Health and Safety in the Tree Planting Industry

A study that examines shifts and trends in the tree planting industry and its workforce between 2004 and 2006 has been completed. The report, completed by Jordan Tesluk, looks at workforce demographics, health and safety performance, and job satisfaction. A number of recommendations have been made regarding health and safety practices and workforce development.

Planting H&S 2004-06.doc

INTRODUCTION

The tree planting industry of British Columbia is vital to sustaining the province’s forest industry. In order to maintain a vigorous reforestation sector, the health and safety of the workforce must be fostered and protected. In support of this goal, reliable measures of performance must be established in order to determine the success of efforts to improve health and safety practices in the industry. This is particularly important to the British Columbia Forest Safety Council (BCFSC) and the British Columbia Safe Silviculture Project (BCSSP) as they develop and implement strategies to eliminate fatalities and injuries in the forest sector.

Prior to the formation of the BCSSP, the Western Silvicultural Contractors’ Association (WSCA), in collaboration with the then Forestry Industry Safety Association (FISA), began measuring critical silviculture workplace health and safety indicators in 2004. Initially these efforts included the completion of an industry health and safety needs analysis and the provision of support for an academic field study of health and safety behaviour in the tree planting industry. The original field pilot provided an opportunity to test the proposed methodology and gauge the industry’s response to this kind of study. This reports builds on the success of the previous 2004 study continuing with a more detailed examination of leading indicators of health and safety performance in the industry.

Besides focusing on worker behaviours, such as their tolerance for risk-taking in the workplace, the report expands beyond the previous study. It tracks significant shifts in the workforce composition to which safety performance is sensitive. Given the recent challenges in recruiting and retaining workers across the Canadian economy the report also explores the reasons why workers may be choosing to leave or remain in the tree planting industry. Time is also spent examining the levels of compliance and competency with which silviculture firms live up to their health and safety obligations.

The BC SAFE Silviculture Project is a collaboration between the Western Silvicultural Contractors’ Association and the BC Forest Safety Council. Its purpose is to eliminate fatalities and injuries in the province’s silviculture sector, including tree planting, brushing, spacing, weeding, eco-system restoration and wildfire fighting work.

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY

During 2006, a survey of 31 tree planting companies was conducted in British Columbia, obtaining responses from over 800 workers. Companies were visited on the coast and the interior of the province between April and October, including a combination of camp, motel, and commuter-based operations. Questionnaires were administered to the workers along with a series of face-to-face interviews regarding important issues in the industry. The results were compared with a study of 660 workers conducted in 2004 in order to identify demographic shifts in the workforce and changes in health and safety performance. The survey data was also combined with interview feedback to explore issues surrounding job satisfaction and industry participation.

The survey results indicate that the average age and experience level of workers has dropped over the past two years, and the percentage of the workforce that identifies silviculture as a career has decreased. However, the health and safety performance and regulatory compliance of the workers appears to be improving based on the analysis of responses regarding workers’ likelihood to engage in unsafe behaviour. This provides an encouraging sign that efforts to improve the performance of the workforce and resources committed to improving health and safety programs are already beginning to produce positive results. However, the data indicate that there are still areas in need of improvement, and some recommendations have been provided in regard to what program measures appear to be most strongly related to positive worker behaviours.

Although levels of satisfaction with earnings and accommodations appear to have improved over the last two years, 23% of all workers indicate that they do not intend to return to the tree planting industry next year. A sharp increase in reliance upon inexperienced workers appears to support the assertion that companies are having increased difficulties in retaining their workforce on a year-to-year basis. Interview feedback indicates that although financial considerations are the most frequently mentioned influence on industry participation, there are several different types of financial concerns that tree planters evaluate. Reliability of work schedules and consistent earning potential emerged as important issues, along with the ability to meet expected levels of pay as additional dimensions of financial consideration. Furthermore, workers generally feel that their physical capabilities have been pushed to their workable limits, and the ability to increase production in order to keep up with increasing demands is unachievable without physical risks that are not only dangerous for workers, but also problematic for an industry determined to improve health and safety performance.

In order to maximize the value of improved health and safety training and education for their workers, employers may need to develop new methods of encouraging their workers to return on an annual basis. The internet appears to be a popular tool among workers for finding work and learning about companies, and employers may be well served by devoting increased attention to utilizing the internet as a hiring venue and to responding to the needs identified by workers.

Contact: John Betts @ 250-229-4380