WSCA Supports Forest Safety Ombudsman’s Khaira Report

The Western Silvicultural Contractors’ Association has found the BC Forest Safety Ombudsman Report “Review of Failures Leading to Khaira Situation – July 2011” to be fair and constructive.

The 13 recommendations made by Roger Harris lay out a practical set of actions that can lead to improving the tendering and administering of government silviculture contracts so that silviculture workers are not put in jeopardy or become victims of abuse. The Ombudsman correctly cites the collective failure of government’s systems to protect workers from “unacceptable, substandard and unsafe conditions.” No significant actions were taken to stop the operations states the report, a position that the WSCA has maintained from the beginning.

Unfortunately the report omits mentioning that Khaira Enterprises was NOT a member of the WSCA. As a result it is possible to get the impression from the report that the WSCA was deficient in dealing with Khaira and its behaviour. Nor does it note the role the WSCA played in bringing its concerns about the Khaira operations to the attention of authorities as early as 2009, long before the final events in Golden last summer.

Many of the recommendations in the report are familiar to the WSCA. Unfortunately many of them have sat on shelves within the organizations involved for years already. What remains to be seen is whether these government authorities will now actually implement these recommendations. The WSCA sees the report as a document to hold government to account and measure their commitment to ensuring workers are employed by proper employers, not criminals and scofflaws who gain access to tax-funded forestry work through the low bid system.

The report recommends that one ministry lead the process of coordinating the agencies involved. This should include going beyond striking committees, issuing internal bulletins and printing new forms. Some serious self examination needs to take place within the bureaucracies at all levels and some heads will need to be knocked together throughout the agencies involved if we want to see a change in the field where it matters. The WSCA does not accept the former Minister of Forests, Lands and Range Pat Bell assertion that the problem was fixed when Khaira was finally shut down and banned from bidding. The problems run deeper than that.

The WSCA is prepared to give full consideration to Ombudsman’s recommendation that the WSCA develop for the industry a professional standards code and employee training. These ideas are in concert with work the association has already undertaken with the BC Forest Safety Council.

British Columbia has already established, through the efforts of the WSCA and government, some of the most sophisticated and practical silviculture sector regulations in Canada. They included a special silviculture employment standards regulation, specific requirements for acceptable camp standards and a very effective program of safety training through the BC Forest Safety Council. The government’s failure to implement these excellent regulations and practices in administering its low bid contracts is unacceptable. It has harmed workers. And it has, in the Khaira incident, generated a year of bad news for an industry that hardly deserves the awful national reputation it has gained due to the malfeasance of the contractor and those that had authority over the contractor’s behaviour.