Ombudsman’s Report Says Growing Labor Shortage Compromises Forest Safety

Vancouver, B.C. — A critical labor shortage looming in the forest industry coupled with a significant drop in company-led training could severely compromise safety, according to a report released today by BC Forest Safety Council (BCFSC) Ombudsman Roger Harris.

‘Not Out of the Woods’, the first report by the BC Forest Safety Ombudsman since taking office in March, 2006, is the result of more than six months of interviews and consultation with representatives from all sectors of the forest industry.

Although the report began as a review of training and certification for forest workers, Harris says it quickly became evident that training is almost non-existent in the forest sector, recruiting appropriate people to train is increasingly challenging and certification is only in place in a limited number of skill areas.

The report notes there is no longer a pool of skilled workers for the industry to draw from since so many are working in the oil and gas sector. As well, the introduction of new harvest methods, techniques and technology has put an end to many of the unskilled entry-level jobs that used to be the source of trainees.

Harris says, if the forest industry is to survive and continue to provide revenue to fuel the provincial economy, there is a need to create an environment that attracts people, not drives them out of the woods. “Recruitment and retention of our workforce is a safety issue. Establishing a safe and professional workforce will only happen if the issues of dependable work continuity, lifestyle and job satisfaction are addressed.”

Historically, training for people entering and working in the forest industry was done by forestry companies themselves. However, that has been significantly reduced as companies and contractors deal with today’s economic pressures. With no clear path to enter the forest industry for new workers, and more experienced workers with transferable skills finding work in other industries, BC’s forest workers with skills and logging experience are at a premium.

The BCFSC Ombudsman is calling on the provincial government to incorporate forestry training programs into the Advanced Education system and resource them in the same way it supports other industrial training.

“Currently there are contractors who are turning down work and equipment that is sitting idle due to the inability to find trained personnel. The potential damage to the industry and provincial economy is very real,” warns Harris.

In all, the Ombudsman has made 15 safety-related recommendations in his report that address concerns about re-training for injured workers, changes to two of the training programs that the forest sector now offers and stress in the workplace.

The Ombudsman calls on the Auditor General to review WorkSafeBC legislation and recommends a province-wide competency certification for log truck drivers that would include a new form of licensing through a system of Class 1 endorsements.

For more information contact:

Roger Harris
BC Forest Safety Ombudsman
Ph: (604) 696-3958

Julia Smith
Peak Communicators
Ph: (604) 689-5559

View the full report online through the Web link below:

Source: BC Forest Safety Council
Web Link: http://www.bcforestsafe.org/content-nav-ombud/ombud-07-01-01-review1.pdf