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The driver of a treeplanting bus that rolled off the road east of Jasper, Alberta on the May long weekend, seriously injuring three of its 17 passengers, has been charged under the Traffic Safety Act of Alberta. Three treeplanters were seriously injured. None of the injuries are life-threatening.

Driver Charged in Alberta Treeplanting Bus Accident

The driver of a treeplanting bus that rolled off the road east of Jasper, Alberta on the May long weekend, seriously injuring three of its 17 passengers, has been charged under the Traffic Safety Act of Alberta. The twenty-year-old treeplanter from Ontario faces a charge of transporting freight unsafely. He could face a maximum fine of $25,000, a possible driver’s license suspension, and even a maximum six-month jail sentence provided for under the Act. The charged treeplanter will make a mandatory court appearance in Jasper in June.

According to the Jasper RCMP the 1986 Chevrolet Bluebird bus was loaded with a roof rack piled so high with gear that the wind caught the load and blew the vehicle off the road. The bus did not completely roll over otherwise passengers might have been thrown from the windows likely increasing the numbers injured and possibly leading to fatalities, said the RCMP. As it happened the bus drifted across the oncoming lane and off the road on a dry, sunny stretch of highway. One treeplanter is reported to have broken their back. At the time there was no oncoming traffic, an unusual situation given that it was the long weekend, said police.

Alberta Transport was at the Friday 21 June accident scene and their investigation could lead to more Traffic Safety Act charges laid. Alberta Transport’s purview includes vehicle licensing and permits, mechanical fitness, vehicle operating records and so on. Alberta Workplace Health and Safety is also looking into the accident.

Transportation accidents consistently kill and injure forestry workers across North America. Last year eight U.S. firefighters died in a van accident in Oregon. Two years before that five more firefighters died when their van left the road in Colorado. In 1991 Alberta was the scene of another similar tragedy that killed seven treeplanters. Each year in B.C. at least one treeplanter dies in a workplace vehicle accident. (A hidden statistic would be the number of silvicultural workers who die or are injured in private vehicle accidents not at the workplace, but still part of getting to and from projects or camps.)

There are a number circumstances that repeatedly appear in these traffic injuries and fatalities. Fatigue is one of them. Accidents usually occur at the end of the day, the end of the shift or often on the drives between contracts. Drivers who are usually workers or supervisors are often so tired from work they cannot maintain the level of diligence to drive their vehicles and their (often sleeping) worker-passengers safely. Concerned companies are now designating drivers so that those at the wheel are fully recovered from the exhaustion of work and paid to ferry tired crews on long hauls at the ends of shifts or projects.

Driver training and experience are other consistent factors. The Workers Compensation Act of B.C. and similar laws in Alberta specify that all employees must be knowledgeable of the hazards of the workplace. It is the employer’s responsibility to make sure all workers are educated, informed, instructed, trained and supervized to ensure their health and safety in carrying out their work. In the case of forestry driving it may not be sufficient to hold a license based on an examination taken in a mall parking lot and on city on-ramp when the actual employment involves operating vehicles full of treeplanters on logging roads and highways in the mountains. Due diligence dictates in lieu of relevant driving experience the employer must provide training reflecting the hazards and risks common to the workplace where the employees will be executing their duties. Finally, all employee drivers must be taught their professional and legal obligations and the consequences of negligence when they drive company vehicles as part of their work.

For some years now the WSCA, and recently the Forest Industry Safety Association, have issued warnings regarding roof racks on forestry crew vehicles. I wonder how many roof-racked treeplanting passenger units in the country are actually legal or safe. WCB Occupational Health and Safety Regulations in B.C. and other jurisdictions are quite clear regarding modifying equipment outside the manufacturer’s specifications. Any changes must be signed off by a registered professional engineer to protect the operator and owner from liability and to make sure the equipment can be safely operated by workers. In the cases of buses additional inspections may be required.

But putting the legal issues aside, roof racks, particularly ones designed to attract large loads of gear, clearly distort the handling characteristics of any bus, truck or van. The notorious fifteen-passenger vans with roof racks are among the worst offenders, yet these combinations are still common across the country on treeplanting operations.

By now equipment roof racks should be thoroughly discredited and recognized as dangerous. Due diligence dictates they be removed from any company vehicles it they are not in compliance with the occupational and safety regulations of the jurisdictions where they operate. Protect your workers and yourself by getting rid of them.

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