A press release from WorkSafeBC is reminding workers whose jobs take them into B.C.’s backcountry of the dangers of remote environments. Particularly they warn of the potential risk for serious injury or death in avalanche hazard zones. Hazard zones are most often visited in primary resource and construction jobs.
Since 1998, avalanches have caused three worker deaths and 47 accepted time-loss injury claims. The East Kootenay has had four of the 47 injury claims. While the majority of workers injured were in occupations within the ski hill and winter lodge industries, a land surveyor and a truck driver were also injured.
WorkSafeBC forest industry specialist Carole Savage, an Active Member of the Canadian Avalanche Association, says workers and employers often do not realize the risk.
“Early in my forestry career, it was common practice to zip back and forth across snow covered cut blocks without thinking about avalanches,” she said. “We were aware of a number of near misses. I’ve learned a great deal since then. Today, as a WorkSafeBC Industry Specialist it’s my job to increase avalanche safety awareness for foresters and their employees.”
According to Savage, snow stability can change daily but also by the hour or even by the minute and avalanches can occur anywhere there is steep-enough terrain with sufficient snow depth and the right weather conditions.
“A safety plan needn’t be complicated,” Savage said. “Sometimes the best plan is to avoid areas of high risk entirely until the end of the avalanche season, and the risk diminishes.”
WorkSafeBC’s Occupational Health and Safety Regulation 4.1.1 requires all employers whose workers travel through, work around, or within a potential avalanche hazard zone to have a qualified person conduct a risk assessment, develop and implement avalanche safety plans; or, if applicable, meet the requirements of Regulation 4.1.2 to provide and train workers in safe work procedures. Employers can work with their local WorkSafeBC Prevention Officer to determine the appropriate compliance measures.
“Employers can also contact their WorkSafeBC prevention officer to obtain more information if they have questions about the regulations or if they have questions about implementing proper planning, procedures and risk assessments,” said Savage.