The BC Safe Silviculture Project intends to eliminate silviculture fatalities and serious injuries and reduce the sector’s overall high injury rate. The Project’s focus is on specific silviculture occupation safety training, wellness education, enforcement and compliance and increasing the industry’s level of safety professionalism.
There are an estimated 6,000 seasonal silviculture workers in British Columbia. Their ranks include tree planters, cone pickers, mechanical and chemical brushers, weeders and tree spacers, wildfire fighters and prescribed burn crews.
The majority of them are young workers between the ages of 15 and 24, active primarily in the B.C. Interior spring and summer planting season. Many of them pay their way through college and university planting and brushing trees. However, there is a significant number of veteran career silviculture workers who work through the full calendar by following various forestry activities across the province. Most silviculture workers come from B.C.
The entrepreneurial community of contractors who direct these workers includes approximately 600 firms. The majority of them are small businesses based throughout the province. The Western Silvicultural Contractors Association (WSCA), whose members account for the majority of the silviculture work in the province, represents the silviculture contractors.
Given its size and seasonal activity silviculture has a disproportionately high injury claim rate. The work is demanding. Most payment is based on a piece work rate. Workers ask a lot of themselves to earn the premium wages they expect for this kind of labour. Contractors rely on this elite work force to maintain high production levels to achieve major planting and forest tending goals over short periods of time.
Fortunately the majority of silviculture injuries result from overuse and are not considered severe. But they are persistent, expensive and discouraging to workers and contractors. Injuries related to silviculture power saw work are often more damaging and occur at a noticeably higher rate relative to the rest of the forest industry.
Although incidents are rare, silviculture workers are vulnerable to some tragic injuries and fatalities due to transportation collisions, including light trucks, vans and all terrain vehicles, as well as wildlife attacks.
Recent demographic studies show the silviculture sector is growing younger each year. Young workers as a cohort are statistically more prone to workplace injuries than the rest of the provincial workforce. In the silviculture sector with its traditionally higher rates of injuries the potential outcomes of these two combined trends will need to be off set by better supervision and training and an overall increase in the level of health and safety professionalism of the contractor community.