The Ontario Forestry Safe Workplace Association (OFSWA), in co-operation with the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) and the tree-planting industry, is launching Ontario’s first occupational health and safety resource package geared specifically to workers employed in tree-planting operations across the province.
Every year in Ontario more than 5,000 workers are employed as tree planters, in what some seasoned veterans call the toughest job they will ever do.
Health and Safety Resources for Tree Planters, consisting of information booklets and brochures, job aids, a training video and a series of industry-specific health and safety training packages, is now available to employers and tree-planting contractors.
The resource package is designed to help employers carry out their responsibility for taking every reasonable precaution to protect the health and safety of workers in tree planting operations.
OFSWA began to develop this initiative in late 2001 through a special project arrangement with WSIB and the industry.
Physical fitness experts agree that tree planting is one of the most physically demanding jobs in Canada. According to studies cited by Malcolm Sutherland, the WSIB agronomist who acted as a subject-matter adviser for the project, a tree planter will often plant up to 2,000 trees in a day. That translates into walking 16 kilometres a day, bending and driving a shovel into the ground more than 200 times an hour and carrying heavy packs of seedlings through some of the roughest terrain in Ontario.
Working in extremes of weather and rough and isolated terrain, tree planters face hazards presented by wildlife, insects, and potentially harmful substances such as pesticides.
The resource package developed by OFSWS puts a significant emphasis on physical conditioning and strain and sprain injury prevention. The seven booklets and brochures also cover such topics as safe travel on logging roads, encounters with black bears, wilderness first aid, the Workplace Hazardous Substances Information System and the health and safety tips of special interest to female tree planters.
A training video has also been developed that demonstrates proper pre-employment physical conditioning, along with information about effective body mechanics and stretching exercises to use on the job.
“Without proper physical conditioning, nutrition, hydration and well-defined and practical approaches to proper body mechanics in planting techniques, workers are exposed to very high risks for serious musculoskeletal injuries and related repetitive strain injuries," Sutherland said.