November 24, 2017
Vol. 17, Issue 23

Warning:The value of the facts in this issue has not been reduced in spite of massive blowout bargain discount savings otherwise being offered on Black Friday.  

Feds and Province Negotiating
New Workforce Development Agreement

This demographic trend has broad societal implications beyond just BC’s workforce.

We have it on good authority that workers, being human, will eventually retire from the workforce. That being the case, the cross over point we are at now, where the population of older workers is greater than the younger workers available to replace them, raises some interesting questions. How do we fill the growing population gap so that our economy, if not our society, can continue to function? And how do we train workers so that our workforce remains productive? From forestry’s modest perspective there are no signs yet of a shortage of young people willing to fill entry-level silviculture work. However, on the technical side including timber development and surveying there are positions going unfilled. Both areas are likely to see an increase in demand as government increases reforestation and restoration work on the forest and range landscape. As for training workers, forestry employers have been making use of government programs like the Canada BC Jobs Grant. That program, along with other related funding streams, will end next spring at the end of this fiscal year. At a recent Advanced Education, Skills & Training (AEST) new Workforce Development Agreement input session we heard federal/provincial negotiations are going well in setting up new training funding programs in time for next spring. Few details are available as the talks are ongoing, but we should hear in early 2018. For seasonal forestry workers there are special workforce circumstances that we have urged AEST planners to consider. Measuring the effectiveness of forestry training through follow-up interviews with participants will have to consider that seasonal workers are often not able to work year round. Our concern, this could lead to a false impression from interviewees reporting they are not employed in the field at the time of the survey. This could create the misunderstanding that the training is not leading to increased work for participants. The actual case is the sector will require more training in the future and needs to be a priority. And training also increases a worker’s chance of finding related forestry work extending the time they spend active in the field season. Notwithstanding these considerations the WFCA’s lobbying over the years has legitimized silviculture work, whereas it was often excluded as a “life style” rather than an occupation eligible for funding assistance. We will continue to work with government along these lines.

WorkSafeBC Premiums Likely to Continue Rising
for Brushing and Fire Fighting CUs

Two forestry classification units (in red) are outstanding; but not for the right reasons.

Admittedly the above table may be oversimplified. But it is accurate in predicting that brushing and weeding and contract forest fire fighting may see their WorkSafeBC base rate premiums rise again in 2019. This may happen as a result of being moved to a higher risk rate group. Taking a closer look at the numbers, the brushing CU 2018 preliminary base premium rate just announced is $8.10 per hundred dollars of payroll. That is up almost 20% from 2015 at $6.85. Forest fire fighting has risen since 2016 at $6.25 to $7.81 for 2018. Of course classification units rates do rise and fall for a variety of reasons, not all related directly to safety performance. And individual firms within the CU may be exemplary actors with experienced ratings much lower than their CU’s base rate. Nevertheless these aggregate trends do say something. Consider that planting trees includes similar hard work comparable to fighting forest fires and tending plantations. And the tree planting and cone picking CU also has similar injury type claim patterns. Yet the planting CU 2018 rate is $3.61, half the rate of the other forestry activities we are discussing. These statistics need to be looked at more closely. But we might conclude that tree planting employers have overall made a concerted effort to reduce injuries in their sector and are having some success. Brushing and weeding and forest fire fighting employers need to do the same. To aid in that the BC SAFE Forestry Program is working with the BC Forest Safety Council to develop occupational competency guidelines for brushing and clearing saw operators as an initial step in reducing claims in the sector and improving practices. The Western Forestry Contractors’ Association has just struck a working group to find opportunities to collaborate with the BC Wildfire Service to ensure contract forest fire fighting crews are properly trained and employers have the tools, including certified instructors, to ensure workers have the right skills, knowledge and abilities for this hazardous work.

Smoke, Ash and Danger Trees

Seen from above wildfire smoke appears sinuous and elegant…

This year’s wild fire season has many wondering what exposure to smoke means for those who have to work in it. Forest fire fighters may be in the first order of vulnerability. But outdoor workers, like tree planters who also rely on oxygen to maintain their level of exertion might be considered the next at risk in a year when smoke is widespread. Beyond that there is the prospect of later reforesting burnt terrain, which could lead to inhaling ash and other particulates. Back in the day when planting blocks were more often prescribed burned charcoal-flavoured phlegm was a common consequence. These risks are now being looked into along with guidelines for working among snags, another feature of the fire season. But for the time being we recommend rising above it all and taking in this fascinating trick of perspective.