Evacuating workers when there’s a forest fire nearby

Photo credit: iStock.com/Viesinsh

“Wildfires move fast. Can you evacuate your crew?”

That’s what it says on a new poster for the forest industry, from WorkSafeBC. The poster and a one-page checklist, XXTitle_linkXX, are designed to get employers thinking about this aspect of their emergency response planning.

“The checklist gets employers to identify key elements that need to be covered off to get a crew to safety,” says Lisa Houle, a forest industry specialist with WorkSafeBC who knows firsthand about working in wildfire country.

Lisa worked as a treeplanter years ago, which I wrote about in my post Treeplanters need the right boots to avoid slips, trips and falls.

“We had a couple of episodes where our firm had two hours to evacuate our entire treeplanting crew,” Lisa says. “When you work in the forest — whether for forestry or oil and gas — it’s not uncommon to be working amid forest fires. Employers really need to consider ahead of time ‘When is it time to instigate an evacuation?’ and ‘How would we do it?’ It’s not always straightforward.”

Planning for emergencies in remote locations is required by law in B.C. and this is complicated for employers with crews in remote locations. They need to be ready if a worker is injured or there’s a forest fire, earthquake, landslide, or other disaster.

“Emergency response planning is not just about helping an injured worker. It’s about being able to get your crew to safety for any reason,” says Lisa, who suggested this new resource after seeing bad fire seasons in B.C. and the Fort McMurray Fire of 2016 that forced 8,000 oilsands workers to evacuate their camps.

For more information, see Emergency Response Planning from the BC Forest Safety Council.

Practising emergency response plans is just as important as making them. This is the message behind the video Every Minute Counts: Emergency Response Planning in Forestry, which I wrote about last year.


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