Business Insider

C. Kelly Pearce: Making loggers the fall guys

In the April Business Insider article about Idaho workplace fatalities, the head of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration in Boise contends that agriculture, logging and residential construction have an attitude problem regarding workplace safety.

David Kearns asserts that in some industries there are “… major cultural barriers to accepting safety rules and practices.” He says, “They are (of a) very anti-regulation mindset that’s very free, very ‘we-don’t-want-to-do-what-we’re-told.’”

How disappointing that the federal agency charged with helping ensure safety for Idaho’s workers seems to have adopted such a decidedly negative, adversarial point of view. How sad to see a federal official speak of these critically important Idaho industries in such broadly general terms, tarring them with the same tainted brush.

While we can’t speak for agriculture or residential construction, we can say that with regard to logging in Idaho, Mr. Kearns appears to be egregiously misinformed.

Idaho’s loggers are fiercely independent. But they are neither consciously negligent nor willfully self-destructive when it comes to workplace safety. They are acutely aware of the costs associated with accidents in both human and economic terms.

The Idaho Logging Safety Program, developed jointly by the Division of Building Safety and the Associated Logging Contractors, conducts safety training for loggers and logging contractors throughout Idaho. Loggers receive this training every year. The training includes first aid, CPR, emergency rescue, hazard communication, blood-borne pathogens, lockout/tag out procedures, use of chemical spill kits, hearing conservation, personal protective equipment, basic fire training and more. Nearly 2,500 individuals have received this training in the past year.

Through adoption of vastly improved safety practices, Idaho’s logging industry has made great progress in reducing accidents and by doing so has become a shining example of an industry which, by its nature, is more hazardous than most.

Records of the Associated Loggers Exchange, whose members represent the vast majority of Gem State loggers, reveal 20 logging-related fatalities in the four years before the Idaho Logging Safety Program (1983-87), an average of five per year. Compare that with the most recent four-year period (July 2009 through June 2014), which saw a total of two fatalities.

The ALE records also show that the frequency of accidents that caused Idaho loggers to lose time on the job, as measured by the number of injury claims per 100 workers, is down 65 percent from the three-year period before the Idaho Logging Safety program and the most recent three-year period for which records are available.

Few are the U.S. industries that can demonstrate such significant declines in fatality and lost-time accident rates. Is it coincidence that these dramatic reductions in fatality numbers and lost-time accident rates have occurred since the initiation of the Idaho Logging Safety Program? We think not.

It is much more plausible to view the remarkable reduction of these numbers as the product of a conscientious application of effective safety policies and procedures by those engaged in Idaho logging and their continued dedication to worker health and safety.