WorkSafe BC Part 26

February, 2020


In the spring of 2019, WorkSafe BC summoned a group of industry subject matter experts for consultation on proposed changes to Occupational Health and
Safety Regulation Part 26: Forestry Operations and Similar Activities.  A follow-up consultation was held with a small group of SMEs early in 2020 to review feedback from the consultation.  WorkSafe will go through a review of the content before moving forward into a final period of public hearings expected in early 2021, although delays are anticipated as a result of COVID-19.


Why the sudden attention on Arborists from WorkSafe?

Several high profile fatal workplace incidents in the province have alarmed the public and brought considerable negative attention to the practices of tree care.  If you're a business owner, you'll be familiar with compensation premiums and how they have not been trending in a favourable direction over the last ten years.  Outside of that primary and tragic factor, I would speculate that the lack of a functioning industry organization to consider and act on these issues doesn't help our cause.  The abysmal participation of industry in sending trainees to apprenticeship training available through KPU and EITI is yet another indication that industry is not going to effectively address its risky habits willingly.


What does this all mean?


Arborist and Arboriculture may soon to be named in Part 26 of Worksafe BC Occupational Health and Safety Regulations ("Arborist Activities") and within those regulations will be procedures distinctly for tree care operations. The procedures outlined address a number of regulatory grey areas that have been a burden to many of us (spurs, lanyard, harness anyone?) and may generate some much needed momentum for the ITA apprenticeship programs along with ISA certification, and the BC falling/bucking endorsement. 


The draft tabled by WorkSafe BC policy staff is constructed of performance-based regulations, meaning regulations that aren't rigidly prescribed but are intended to be goal posts.  This is not unlike the core requirements of OHSR parts 1-4 for those of you that are familiar.  "Qualified Arborist" is used in place of "Certified Arborist" for example, and would be considered to consist of some combination (to be determined) of training, education, certification, apprenticeship or experience (at the discretion of Worksafe BC). 


The subject matter expert consultation group understandably sought clarity on what training or standards out there would be cited as meeting the definition of "Qualified Arborist" although it's not clear we will have that spelled out in a new regulation or guideline.  Persuasions for the existing BC ITA qualifications (ITA Utility Arborist, ITA Arborist Technician, ITA Climbing Arborist) were put forth by multiple SMEs, to which Worksafe suggested certifications come and go and updating the regulation is a massive undertaking, and that workers transitioning from outside of the province could be well trained and ticketed but still non-compliant.


Like most other recent occupational regulation developments (with the exception of the highly-prescribed Part 34), the onus lies on employers to evaluate industry best practices to determine how a "Qualified Arborist" measures up, and what training, qualification and experience ticks those boxes.  


Some additional highights:


"qualified arborist", "trainee arborist", "arborist activities", "tree-climbing system", and "tree removal" are now defined.


The requirement of BC Certified Faller or BC Falling & Bucking Endorsement remains for the falling of trees larger than 15 cm diameter measured 30cm from the ground.  No, you are not exempt from that requirement by falling whole trees while securing yourself in spurs/harness/lanyard near the base of part way up the trunk (this was made clear to be a trend that was on the radar of prevention officers).


Acceptable climbing systems being defined as spurs, harness, lanyard (OHSR 26.7.1) will no longer apply to arborist activities.  This system configuration will remain in place for "forestry operation" climbers (silviculture, single stemmers, wind firmers, etc.).  


Those conducting "arborist activities" will gain the opportunity to use any combination of ropes and lanyards, with systems essentially not prescribed beyond the requirement that equipment is compatible and suitable for industrial tree climbing, is sufficient to support any loads likely to be imposed on it, is regularly inspected, and that equipment is effectively removed from service in the event it is damaged.  Though not confirmed as of yet, consensus amongst the SME group was supportive of cut-resistant (wirecore) lanyards no longer being a requirement so long as a minimum of 2 non-cut-resistant points are utilized (rope and rope, rope and rope lanyard, etc.).  


Rescue readiness including training, practice, equipment and requirements for rescue personnel/equipment remaining in immediate proximity are all outlined in the draft, and may be the be the single most disruptive bit of regulation to smaller companies.  The language is brief but leaves no doubt of the expectations set out on tree climbing --- "The employer must ensure that a qualified arborist or trainee arborist engaging in tree-climbing activities can be promptly rescued." 


The final piece of the regulatory draft is expectations for documented work procedures, job planning, risk assessment, and risk mitigation requirements.  This is one section of the draft that turned out to be heavy on prescription and may prove to be a difficult pill for industry to swallow if the response from SME's participating in the consultation was any indication. 


Some workplaces are already operating in this paradigm and will transition seemlessly should this draft be adopted into law, particularly if they participate in the BC Forest Safety Council's OHS audit certifications (SAFE, etc.).  If your employer doesn't have a documented occupational health and safety program outlining policies and procedures specific to your line of work, they would be wise to get ahead of what's coming.  If you're a worker and not already in the habit of filling out a detailed tailgate record for each new jobsite, you're not complying with existing regulations.  Keep your eyes out for news from WorkSafe BC outlining next steps for this proposed regulation which could be announced as early as fall 2020.