despite the increased usage by a variety of industry and private individuals, the Ministry of Forests and Range continues to be the sole agency responsible for this extensive off-road network, a situation the ombudsman believes is ineffective and unsafe.
“While the use of logging roads has changed over the last decade, the regulatory conditions that are in place have not,” he says in the report. “The users of resource roads have changed, but the ministry charged with responsibility for the system, and the method of funding construction, maintenance, compliance and enforcement, has not.”
Harris recommends the province establish a new public highway designation for resource roads that serve as the primary or secondary access roads for communities.
The new designation would have clearly defined standards for construction, maintenance, enforcement and be funded and maintained similarly to the public highway system.
One of Harris’ key recommendations is the creation of road safety management groups (RSMGs) or bodies of stakeholders that would be responsible for managing a specific resource road network.
These groups would include representation from various stakeholders, and jointly make decisions and implement actions concerning road safety issues, design, construction, maintenance, safe driving practice, signage, driver education and allocation of resources.
Harris also recommends designating certain resource roads as public highways, to deal directly with driving conditions.
In that regard, the report refers to a well-used resource road that leads to the tiny community of Bamfield on southern Vancouver Island, once a remote telegraph station that also served loggers and fisherman.
Now the area is an international ecotourism magnet, due to its location as a gateway to the scenic Broken Islands archipelago.
The ombudsman’s recommendation to address overused roadways, such as this, has been hailed for its adherence to improved safety standards.
“I applaud the recommendation calling for public highway designations for certain roads, as it deals directly with safe driving c o n d i t i o n s,” says Stepan
Ochman, regional director of electoral A (Bamfield) of the Alberni Clayoquot regional district. “Forest companies have maintained the Bamfield Road to industrial standards for decades, but in recent years, these standards have deteriorated to the point that the road is unsafe, not only for forestry workers, but all users.”
A third key recommendation made by Harris, is that truck drivers be certified and this certification should extend to people who drive light vehicles, such as pickup trucks, ATVs and four-wheel drive vehicles.
Many of the ombudsman’s recommendations were approved by the Truck Loggers Association, which is particularly concerned about the onerous cost of building and maintaining logging roads, which continues to be the responsibility of the B. C. forest industry, which is made up of mainly independent operators.
“I think for us, the most important factor is the acknowledgement that forest resources are paying for the cost of these roads, and there are many, many (other) road users,” says the executive director of the TLA, David Lewis, who considers that other sectors that use the resource roads, should participate with the funding.
“It’s a significant burden,” adds Lewis, who emphasizes the present economic challenges that face the forest industry.
The TLA executive director was also impressed that the ombudsman addressed truck loggers “cycle time,” or turnaround time related to the contracted hourly rate for hauling logs, a process that may become hampered by unpredictable road or weather conditions, a costly situation that can cause drivers to eschew safer driving habits. “That’s a huge problem,” he adds.
The Central Interior Logging Association agreed with Lewis on this same point, especially when another industry utilizes the resource roads that have already been funded by the forest industry, like mining or recreation, when maintenance is required.
“We need proper funding from other agencies who use those roads,” says the executive director of CILA, Rick Publicover, who praised other aspects of the report, including the coordinated road safety management proposal. The BCFSC office of the forest safety ombudsman was established in 2006 to enhance safety in the B. C. forest sector by becoming a safe, confidential and persuasive agent for raising and reviewing safety concerns throughout the sector, and facilitating impartial and timely resolution of safety issues.
The forestry safety ombudsman is appointed and funded by the forest industry through the B. C. Forest Safety Council.