Ombudsman shifts attention to resource road safety

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VANCOUVER, B.C. – After completing a review on safety and certification in the forest industry, B.C.’s Forest Safety Ombudsman Roger Harris is set to examine resource roads and how to improve their function and safety.

In his first year as ombudsman, Harris received a total of 41 requests for assistance with resource roads as the number one issue.

In particular, concerns were raised about road maintenance, cycle times, hours of work, road construction, funding, jurisdictional responsibility and financial responsibility.

Harris will review each of these issues as well as other subjects raised that are relevant to improving safety on resource roads.

“I’ll attempt to come up with recommendations or comments regarding the jurisdictional issues that surround the resource roads; and help to create clarity on who has responsibility,” Harris told Truck West.

B.C. has 47,000 km of public roads and more than 650,000 km of resource roads.

With increased activity in the province’s mining and oil and gas sectors, the resource roads have seen an increase in activity in recent years; as well as increasing use of the roads by the general public.

“They’re logging roads really, but it’s more than just loggers who use them now,” said Harris. “We’ve made tremendous progress on reducing injuries on those roads, but there still is a lot of concern out there.”

In 2005, 11 B.C. logging truck drivers died on the job, which accounted for 26% of the total fatalities in the forest sector that year. In 2006, there were fewer truck driver fatalities, but the deaths accounted for 42% – or five of the 12 – total forest sector fatalities that year.

So far in 2007, no logging truck drivers have died but 12 have been injured, some seriously.

“We continue to see serious injuries and fatalities in trucking and truck-related incidents,” noted Harris. “It’s time to figure out what’s going on and do something about it.”

Harris acknowledges the B.C. Forest Safety Council’s Forestry TruckSafe program is addressing the challenges on the province’s highways and resource roads.

In 2006, the council worked to create a cost-sharing formula for resource road maintenance, adopted vehicle identification plates for trucks, established regular communication regarding hazards and managed technical development work on steep-slope hauling standards.

Council staff also met with more than 6,000 truckers and owners throughout the province to discuss safety initiatives and challenges.

Harris is at the front-end of the review, undergoing an investigative period in which he plans on discussing issues with industry stakeholders. He also plans on involving the public during the investigative process, but has not solidified a plan on how to do so just yet.

“This report I think will be much more complex than the first report,” said Harris. “It’s a lot more legalistic in nature as it involves not just the industry but the public as well.”

Harris expects the review to take pretty much the full year and hopes to have it completed and ready for release in January, 2008.

Harris completed his first review as Ombudsman, Not Out of the Woods, in January of this year, where he looked at training and certification within the industry.

Harris found safety might be compromised by a critical labour shortage looming in the forest sector coupled with a significant drop in company-led training.

“It started out as a document to look at training and certification, and turned out to be a document on recruiting and retention,” explained Harris. “That was a big portion of it and they tend to go hand-in-hand.”

One of Harris’ recommendations to the industry was the need for regulations regarding non-certified trades.

“Because of the equipment we run, you need to be skilled before entering into the bush to work,” he explained. “Due to the technological advancements we need to find a way to train people, whether in private or public institutions, to get them prepared.”

A key factor in being able to provide the necessary training, according to Harris, will be the willingness of the provincial government to get involved.

“We need support from the government in the same way they support other trades. Otherwise the cost will prohibit students, it’s about $10,000 right now and that’s for a 30-day course,” Harris explained.

“They support the construction industry through the trades and training programs, and the health care industry as well. That support needs to be there for the forest industry as well.”

Both WorkSafeBC and the BC Forest Safety Council have taken steps to implement Harris’ recommendations that are under their jurisdiction.

“The industry has already responded by offering more supervisory courses and looking more at the non-certified trades,” noted Harris. “The government has yet to respond, so I’ll wait a polite period of time before approaching them.”

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