Tree Planting and Safety: A Sad State

 

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In eight years working in Silviculture, I have been struck by lightning, been driven off loggings roads, almost collided with logging trucks at least three times, been put in compromising situations and felt my life or my well-being in danger countless times. Add to this the fact that I’ve known of a least six or seven deaths, several severe injuries(including someone who can no longer walk) and have witnessed numerous blatant health and safety violations.

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5 thoughts on “Tree Planting and Safety: A Sad State

  1. Hey Jer! While I can see where you are coming from regarding safety in the past, I would argue that things have changed significantly in recent years- specifically with the big bad company you used to work for. The culture of safety doesn’t just appear, but changes over time, and looking back over my 9 years in the industry, I can say that major progress has been made and cowboy attitudes are being phased out.

    For example- 2007-letting anyone with a license drive a truck (and a near head-on collision with a logging truck while a rookie drives a F-350 for the first time into town) vs 2014- all drivers are drug tested, have to have a clean abstract, take 2 days of driver training (most of which is now one-on-one and in the truck, bi-shiftly drivers meetings, and all trucks are monitored for speed via gps systems by the shop and supervisor- if you speed on a logging road, you are in trouble… If you do it twice, suspended.

    But you are right about supervision. Safety ultimately comes down to the attitudes and actions of the supervisor and foremen in the field. Unfortunately there are still a lot of cowboys calling people pussies out there and intimidating them into doing work that they are uncomfortable with or even untrained to do. As a supervisor myself though, safety is ACTUALLY my first priority… I worry and think about it constantly, and am lucky to have a great staff of foremen and checkers who believe in my mantra- that these are other people’s kids and most are city kids with no experience with logging roads/wildlife/bush living- that questions, concerns, and hesitations are a GOOD thing- and we encourage planters to communicate their questions and anxieties to us… and they actually do. We promote a supportive atmosphere in camp rather than a tough or money-oriented one- and ultimately planters know that they can talk to me. This might make us the hippie camp, but we had a great safety record this year and it was still an economically fruitful season. All of the foremen were made to implement a stretching program- we had zero tendonitis (the two planters who developed early signs were made to do modified work duties (even though they wanted to plant) and were back to work in 3 days with no further symptoms in the season). I also held camp meetings every shift to improve communication and before each of our 3 camp moves did a “stop/start/continue” exercise where planters were handed sheets of paper that had those words on it and they all wrote something under each category (like stop: driving excursion in dust, start: wiping tables better, continue: great food). And it was anonymous- planters put their papers in a box and all of the suggestions were considered and changes were made where appropriate.

    Another big part of safety is for management to implement safety on the ground. E.g. One of my foremen pulled his crew off of a block because the road had become impassible and it was going to be a 4km walk to the back on a terrible road. He realized that because of our distance from town and the road conditions, that if there was a medical emergency at the back of the block, it would be impossible to evac someone… so they turned back half way in. I was radioed and I called my boss and he brought out appropriate machinery to shuttle the crew, injured people if necessary, and trees in/out that night for the next morning. I think that going back even a couple of years (or maybe to other companies/camps) that this situation would have taken on the power through, cowboy up, attitude- potential safety issues may not have even been considered. But we are encouraging foremen to think about safety on the ground and how incidents could theoretically play out as conditions change, etc. We still want to make lots of money out there, but that isn’t as important as delivering those kids back to their parents safely at the end of the season.

    So to end this lengthy response, I don’t think that the silviculture industry (or all companies, or even all camps within a single company) can be painted with the same brush. While there are still some cowboys out there, I think that safety really comes down to the management of each camp, understanding and implementing safety on the ground, and making sure that planters know that their concerns are valid and giving them the opportunity for their voices to be heard- anonymously if necessary. I think that things are looking up in the development of the silvicultural safety culture and perhaps that it’s a changing and constantly improving state.

  2. “Safety should ideally begin with good leadership but should then be spread from the bottom up. Don’t expect your company or the government to have your best interests at hand. Instead you need to learn, adapt and speak up. This isn’t about blaming the victim, this is about workers standing up to shady and dangerous practices amongst ourselves and the companies we work for.” – Agreed, that’s good stuff there! And camps/leaders should ensure that people are comfortable speaking up.

  3. Firstly – fantastic post. I’m glad that you brought this to light because as much as big companies in B.C. purport to be concerned with the safety of their workers (and in my experience, this is largely accurate), things really start/proceed/finish with management. A foreman/woman may be vehemently against proceeding in a certain direction (your example of running trees in the dark rings particularly true for me) but prodding from an inexperienced/idiotic/stressed out supervisor or coworker might lead them to make decisions they aren’t necessarily comfortable making. It is hugely important to stand up for yourself, use your best judgement, and if your back really ends up against the wall, get in touch with the owner.

    I had a supervisor this past season who was vastly under qualified, over-stressed, and generally out of touch with what rests within the realm of human capability. When he asked me to do something that was both outside of the scope of my job, and more importantly, extremely unsafe, I simply refused. We had a fairly extensive yelling match and I was demoted to planting for the final few shifts of the season, but I was content with the fact I held my ground. By the time I explained to the owner what I was asked to do/how things transpired, he was absolutely floored and it is safe to say that individual will never work for him again. Score one for the good guys.

    Stay safe and all the best.

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