Those who work 'on the ground' in the BC forest industry
are required to manage occupational health and safety issues that
are, for the most part, completely foreign to the rest of us. And
the unique dangers of working in the woods have, unfortunately,
resulted in tragedy from time to time over the years and subjected
the forest industry's health and safety performance to intense
media scrutiny. As someone who practises law in the forest industry
(tucked safely behind a desk and computer monitor in my office), I
would suggest that, in recent years, no single field of legal
liability has come to concern those who work in the forest industry
more than occupational health and safety.
Much of the focus in the BC forest industry with respect to
occupational health and safety is placed upon 'prime
contractors.' Under the Workers Compensation Act and
Regulations (the 'Act'), prime contractors must ensure that
the health and safety activities of employers and workers at any
'multiple-employer workplace' are coordinated, and must do
everything reasonably practicable to establish and maintain systems
or processes to ensure compliance with the occupational health and
safety requirements of the Act.
That noted, the Act actually places primary responsibility for
the health and safety at a workplace upon others.
'Employers' (who probably have the biggest slice of the
occupational health and safety pie) must ensure the health and
safety of its own workers and all other workers at the workplace.
'Owners' must provide and maintain lands and premises that
are used as a workplace in a manner that ensures the health and
safety of "all persons at or near the workplace."
'Supervisors' must ensure the health and safety of all
workers under their direct supervision. Even 'workers'
themselves must take reasonable care to ensure their own health and
safety, as well as that of other workers who may be affected by
their acts or omissions. Each of these actors are potentially
subject to prosecution under the Act if they fail to discharge
their respective responsibilities for health and safety at the
As well, every officer and director of a corporation
"must' ensure that the corporation complies with its
health and safety obligations under the Act. So, if a corporation
is an 'employer' or an 'owner' and the corporation
fails to comply with the obligations that are imposed upon
employers or owners under the Act, every director and officer of
the corporation is potentially subject to prosecution on account of
that failure, subject to a defense of due diligence. Moreover, the
Act provides that if a corporation contravenes a provision of the
Act related to health and safety, then any director or officer of
the corporation who "authorizes, permits or acquiesces"
in the commission of the offence also commits the offence. In other
words, corporate directors and officers are exposed to personal
liability for the corporation's contraventions of the
occupational health and safety requirements of the Act.
Occupational health and safety is also of particular concern to
BC's forest professionals. As an ethical matter under the
ABCFP's Code of Ethics, a member's responsibility to the
public is to "have regard for existing legislation."
Presumably, this would include the Act. More specifically, a member
must "have proper regard in all work for the safety of
others." In terms of the ABCFP's Standards of Professional
Practice, "members maintain safe work practices and consider
the safety of workers and others in the practice of professional
forestry." Not only is health and safety a moral and legal
issue in the work lives of forest professionals; it's also
matter of ethics and practice enforceable through the imposition of
discipline under the Foresters Act. Anyone who is a practising
forest professional, sits on the board of directors of a forest
company and is responsible for employees has plenty of motivation
to exercise rigorous diligence when it comes to occupational health
and safety. Little wonder why legal liability for health and safety
has become of such superordinate importance in the forest
Originally published in the BC FOREST PROFESSIONAL |
JANUARY – FEBRUARY 2015
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