By Jordan Tesluk Forestry Safety Advocate

Over the past 4 years, the Western Forestry Contractors Association (WFCA) and the BC Safe Forestry Program (BCSFP) have been prioritizing sexual harassment and assault as a key health and safety concern in our industry. In each of the past four years, we have hosted presentations and workshops on this topic at the annual WFCA conference.

The WFCA and the BCSFP recognize that sexual assault represents a clear health and safety hazard for workers, as a specific form of workplace violence. Second, we recognize that this hazard generally affects one segment of the workforce (women) more than others, and thus creates a potential issue of discrimination. Third, we recognize direct relationships among sexual assault, sexual harassment, and sexual discrimination. We acknowledge that these are complex social problems that cross boundaries between human resource and safety issues. However, the safety aspect of sexual assault can neither be ignored, nor separated from issues of harassment and discrimination. As a result, the WFCA and BCFSP have increased their commitment to confronting and preventing these problems in our industry.

At the 2020 WFCA conference, we invited the Northern Society for Domestic Peace to present information gathered from field surveys with the goal of increasing awareness of harassment and assault. While this resulted in press coverage that shines a critical light on our sector, we recognize this as an important step forward, and we are not alone as an industry in dealing with this issue. Please see link here.

For many members of our sector, the news coverage is discouraging in light of their own efforts to prevent harassment and assault in their workplaces. However, good intentions and progressive policies are not sufficient for making the changes necessary to prevent this problem. We recognize that there is a need for appropriate training for both workers and staff, to not only educate them about sexual harassment and assault, but also to provide them with tools and strategies for fighting this problem.

At this time, we are working to define what a safe camp and workplace looks like when it comes to harassment and violence. Based on that standard we will work to develop training appropriate for staff in tree planting, silviculture, and consultant forestry professions. Meanwhile, the BCSFP is continuing to cooperate with subject matter experts on creating and implementing harassment and assault prevention systems. The results of this work are being integrated into ongoing outreach workshops that support health and safety improvement in our sector.

As an example, a group of six contractors met recently in a regional BC SAFE Forestry forum in Courtenay that covered issues that included ergonomics, preventing sickness and infection, and emergency preparedness. The forum also included a workshop aimed at training for supervisors and crew leaders for early intervention to prevent harassment and assault. The workshop specifically addressed:

• Definitions of sexual harassment and assault
• Discussion of supervisor responsibilities
• Strategies for responding to harassment in the field
• Support for victims
• Scenario-based learning

The group setting was particularly effective for facilitating conversations around challenges related to this issue and sharing lessons for improving policies and practices. The silviculture sector relies upon a highly transient and mobile workforce with workers that frequently move between companies. As such, sharing strategies and identifying common goals and standards of conduct is essential to our sector.

Further forums are already planned for Nelson, South Vancouver Island, and Northwest BC (Smithers-Terrace). Several contractors have expressed a strong interest in holding workshops prior to the spring planting season in the interior (late April) and have offered to host larger forums that would include multiple employers.

We strongly believe that this issue must be addressed at both a company and industry level to establish better standards of conduct and care that will be recognized by all. We recognize that there are critical seasonal windows for reaching our industry members and view the prospect of holding a larger forum as an important opportunity to help guide industry members toward better practices related to prevention of harassment and assault, as well as positive adaptation with other health and safety matters.

The BCSFP is also interested in continuing the development of these workshops and the development training tools based on consistent standards and content, and formal methods of delivery and competency verification.