Jury at inquest into faller's death near Likely, British Columbia, in 2010 presents list of recommendations to coroner to improve safety for chainsaw workers

PRINCE GEORGE, British Columbia , February 18, 2012 () – The death of Charles Henry Engelbert, 29, almost two years ago caused the BC Coroners’ Service to deeply examine the handfaller profession.

He was killed due to head injuries received from a falling tree as he was felling timber on a small logging block near the community of Likely. An inquest into his death was held this week in Williams Lake.

After four days of witnesses and physical evidence, the jury completed their deliberations on Thursday and presented a list of recommendations to presiding coroner Chico Newell.

There were 10 suggestions, half of them aimed at the handfaller profession itself.

The jury recommended occupational health and safety regulations be amended to include a mandatory evacuation plan (including five specific features for swift emergency response); mandatory site supervisor certification; mandatory re-certification (including practical demonstrations of skill) for licensed fallers; that timber licensees be automatically accountable for worker safety in the instance of small logging crews; and that licensees/contractors be made aware, through provincial education strategies, of their responsibilities regarding the safety of individual subcontractors.

The jury also recommended the BC Forest Council investigate the use of SPOT satellite transmitters; review education strategies pertaining to the boss-employee relationship regarding worksite safety; and enhance the promotion of training opportunities for fallers.

The BC Ambulance Service was urged to boost their advanced life-support helicopter capacity, and Emergency Management BC was urged to explore the option of a single province-wide radio frequency dedicated to emergency response.

This industry has been under intense scrutiny for several years.

The Western Fallers Association released a critical report in 2005, calling B.C.’s forests a “death zone” for chainsaw workers in the bush.

At least five of their ranks died on the job that year.

The report stated that “fallers wanting to comply with safety regulations are often condemned, and fallers who ignore the regulations are rewarded with more work.”

In 2010 the BC Coroners’ Service and the BC Forest Safety Council worked together on a fact-finding “death review panel” that examined the high number of handfaller fatalities. They made 15 recommendations in a report released in January of that year, four months before Engelbert died.

Thursday’s coroner’s jury has given more teeth to those urging for a safer workday for handfallers.

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