Western Forestry Contractors’ Association
Rumour Mill RoundUpDate
14 May 2021
Volume 21 Issue 6

Warning: Due to our readers’ subjective perception of the facts contained in this publication some facts may not be as objective as they appear.

COVID Planting Season 2021
Now on Start-Up Tenterhooks

Taking the temperature of a planter as part of pre-work COVID screening on a crew in the south interior earlier this month. Rapid antigen testing, which became available this spring, has been added to their safety protocols by many contractors. The WFCA has asked health authorities to make vaccinating planters a priority as essential workers.

Planting crews in Alberta and British Columbia are now in the field, or just about to mobilize, as the spring seasonal reforestation campaign enters an interregnum between implementing pre-work preventative COVID measures and discovering if any virus has made it onto crews and into camps. Over 5000 workers in the two provinces are under heightened social distancing, cohort management, and COVID symptom monitoring protocols for at least two weeks. After that period crews in BC can expand their cohorts and resume more normal socializing provided they have remained virus-free and stay isolated from communities. Alberta is expected to allow similar relief to crews as talks between that province’s health authorities and the forest industry continue. In some cases, British Columbia interior planting crews have been at work already for a number of weeks. Northern Health had cause this week to close two companies operating jointly out of Quesnel when more than three workers tested positive for COVID. The whole crew is now in quarantine. Nevertheless, strict following of best practices and Orders has so far limited the rest of the sector, comprising over 4000 workers in the field, to three positive cases in which only one cohort required isolation. The WFCA had expected an infection rate of around one percent given recent pandemic trends. The next two weeks should show if that was pessimistic, accurate, or optimistic. So far so good, it seems, with the early west coast planting season completed with only one infection among an estimated 400 workers.

Otherwise It’s Situation Normal
With Some Action on Road Deactivation

A tree planting water tanker mired on its way to a camp north of Prince George on a forest road mainline apparently hammered by industrial traffic operating during break-up; a time when log-hauling is limited until things firm up.

Fatal optimism and cautious pessimism are two borderline oxymorons that the reforestation field season operates under in any normal year, let alone one with the prevailing upset of a second year of pandemic. For instance, careless overuse of resource roads (see above), floods, abnormally low precipitation throughout the south of BC and Alberta, road closures to protect Cariboo herds and habitat, increasing tourist traffic on resource roads (Video), and the usual hazards of untimely road deactivation are just a sampling of pending and present conditions that operators will endure this season.
Nevertheless, some relief for one of these may be offered thanks to recent orders written by WorkSafeBC regarding emergency response planning. The circumstances reportedly involve crews operating on blocks where access is hindered by road deactivation. Our regular readers will know we have opined on this hazard since we started the RoundUpDate. Deactivating roads before reforesting occurs is perhaps charitably described as poor harvest phase integration. It fails to properly consider the unsafe and onerous conditions it imposes on planting and the other necessary activities that require access after harvesting. How many times have we said that? We can see that the recent efforts to preserve habitat and restrict public access will only increase this already too regular feature the sector has to deal with. In the case of the WorkSafeBC order, the officer felt crews were at risk because the deactivated road put the required emergency transportation vehicle at too great a distance to be readily available to a seriously injured worker. For some time now the WFCA has said there needs to be clearer guidelines about what constitutes an acceptable emergency response plan; particularly in situations without working road access. We have also stated more clarity is needed as to when air transportation should be the primary means of getting injured workers to treatment. We may get those now as WorkSafeBC has indicated to the WFCA it is prepared to work with industry as soon as this spring to come up with some clearer rules for contractors and licensees.

New BC Industrial Camps Order Announced This Week

The new law (here) applies to planting operations and clarifies certain requirements contained in the previous Order made announced earlier this spring. There are no major changes.

  • Change made to require that employers identify a place in which employees would isolate.
  • Further clarity provided about the expectation of employers to provides supports for workers during isolation.
  • Clarifies that inspections apply to vehicles in which workers would be transported together, rather than all vehicles.
  • Clarified that workers who have already done 14 days of quarantine, such as Temporary Foreign Workers, do not have to do another 14 days quarantine.
    BC SAFE Forestry Advocate Jordan Tesluk has posted an employers’ bulletin on wfca.ca (here)