Wildlife Tree Committee changes assessment and windspeed rules

Following concerns regarding Wildlife/Danger tree regulations raised at our annual conference earlier this month in Prince George the Wildlife Tree Committee has announced two significant changes.

Following concerns regarding Wildlife/Danger tree regulations raised at our annual conference earlier this month in Prince George the Wildlife Tree Committee has announced two significant changes. These changes will affect wind speeds ‹ now up to 40km/hr ‹ for Level 1 work activities and qualification requirements (qualified supervisor does not have to be WDTAC certified) for site overview prior to crews commencing work on project blocks. The full text of the changes will be included in new sections of the Wildlife/Danger Tree Assessor Course workbook. According to Todd Manning Chair of the WTC here is a summary of the changes which are now in effect:

The work area should have a quick site overview/assessment by a qualified person (i.e. crew boss) who looks for obviously hazardous trees. This information should then be passed on to the crew. If danger trees are found then procedures are as usual; either fall tree and conduct work or do not work within 1.5 tree lengths. This latter procedure is generally followed if the danger tree has high habitat value. Remember that to be dangerous for Level 1 the tree has to have one of the three significant hazard indicators: hung up trees, limbs or tops; obviously unstable trees (greater than 50% cross-section stem damage, or greater than 50% lateral roots damaged, unsound); trees with recent high lean greater than %50 and damaged rootsystem/anchoring soil layer.

The windspeed equivalency for for Levl 1 activities (e.g. treeplanting, brushing, pruning) has been increased to 40km/hr from the previous 20km/hr. Beyond 40km/hr the crew has to work in another (safe) location or have any potentially dangerous trees assessed to the equivalent level of wind disturbance by a certified danger tree assessor. In general, assessments by a certified assessor are now usually only required for Level1 activities if work is in a structurally damaged location. For instance this will usually mean working in a wildfire burned area.

Yesterday, the WSCA sent a brief to the minister of forests requesting a meeting to discuss a sector review of WCB penalty policies and prime contractors regulations as they apply to the silvicultural contracting industry. At our conference Gordon Wilson stated his opposition to the offloading of obligations by forest companies by shifting prime contractor status onto independent contractors. The minister invited the WSCA to meet with him to discuss the issue. Here is a summary of the issues raised in our brief. The full text of our presentation will appear on our WSCA Website after our meeting which is now being scheduled.

The need for a review of the Workers¹ Compensation Board Occupational Health and Safety Regulations as they apply to Wildlife/Danger trees, prime contractor status, and the silvicultural contracting industry.

Executive Summary

Changes in logging practices over the last five years resulting primarily from the Forest Practices Code have dramatically increased the number of standing trees left on logged blocks. These Wildlife/Danger trees, as they are known, perform vital habitat functions for forest wildlife. They also can pose a threat to workers engaged in silvicultural activities. As employers on the worksite silvicultural contractors are required to make sure their workers are safe from hazards created by the Wildlife/Danger trees. Standards and practices for this requirement are laid out in the Workers Compensation Act¹s Occupational Health and Safety Regulations and more particularly in the Wildlife/Danger Tree Assessor¹s Course Workbook produced by the Wildlife Tree Committee of British Columbia.

Wildlife/Danger tree assessment and treatment is complex to begin with as there is a possible conflict between preserving the habitat function of the trees and ensuring a reasonably safe worksite. It is more complicated by seasonal field changes due to post logging treatments, sometimes daily changes in circumstances such as wind and weather, as well as ongoing planning occurrences such as additions or changes of treatment areas. The problem is exacerbated by often vague arrangements between contractors and forest companies as to who is responsible for assessment, treatment, and costs. As well there is a growing trend by forest companies to offload ³owner² responsibility by committing contractors to signing as the prime contractor on the worksite. In order to ensure employer compliance the WCB has a financial penalty system that very quickly can amount to fines in the tens of thousands of dollars ‹ enough to cripple the average silvicultural firm. These variables affect contractors facing pressing project exigencies in terms of biological windows for treatments, perishability of the treeplanting stock, contractual timetables, crew logistics, safety, and cost management. As a result of all the latter, contractors say the Wildlife/Danger tree standards and practices are impractical at the operational level leaving contractors in an untenable position. Although no one has ever been injured by a Wildlife/Danger tree contractors recognize the potential hazard. However, in their opinion the regulations overstep their intent, overestimate the risk and by their inappropriateness pose a threat in themselves to workers and the viability of contractor businesses. Some aspects of the problem can be remedied in the business environment between contractors and their clients. Other aspects will require WCB policy changes with input from the contractors. The WSCA is asking for a formal review of the WCB Wildlife/Danger tree regulations and guidelines as they apply to the silvicultural industry. Both these proposed initiatives will require the support of government.