Tree planter industry review underway in Campbell River

The provincial “watchdog” on forestry safety was in Campbell River on Wednesday to talk about tree planters

The provincial “watchdog” on forestry safety was in Campbell River on Wednesday to talk about tree planters.

BC Forest Safety Ombudsman Roger Harris also interviewed silviculturists and foresters for a review he’s doing on the industry.

“When I get involved, it’s viewed things aren’t going well,” Harris said.

That’s not entirely true in this case, but the review was prompted by actions of a not-so-diligent company. In January, Khaira Enterprises was penalized $3,500 and ordered to pay its workers $236,500 in unpaid wages, plus interest.

The penalties were a result of an investigation into the silviculture company which operated camps in Powell River, Texada Island, Salmon Arm, Kamloops, Revelstoke and Golden. The investigation found the company had imposed poor living and working conditions last summer.

“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,” said Harris. “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.”

While most silviculture firms – which also do tree spacing and thinning – act professionally, the industry is sometimes viewed as, “The last cowboys of the forest industry,” said Harris.

Part of the problem, he added, are the overlapping  ministries, agencies, industry sectors and associations all connected to silviculture. Harris said they tend to look after their own narrow scopes of view, and there’s a need to co-ordinate all the services for the betterment of workers.

Harris intends to make recommendations to help prevent further Khaira-like situations and to co-ordinate all the governing bodies. His review is supported by the industry.

“The B.C. silviculture industry welcomes this investigation. We hope it will produce a comprehensive and impartial review of the conditions that led to the Khaira situation,” said John Betts, executive director of the Western Silviculture Contractors’ Association, in a statement.

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