Western Forestry Contractors’ Association
Rumor Mill RoundUpDate
1 November 2019
Volume 19 Issue 16
Warning: The facts contained in this issue are locally sourced and contain only natural ingredients without added preservatives.
WorkSafeBC Stop Use Orders on Express ETV Units Frustrates Contractors.
Early in this decade a number of manufacturers introduced portable emergency transportation vehicle (ETV) units into the market that could be bolted onto the bed of pick-up trucks. Their practicality and price made them attractive to field, logging, and forestry contractors compared to other options for transporting injured workers. Nevertheless, from the beginning there was uncertainty as to whether they all conformed to Transportation Canada design requirements and WorkSafeBC’s first aid rules, particularly regarding the security of the attendant and the patient. Manufacturers went about addressing these doubts in different ways leading to some variation in engineering, price and interpretations of what was required. Manufacturers then continued selling their different units into the market.
Meanwhile, WorkSafeBC did not make it explicit as to just which units met their expectations. (We understand jurisdiction on the motor vehicle side balked as well on laying out their requirements.) It was left to the agency’s safety officers then, to use their discretion, which often varied in application. The problem with this ambiguity, which many, including us, feared would come to trouble eventually, seems now to have been realized. This summer WorkSafeBC wrote Stop Use Orders (SUOs) on one of the manufacturers Express Custom Mfg. Inc whose ETV units were being used by BC Wildfire Services at the time. Reforestation contractors have now reported the same for their Express units. It would appear that without stating what their rules were exactly, WorkSafeBC has begun writing up operators for breaking them. To be accurate, the SUOs only apply to Express ETV units. Other manufacturers’ units are widely used as well. By inference we have to assume these units, which are built differently with a higher price, are acceptable. We understand the manufacturer is now in a WorkSafeBC appeals process with a final decision expected later in November. No contractors want to run anything unsafe. But they think that this is a situation that could have been avoided if WorkSafeBC had provided timely and clear guidance. Our estimates say about 100 Express ETV units are used by silviculture firms, representing more than a half-million dollars in equipment investments. We can only hope that the appeal, including other possible reviews, might lead to some clarity around jurisdiction, requirements and action—and by whom—to be taken on this now even more complicated problem.
We Opine Briefly on B.C.’s Exceptional 2019 Wildfire Season
This year in B.C. we got a pass, escaping what would have been our third consecutive disastrous wildfire season. That isn’t the case in the next province over the Cordillera. Alberta is winding up (down?) its second worst season on record with 883,412 hectares burned, and some still on fire. That is just short of the worst on record; 1981 at 1,357,305 hectares burned. An average Albertan fire year is more like 250,000 hectares. The Edmonton Journal quotes University of Alberta fire expert Mike Flannigan describing this kind of year as “the new reality.” Click Here.
Alberta, it turns out, unlike us this year, is more in keeping with the trend worldwide. The European Space Agency using its Sentinel-3 World Fire Atlas for monitoring wildfires on a world scale stated last month that there were five times as many fires burning worldwide in August 2019 then in the previous August. Click Here. Last year’s August saw 16,000 wildfires. This year saw 79,000. Those fires were in Lebanon, California, the Arctic, Greece, France, Indonesia, Russia and others. (Obviously, they didn’t include the antipodes where the fire season occurs oppositely and in the other direction.)
Anyone who has read fire historian Steven J. Pyne’s many books on fire and culture knows he is never short of words, or ways to put them. Recently he philosophized that we are entering a time in human history he calls the Pyrocene. An age of fire brought about by burning fossil fuels, which leads to climate change, and then the burning of earth. Or, as only he would put it, “We are creating a fire age that will be the equivalent to the Ice Age.” Click Here.
In Pyne’s world, every fire put out is fire put off. That would be a very demoralizing dilemma if it’s true. A recent article in the Association of BC Forest Professionals magazine Forum offers some hope. Click Here. It comes with the encouraging title Slash Burning Can Be a Beneficial Tool in Mitigating the Influence of Climate Change on Fire Behaviour. This is more like what we need to hear. Another benefit of burning slash on blocks would be to increase the capacity and competence of our wildfire fuels management and fire suppression contractors who might undertake this work. Reviving slash burning (it has shrunk considerably over the decades for various reasons like public pressure, liability, etc.) could keep these crews busy across a longer field season. With that opportunity they could practice their fire-related skills and form a stronger attachment to the sector by being able to work for a fuller season. By all above accounts we are going to need many more of these kinds of workers in the future.
Brushing: Do We Have Another Capacity Problem In the Works?
Whenever our editorial calendar takes us to brushing, we’ve written mostly about the problems around that sector’s conspicuously out of whack claims costs. Compared to tree planting, brushing claims are three times as costly. But it could be that we are making a false comparison being the sectors are quite different in many ways. Some of this uncertainty might be remedied if we had better labour market information on the brushing sector.
Related to this then is advice we recently received from a reader pointing out that brushing may be on the verge of a demand boom. Pressure on foresters to reduce spraying to control brush on plantations may be contributing to a potential increase in hand work. At the same time the population of brushers has not been refreshing itself with young recruits according to employers. One proposal is for the WFCA to sponsor a business market summit for brushers, similar to the association’s annual reforestation workshop. Currently the WFCA has applied for our governments’ Labour Market Partnership Program to develop current labour market information on the forestry/silviculture sector. If we are successful—we may know early in 2020—efforts will have to be made in that process to better measure the brushing sector and develop strategies to assist the sector with recruitment and retention.