By Aaron Corvin
The tree-studded hills of southwestern Oregon’s Coos and Douglas counties aren’t just panoramic places to absorb with all your senses.
For loggers, they’re dangerous workplaces: wrong places at the wrong time, falling logs, swinging logs, holes to twist ankles, unforgiving machines, blazing heat, biting cold. The list goes on.
But the hazards of logging hardly have the upper hand in these forested hills known as Coos Bay Timberlands, a craggy, gorgeous, and sprawling commercial tree farm owned and operated by Weyerhaeuser Company.
On the contrary, this workplace thrums with safety.
Pre-work safety meetings occur regularly. Supervisors walk the grounds, keeping an eye on workers and minding procedures. Workers – clad in protective gear – stand in the clear as logs are hauled away. A synchronized system of horn blasts enables crews to communicate and coordinate for the sake of protection from harm. The mechanized yarders, processors, and loaders that pull, strip, saw, and stack logs are secure and precise in their movements.
Brian Arriola, owner of LBA Contract Cutting – one of Weyerhaeuser’s independent contractors – summed up the overriding philosophy in these woods: “Think safety first, that’s your goal.”
Logging has consistently been one of the most hazardous industries in the United States. In Oregon, there were nine logging deaths by the end of August. Although four of those cases did not fall under Oregon OSHA’s jurisdiction, the five remaining deaths equal the number of loggers who died last year.
But as Weyerhaeuser’s Coos Bay Timberlands demonstrates, hazards and injuries and deaths don’t have to rule the day. Using best practices and vigilance, a logging company can consistently send its workers home safe to their families.
Weyerhaeuser has built a culture of safety at the Timberlands site over many years, with buy-in from managers, employees, and independent contractors such as LBA Contract Cutting and Tony Holman Logging.
And while it has embraced safety with its own heightened awareness and hard work, the company also has sought help from Oregon OSHA’s consultation services.
“We’ve helped them fine-tune things,” said Larry Fipps, an occupational safety consultant in Oregon OSHA’s Eugene field office and a veteran of the logging industry. “They were doing most of the right things to begin with.”
Needless to say, the company’s focus on safety is good for productivity, reputation, and keeping the clamps on workers’ compensation claims.
Primarily, though, it’s about valuing people’s lives. Talk to veteran loggers Bob Wallis and Bruce Davis – team leader/operations manager and harvest manager for Timberlands, respectively – and you quickly understand this.
“The company has done wonders as far as embracing safety,” Davis said.
The company shows no signs of letting up.
In June 2015, for example, Coos Bay Timberlands achieved another milestone: It was re-certified as a Star site in Oregon OSHA’s Voluntary Protection Program (VPP). VPP is built on the idea that enforcement of safety regulations alone can never fully achieve the objectives of the Occupational Safety and Health Act. To even be considered for VPP recognition, a company’s safety and health management system must excel in all areas, including management leadership, employee involvement, worksite analysis, hazard prevention and control, and safety and health training.
Ultimately, VPP companies provide ongoing, systematic protection of workers. As Fipps put it, “It’s way beyond unusual for logging to be VPP.”
An evaluation of Coos Bay Timberlands’ participation in VPP, conducted by Oregon OSHA, showed the company’s Total Case Incidence, and Days Away from Work and Restricted Activity or Job Transfer rates were both 100 percent below national averages.
The dedication was on display on a recent sun-dappled morning, high in the hills of Coos Bay Timberlands. Arriola watched his crew get things done.
“If I care, they care,” he said of how safety gets done on a daily basis. “I want to see everybody go home at night.”
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