A study funded by WorkSafeBC is questioning the effectiveness of a certification program tree-fallers in B.C. have been required to pay for and obtain for nearly a decade, suggesting the certification process has had no effect to reduce injuries.
Lead author Chris McLeod, an associate professor in the University of B.C. School of Population and Public Health, examined injury rates among manual tree fallers — those who use chainsaw equipment to take down trees — between 2003 and 2008.
He was trying to examine injury rates before and after the B.C. Faller Training Standard was made mandatory in 2006 — some had participated voluntarily since 2004. What he found were no significant differences in the number of people getting hurt in an industry that regularly sees fatalities each year.
His study also wasn’t the first to suggest certification programs may be ineffective.
“Previous research examining the effect of certification and training on injury rates report mixed results,” his study found.
“The few studies focused on forestry-related certification have shown no effect on aggregate injury rates.”
McLeod said on Tuesday those in the industry weren’t surprised about the findings either, and suggested that there needs to be a way to make sure workers, after taking certification, continue to follow proper procedure.
“Ultimately it’s the employer that needs to work on this. That companies put the processes in place that workers can actually fall and work in the forest safely,” he said.
B.C. Forest Safety Council CEO Reynold Hert said he’s had conversations with forestry companies about initiating a re-certification process, so workers would have to get tested once every five years.
“If you talk to WorkSafeBC they would tell you on every faller incident they have investigated since that time (of certification requirement) they can link it pretty much to a failure to follow the standard,” he said.
“The industry is starting to think that, on recertification, is that we ought to recertify that person formally once every five years … we’re waiting on them to finalize whether they really want us to go that way or not.”
Hert also pointed to technology changes, suggesting that manual tree fallers are taking harder jobs each year as companies introduce machine equipment for areas with easier terrain — leaving the toughest jobs for the manual, chainsaw wielding workers.
So a stable injury rate is not necessarily a bad thing, he said.
Hert also pointed to 2009 and 2010 data from WorkSafeBC — on an injury rate based on the volume of wood cut — showing injury rates per 10 million cubic metres of wood have improved after the study period.
The certification program, Hert added, is membership funded and does not have a taxpayer impact.