Cow parsnip (Heracleum maximum) seen recently on a planting block: nobody knew it was toxic.

Western Forestry Contractors’ Association Rumour Mill RoundUpDate Volume 17, Issue 14

July 7, 2017
Volume 17, Issue 14

Warning: Some of the facts in this edition may have appeared in previous editions and have been published again in order to repeat them.

Road Deactivation Continues to Hinder Planting Projects and Safety in B.C. and Alberta

Hung up again: same picture, same story on road deactivation in many parts of BC and Alberta.

Contractor project managers may be justified in wondering what it will take to get many licensees and their logging contractors to quit deactivating roads in ways that mean they have to risk crews and equipment just to get to and from project blocks. Of the numerous comments that have crossed our desk this season the most telling was a foreman reporting on an aggressively deactivated road he had to traverse in Alberta who asked, “Are they trying to kill us?” Reportedly, in that province stumps and debris are often pulled back onto old winter roadbeds to achieve deactivation with little thought as to how planting crews are to later transport workers, trees or plan effectively for safety. Variations of the same problem continue to occur in B.C. after a two-year effort by the BC SAFE Forestry Program to encourage best practices and better behavior on the part of BCTS and industry. Making the problem worse, contractors on the both the Coast and Interior continue to report the road deactivation often occurs after they have viewed and bid on projects. This obviously has an unanticipated impact on logistics, production, costs, and emergency planning—none of it to the advantage of contractors, their crews, and safety. With a few exceptions in the province, it seems the message isn’t getting out to licensees, their loggers and their hoe operators that reforestation has been part of things for a few decades now, and should be taken into account in properly managing roads and all the phases of the harvest.

Toxic Plants May Pose Threats on Planting and Brushing Blocks

Cow parsnip (Heracleum maximum) seen recently on a planting block: nobody knew it was toxic.

One of the more interesting workplace hazards we like to write about has to be the plant pictured above spotted recently in Alberta and often seen on BC cut blocks and clearings. Cow parsnip is native to the western provinces and much of the rest of the country often flourishing on planting blocks as part of the annual green-up. Hollow-stemmed, growing to about a meter in height, with large umbels of white blossoms, the sap of the plant contains furocoumarins; organic compounds that can interfere with our skin’s ability to deal with sunlight. Getting the sap on your skin, or in your eyes, can lead to photodermatitis including disfiguring burns, skin rashes, and even blindness. The diagnosis can be tricky being the symptoms have to be triggered by direct sunlight. Depending on where the sap has contacted the skin, rashes and blisters may not appear for days until exposed to the sun, often baffling the victims as to their cause. Brushing and weeding, especially with mechanical tools, atomizes the sap exposing workers to a mist of plant toxins. Prevention includes recognizing and avoiding the plant, covering your skin at work where practical, and washing exposed areas thoroughly followed with no exposure to sunlight for three to four days. Cow parsnip has a truly awful cousin known as giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum) an invasive plant from Russia. It is much larger than our native species at two meters and much, much more virulent. It has begun to show up in the Lower Mainland and other parts of the province having escaped from gardens. Don’t go near it.

Wildfire on Planting Block Under Investigation

Not a pretty picture: planting block on fire without a visible break in the slash and tinder.

BC Wildfire Services is investigating a 58-hectare wildfire that allegedly broke out on a block being planted late last month near Houston. The cause of the fire, or other related information, is unavailable at this time. But considering that the wildfire season is upon us, and gaining momentum from the recent heat in many parts of the province, it’s probably timely to remind crews about the risks we face working on worksites that are typically covered in slash and often adjacent to woods laden with unusual loads of fuel due to disease and ingrowth in many parts of the province. The fact that people remain one of the main causes of wildfire makes forestry crews possible sources of ignition. Smoking, operating power saws and driving mobile equipment are all risks that need to be managed. Should we consider vaping an SOP for smoking at work as one commentator has suggested?