What is happening with B.C. faller certification?

An ambitious WCB program to certify fallers in B.C. seems to have stalled in spite of legislation coming into effect July 1, 2003. Funding seems to be the hold up, leaving the program in limbo and doubt.

Any forestry contractor who has employees cutting trees larger than six inches at chest height has an interest in the WCB faller certification and training scheme. WCB states any tree larger than six inches at chest height must have an undercut. Workers cutting any tree this size are therefore engaged in falling and will need to be certified. Many forestry tasks include falling.

The plan was to begin training new fallers and certifying experienced workers this June. But so far there has been little action, leaving some to wonder if the program is on or off. The answer is neither. This in spite of a WCB regulation requiring the certification of all fallers in British Columbia coming into effect July 1 of this year. The program is suspended in a kind of policy no-mans-land as the forest sector and WCB come up with a plan to pay for the testing and grandfathering of the 5000 workers who fall trees in B.C.’s forests.

Apparently the B.C. forest industry seems unable or unwilling to send a clear signal as to whether they support paying for the program through an increase in WCB rates. Certifying experienced fallers, which would include a written or oral test followed by burning a tank of gas while falling under the scrutiny of an examiner, is expected to cost $2.3-million over two years. That works out to between an estimated one to two cents per hundred dollars of annual payroll spread across the logging and sawmilling sectors. That amount has caused industry to balk, suspending the proceedings and now placing the certification program in some doubt. The 2003 logging/forestry sector WCB base rate averages around $7 per hundred of annual payroll.

Regardless of the funding problem there are others. Wording in the original reg. states for applicants to qualify for grandfathering they must have two years experience by April 15, 1998 the date when the law was proclaimed. Because the rules have been held in abeyance since then, technically, applicants today would require seven years experience to be able to grandfather. Because this date was written into the actual legislation getting around this provision could sponsor a lawyers’ field day.

Then there is the issue of what if you fail the test? Now we are straying into the field of one’s right to practice. Lawyers and doctors, for instance, have this kind of provision written in special legislation. But is this WCB law the same thing? Does the safety training and certification program in its present form actually give WCB the power to deny someone their right to work falling trees? Another one for the lawyers possibly.

Notwithstanding all this, WCB is going ahead now with a skeleton crew of staff trainers. Originally, qualified private sector examiners were to take this on. But the lapsed initiative has left them waiting after WCB has spent $2-million dollars developing the new faller training program and the certification scheme.

It could take the WCB staff two years to certify the whole industry on its own, but there are conflicts in this alternative. WCB officers carry authority beyond just examining fallers, including an obligation to report infractions. Scrutinizing an incompetent faller as part of a test could lead to fines and penalties. This result is not the intent of the certification program and could undermine support from participants.

Meanwhile, any new fallers in British Columbia by law must now take an intensive 30-day training course followed by an exam and 180 supervised working days to qualify for their ticket. Estimates range from $6,000 to $35,000 per head for this training. Considering the average age of a B.C. faller is 48 new talent will be required soon to fill the ranks. The Forest Industry Safety Association is contracted to administer this proposed program. That plan is currently on hold waiting for money to publish education materials and train trainers.

Obviously no one planned this present mess ten years ago when WCB recognized too many fallers were being hurt and killed each year in the province. More rigorous training and certification seemed to be one way to reduce the deaths. It may still be a good idea. But it is getting off to a rough start, if it starts at all. Meanwhile negotiations continue. For more information contact Dave Rowe at FISA toll free 1-877-324-1212.