Tree fallers of British Columbia were once proud icons of the great north woods. But like millions of other Canadians, their workplaces have been transformed in recent years through deregulation, cutbacks and contracting out. And because of the inherent hazards of their job, fallers are paying for these changes with their lives.
Between 1993 and 2002, two hundred and fifty forestry workers were killed in BC and more than nine hundred were severely injured. In 2005, the worst year on record, forty-three loggers died on the job.
Of all the workers in the forestry industry, fallers have paid the biggest price. Fallers are the men who yell “timber” in the movies and take down a two hundred foot tree single-handedly with a chain saw.
In British Columbia, forestry is a pyramid. The big companies – like Timber West and Canfor – lease cutting rights from the province. The companies then hire smaller independent contractors. The contractors then subcontract out to fallers to do the cutting. In an effort to stay afloat, those on the bottom of the pyramid are forced to compete against each. Corners are cut; safety is compromised; and the body count goes up.
Traditionally, when there have been forestry deaths the popular wisdom was that fallers were risk takers; it was their own fault. They were also considered the red necks of British Columbia, and in an era of environmental reform, they were not very popular.
Fallers themselves didn’t talk about the human carnage within their ranks. Complacency and fatalism had become the norm. B ut it is now painfully evident that the forty-three fatalities in 2005 was more than a bad year.
Fallers are saying enough is enough. They want change in British Columbia’s forest industry. They know logging is always going to be an inherently dangerous job, but it doesn’t have to be inherently deadly.
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