Logging is an inherently dangerous profession. It always has been and always will be. However, this fact should not discourage us from trying to advance safety practices in the logging sector. Plenty of opportunities exist to seek improvement and, more importantly, save lives. Recent fatal work injury rates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) document the dire need to significantly improve the overall safety performance in the logging sector. Fatal work injury rates among logging workers increased from 68.9/100,000 in 2019 to 91.7/100,000 in 2020 (Table 1).
Table 1. Fatal work injury rates per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers by selected occupations, 2019-2020 (BLS).
Obviously, this is a significant increase over a 1-year period. Let’s take a closer look at that time frame: 2019-2020. What existed in 2020 that was not a factor in 2019? An immediate response might be Covid-19. Was that a factor? Did Covid-19 cause an alarming spike in fatal workplace accidents in the logging sector? If so, why didn’t other industrial sectors reflect a similar trend with respect to accident rates during this same period?
During the Spring of 2022, the North Carolina Agromedicine Institute collaborated with the FRA to learn more about logging safety across the US. This work focused on two areas – logger training and education (LTE) and logging injury and fatality data. To learn more about LTE, a Qualtrics survey was used to gather detailed state-level information on existing LTE programs (e.g., types of training, method of delivery, agencies involved with training, etc.). This information is beneficial as it allows us to better document what is being done to address logging safety in different states, understand how training content addresses regional differences in timber harvesting systems, as well as help to identify barriers that prohibit LTE coordinators from updating, modifying, or enhancing logger safety content in their respective training modules.
Nineteen (out of 32) LTE coordinators responded to the survey representing state forestry associations, universities/community colleges, state logging associations, Cooperative Extension, and private training/consulting groups. The leading provider of initial logging safety training is state forestry associations, with the leading provider of continuing education training being training companies or external consultants. OSHA and health care providers are least involved in both training opportunities (see Figure 1).
Figure 1. Providers of initial LTE training & continuing education.
The reported barriers to logging safety training are shown in Table 2. Covid-19 did receive a high response rate among survey participants.
Table 2. Barriers to logging safety training as reported by state LTE coordinators.
When asked how COVID-19 affected training, less than one-third of survey respondents provided input. Affects included not being able to meet in-person/having to meet virtually, little to no opportunity for field practice (hands-on training), and difficulty understanding/following COVID-19 guidelines. This information leads me to ask… Has the absence of in-person meetings or hands-on training for logging safety played a significant role in the one-year spike in fatalities? Did understaffing during the pandemic have an impact on increased fatalities?
The study also revealed several other interesting findings…
Participants were surveyed on training topics for initial training and continuing education. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is the leading topic covered by most coordinators. What's at the bottom of the list? The transition of leadership when the boss is away from the job. This feedback makes me wonder:
- Should we be doing more to facilitate a smooth transition of leadership and ensure that safety practices are not compromised when the business owner or foreman is absent? Is this an emphasis area for future training needs?
Location of training/distance to training sites was reported as a common barrier for LTE coordinators. More detailed questions might be needed to learn more about this:
- Are logging employees unable to travel to classroom settings for training opportunities? Or are training coordinators unable to travel to the jobsite to conduct on-site training for logging employees? Or perhaps a combination of both?
Only five states were identified as having consistent data reporting for the logging sector (Alabama, California, Maine, Oregon, and Washington). Reasons given for limited data availability included outliers that skewed the data, as well as data not meeting BLS publication criteria. For example, if there are only a few reported cases, BLS will not report them individually to protect the confidentiality of those involved. Logging statistics are also routinely embedded with statistics for agriculture, fishing, and hunting to make one overall public-facing report category of agriculture, forestry, fishing, and hunting.
An initial reaction to this revelation could be…
- Would it be possible to adopt a more standardized process for accident reporting across the states? Would such a move better assist LTE coordinators in implementing more targeted delivery methods to have a positive impact on safety industry-wide? Do we need more bilingual training? Conduct safety training sessions on weekdays with high accident occurrences? Is it really true that a strong negative correlation or inverse relationship exists between length of service with an employer and accident occurrences?
Making advances in logging safety is a complex issue and not an easy problem to solve. Being consistently labeled as “one of the most dangerous professions” has been an albatross for some time now. It certainly is not an easy undertaking, or the problem would have already been resolved. But we all have a vested interest in figuring this out. We must do better. FRA is committed to being part of the solution, and it is our hope that the information from this initial project will lead to follow-up studies and activities that can connect interested LTE stakeholders with additional information and resources that can enhance logging safety training industry-wide.
There is one thing we can all agree on: 91.7 minus 68.9 equals 22.8. And that is unacceptable.
This post was written by Clay Altizer, FRA Southwide Region Manager, and republished with permission from our friends at Forest Resources Association (FRA).