By Charlotte Tarver–Logging is considered a dying industry in much of BC and the number of jobs is shrinking. Yet, there’s one forest job in high demand on the islands. A certified professional coastal tree faller is hard to find these days.
“If you’re a faller, you’re laughing. There’s such a shortage of fallers, it’s absolutely crazy,” says Dave Dickson of KED Contracting in Sandspit. “I’ve never seen it like this.” Why a shortage for a job that pays $500 and up a day here and up to $650 in other parts of BC? In the past, fallers trained in the field but there wasn’t a training standard across the province for the high-risk work. Now, anyone wanting to work as a professional faller must be certified. In November 2004, the government and forest industry implemented a certification program. The certification of 3,350 fallers throughout BC has been complex and difficult, according to the BC Forest Safety Council, the group that runs the program. New entrants must take a 30-day training course that costs $9,500. It was designed by the Workers’ Compensation Board, the logging industry, the BC Forest Safety Council, fallers and others to set a province-wide standard for skills, knowledge and safety. One goal is to eliminate fatalities and serious injuries in the falling profession. “It’s a stepping stone. Danger has always been there but now we’re working in more difficult places, in steeper terrain,” said Mr. Dickson. After completing the program, a faller trainee must work in the field alongside an experienced, certified faller for up to 6-months and then pass a 3-part one-day exam. Uncertified but experienced fallers can challenge the 30-day course and take the one-day exam that includes a skills evaluation, a written exam and a field evaluation by a qualified trainer. The exam costs $900. “There weren’t enough instructors at first, says Gary Banys of BC Forest Forest Safety Council in Nanaimo and the program coordinator. “Qualified instructors are top quality long-time veteran fallers who had to score 90-percent or better on skills assessments, written evaluations and in-the-field demonstrations.” Another issue is there haven’t been many courses offered in remote areas of BC. People from Haida Gwaii who want to take the course must go off-island, to Nanaimo or Vancouver to take it. “I am planning the 2007 calendar for courses, there is some discussion about a course on Haida Gwaii if there is enough demand,” Mr. Banys said. “There are now two qualified supervising trainers from the Islands.” Three instructors give the course to 6 to 8 trainees with most trainees in their 20s and 30s. “Originally, fallers could be grandfathered in, but not everyone registered. Now, everyone realizes they must register and take the exam or the course,” says faller Terry Husband of Tlell. “Initially, there was some resistance by older fallers to getting certification,” continues Mr. Banys. “It is hard for older, experienced fallers to be watched and evaluated by people with less experience.” According to Bruce Clark of WCB’s regional manager in Prince George, “there has been some frustrations as we have seen older fallers going back to old habits after certification.” To enter the certification process, a person must first register. “We get about 3 to 4 applications per day to register in the program,” said Wendy Gaskill of the BC Forest Safety Council, “there are 100 people registered and waiting to take the training course or exam.” It is illegal to be a faller without being registered or certified. WCB will take enforcement action against uncertified fallers and their employers, which can include costly fines. Upon completion of the course, every faller who wants to work has a job waiting.” There are falling contractors and companies in a bidding war and every student who passes the course has gotten a job,” says Mr. Banys. “There is a shortage of fallers in the coastal logging regions of BC, including the Queen Charlotte Islands.” To complicate the matter, a potential faller must certify as a coastal or an interior faller – it’s two different exams (different terrain, timber types, conditions , weather – all factors that one must have experience in understanding.) “Certification created a change in the industry and we are better for it. To date, there are no injuries for trainees,” Mr. Banys explained. This is good news in an industry that in 2005 had one of its worst years for fatalities.
Mr. Banys is taking with interior Native bands which want to get their own trainers certified and hold courses in their communities to enable local people to fill jobs in native-owned tree logging operations. With new community forests coming to the islands, the hope is to provide long-term employment for islanders.
More information is available from the BC Forest Safety Council, 877-741-1060 or Marion Knost, Malaspina College, 250-740-6364.
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