Forest safety ombudsman announces silviculture review

BC Forest Safety Ombudsman Roger Harris has announced he'll be conducting a review of the B.C. silviculture camp system, a move prompted by the revelation that workers suffered in squalid camp conditions near Golden last summer.

BC Forest Safety Ombudsman Roger Harris has announced he’ll be conducting a review of the B.C. silviculture camp system, a move prompted by the revelation that workers suffered in squalid camp conditions near Golden last summer.

That incident led to a larger investigation of silviculture contractor Khaira Enterprises Ltd., which was last month ordered to pay 58 employees $236,500 in unpaid wages. The investigation into the company uncovered other camps where workers lived in substandard conditions, including near Revelstoke, Salmon Arm, Kamloops, Texada Island and Salmon Arm.

The announcement came at the annual meeting of the Western Silviculture Contractors’ Association (WSCA) in Kelowna on Feb. 4.

“The Khaira situation is not typical of the industry, but I have received calls about health and safety conditions at silviculture camps in the past,” Harris said in a statement. “It appears that a small number of contractors and operators are not acting in the best interests of workers and these types of situations continue to occur.”

WSCA executive director John Betts applauded the move. In interviews with the Times Review in 2010, Betts emphasized that the vast majority of silviculture operators adhered to government health, safety and employment regulations. He complained, however, of a handful of chronic scofflaws who ignored the regulations in order to cut costs and outbid legitimate contractors. Adequate oversight and enforcement doesn’t exist, and the contractors also exploit loopholes in existing rules and regulations to continue operation, often on the backs of taxpayers via government silviculture contracts.

“The B.C. silviculture industry welcomes this investigation,” Betts said. “We hope it will produce a comprehensive and impartial review of the conditions that led to the Khaira Enterprises Ltd. situation. We also look forward to any recommendations the Forest Safety Ombudsman may make to improve and restore confidence in the tendering and administration of silviculture projects.”

Harris’ investigation will explore the need for better coordination between ministries, agencies, industry sectors and associations.

The probe is expected to last four months. Harris plans to develop recommendations that will improve coordination between respective agencies and prevent situations like the one near Golden.

BC Forest Safety Ombudsman Roger Harris is appointed by the BC Forest Safety Council to be an impartial representative for forest safety.

The not-for-proft Council works with government, industry, contractors and employers.