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The following article was recently published in The Log by John Levesque of OFSWA in regards to Moose Creek Reforestation's commitment to safety.

Oxdrift, ON

Planting four million trees in a single season can be punishing work, but this firm is committed to helping its employees come through the work unharmed.

Moose Creek Reforestation President Bill Skene's involvement with tree planting goes back to the summer of 1984, when he took on a subcontract to plant 60,000 trees. His company now plants four million trees each year from April to July. (Work through to October on the thinning)

Tree planting has been the fastest-growing aspect of Skene's forestry operations in recent years. In addition to the silviculture side, Skene operates OTS Logging and Skene Lumber and Sawmill. The Skene family has been a continuous presence in the Dryden-area forest industry since 1896, when Skene's great-grandfather, Alexander Skene, opened a sawmill across the Wabigoon River from the present Weyerhaeuser mill in Dryden.

Each tree-planting season Moose Creek Reforestation employs about 65 young workers, mainly university students. The firm's major contract is with Abitibi Consolidated in the Whiskey Jack Forest of the Kenora area. The firm also does work for the Dryden Forest Management Company in Dryden. Skene and his firm have become industry leaders in health and safety for tree planting, a job known for its gruelling physical demands and its piecework incentives to put as many trees properly into the ground as quickly as possible.

Much of what Skene has learned about the hazards of tree planting came from his company's experience. "The university students we hire want to make all the money they can in the short season," he explains. "The problem was that they weren't preparing themselves properly for the work." The result was a high number of strain and sprain injuries and reduced production, especially toward the start of the planting season.

Seven years ago, Skene decided to bring in ergonomist Malcolm Sutherland, who is now with WSIB, to suggest some solutions for his workers. The result was a program of warm-up, cool-down and on-the-job exercises designed to prevent and treat muscle fatigue. "We saw a big improvement right after we developed it," Skene says. "We've not only seen an improvement in our compensation claims but also in production. With the stretching and warm-up program, workers were up to speed right at the beginning of the day."

The exercise program for Moose Creek's workers has proven to be such an effective tool that it was adapted for use in OFSWA's strain and sprain injury prevention booklet for tree planters, Survival of the Fittest, and is also available from OFSWA on a two-sided weatherproof plastic card that can be attached to planters' gear. (Skene was a member of the advisory committee that helped with the development of OFSWA's recent package of health and safety resources for tree planters.)

Skene credits Sutherland with helping supervisors and workers recognize early symptoms of strains and sprains. "Each crew boss now has cold packs as part of his first aid kit," he says. "That type of thing has made a big difference. Malcolm also really educated us on how to deal with heat stress and how to prevent it with proper fluid intake for that type of work."

Health and safety policies at Moose Creek Reforestation include orientation days at the beginning of each job, a lockout policy for ATVs, vans, trucks and camp generators, a policy on ATV operation that includes safe loading and unloading, and the use of emergency service maps to identify where all crews are in case of fire or any other urgent situation. Workers are briefed on radio communication -how to use them, reporting emergencies and calling in locations -and the company has a bear policy for both the planting block and the camp. Planters also receive WHMIS training.

"Safe driving on logging roads is a really important policy that I've always stressed," Skene adds. "We also have an 18-page helicopter safety policy. We use a helicopter every year, sometimes for a few days, sometimes for a couple of weeks, to take crews and trees to the harder-access areas."

A more recent health and safety concern for Skene has been the Ministry of Natural Resources guidelines on snag management that require mechanical harvesting operations to leave a certain number of dead trees standing in order to preserve habitat for animals such as pine martens and pileated woodpeckers.

"There are more and more chicots and standing timber left in the cutovers nowadays," Skene says. "We go into the cutovers two years after they've been cut and it doesn't take a lot of wind to bring these trees down. All our crew foremen are trained to identify the dangers. If the wind does come up, there's a point when they have to get people out of the cutovers. Every planter has a whistle for emergencies and the crew bosses have air horns in their packs. No matter what it is, three blasts means ???out of the bush'."

Skene takes a "safety never stands still" approach to running Moose Creek Reforestation. This past winter, the company has been working on a call-in policy that will enable the main office to confirm that all crews are accounted for at the end of the day. "We still have some injuries that we're trying to deal with in the thinning and brush saw end of the operations," he says. "We're trying to encourage our people to get into better physical shape before they come out. We're never satisfied with our safety performance, we're always trying to improve it."