Auditor general report helps expose regulatory, company failures in the forest sector - Steelworkers

    BURNABY, BC, Jan. 23 /CNW/ - Wednesday's report by BC's auditor general
is a condemnation of the BC forest industry and the provincial government's
lack of action on forest-worker safety, says the United Steelworkers (USW).
    The report, "Preventing Fatalities and Serious Injuries in BC Forests:
Progress Needed", is the response to the USW's high-profile 2005-2006 Stop the
Killing campaign and political lobby.
    In 2005, 43 BC forest workers were killed by traumatic injuries. The
report notes that, on average, 22 forest workers are killed on the job
annually and 92 are severely injured.
    USW Western Canada Director Stephen Hunt says the report verifies what
the union presented to the auditor general's investigative team led by former
Workers Compensation Board Chair Ralph McGinn in March, 2007. It confirms
that: government leadership for forest safety is fragmented; often contractors
and sub-contractors lack knowledge, organization and finances to have adequate
safety programs; existing occupational health and safety guidelines are not
adequately enforced by the industry; timber harvesting plans do not make safe
harvesting a goal; and the supervision of workers is often non-existent.
    The report notes the severe impact of deregulation and contracting out.
It warns that the practice "disables the safety infrastructure" and "splits
responsibility for profit from the responsibility for safety," echoing the
USW's long-standing concerns about the effect of creating dozens of small
contractors in place of company crews.
    The report also says there is lack of oversight on the safe use of
logging roads and lack of involvement in programming for worker training.
    Hunt said the USW agrees with most of the auditor general's 15
recommendations to government, directed at the Ministry of Labour and
Citizens' Service and the Ministry of Forests and Range. They include a call
for government to assign one ministry to issue policy redirection including
regulatory change. The USW also supports the recommendation that WorkSafe BC
do its job by vigorously inspecting workplaces, following-up on infractions
and imposing penalties for non-compliance.
    The union also agrees that a safety objective should be included in the
Forest and Range Practices Act to ensure that attention to safety begins with
the planning of forest operations. As well, Hunt says the USW agrees with
having WorkSafe BC ensure that proper supervision is in place.
    Hunt said the BC government needs to completely rethink its approach to
worker safety.
    "The Campbell government legislated the fragmentation of this industry,
creating a deregulated environment where there has been a downloading of
responsibilities for safety onto the back of contractors and subcontractors,
while allowing licensees to escape their legal responsibilities to workers,"
he said.
    "To his credit, the auditor general has exposed corporate and government
policies, which have contributed to death and injury in the forest sector.
    "As we pointed out to the auditor general's, government-legislated
industry deregulation has created a 'culture of desperation' - the explosion
of small contractors set off a low-bid race to the bottom, cutting corners on
safety along the way."

For further information:

For further information: Stephen Hunt, (604) 683-1117, (604) 816-2554

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