Father-in-law of Vancouver Island logger killed on the job calls safety fine an insult

Western Forest Products fined $73K for violations tied to 2015 workplace fatality near Port McNeill

Western Forest Products (WFP) has been fined $73,266 for a fatal accident in 2015 near Port McNeill.

WorkSafeBC cited “high-risk violations” in the incident causing the death of 38-year-old North Island resident Jeremy Tanaka, a father of four.

Tanaka was killed when a 114-foot hemlock, dislodged by a nearby machine, landed on him. WorkSafeBC concluded the accident was caused by safety violations committed by WFP and its contractor Coast Forest Industries.

Key violations were multi-phase logging, hand-fallers and machines working too closely together, and inadequate communication between managers.

Multi-phase logging is an industry term for working on all phases of logging simultaneously. In practice, it can mean machines work above fallers – a dangerous arrangement for fallers who have only a hard hat and a high-visibility vest as protection.

There are safety measures in place, but in this case they were not properly followed. The WorkSafeBC report states that managers and workers involved in the accident were not aware of space requirements for the machinery being used. They stuck to an estimated two tree-length distance, which is a rule of thumb in logging, but isn’t always sufficient. Certain machines have a hazard clearance requirement significantly longer than the trees in the area.

Positioning a machine above a faller is a dangerous practice, according to WorkSafeBC, and Tanaka’s father-in-law Martin (Sparky) Carlson.

“I was a logger fisherman all my life. What they did, with machines working above fallers, was something they didn’t do 30 years ago, 40 years ago. That wasn’t allowed, you just didn’t do that,” Carlson said.

“I didn’t know how bad it was until I went up the day after. I went up to the side hill with another logger. We stopped in our tracks, lost our breath, and just thought this is absolutely crazy, that this is the way it is set up.”

Jeremy Tanaka with his daughter in June 2015. (Family photo)

READ MORE: Tragic accident claims logger

On July 24, 2015 a machine was stationed on the steep cut block, above where Tanaka was working. A certified and experienced faller, he had talked with the machine operator about a certain dangerous cedar with debris high up. The operator was going to strike it with the supersnorkel machine (used to haul felled trees out of the bush via cables) to try to make the debris fall off.

When the operator knocked at the cedar, nothing fell, so he hit it again but this time the cables got stuck in the tree. He pulled back, thinking the cedar would break. Instead, it fell uphill toward the machine, and as it uprooted, a hemlock beside it was dislodged and fell downhill, striking Tanaka.

He was found dead about 30 minutes later.

READ MORE: Logging train incident near Woss kills three

Fallers had been complaining about phase congestion for several days before Tanaka’s death, as noted in the investigation. On July 15, 2015 there was a close call between a machine and a faller. Managers moved the machine further away and held a meeting to clarify the work plan. Yet, the woods foreman — in charge of machines on the cut block — told fallers the machines were “here to stay.” It was up to them to say something if they thought a machine was too close.

“A lot of the people [after Tanaka’s death] said they should have just walked away, but that wasn’t their style,” Carlson said. “Hindsight is 20/20, I guess.”

Multi-phase logging means trees get harvested faster, and Carlson suspects that was the driving force for putting loggers in unsafe positions.

“They really wanted to get into this area because cedar prices were high,” stated Carlson.

Tanaka could have refused to work, but he’d just as soon get the job done, Carlson said.

“They took advantage of him. He was an easy-going guy, a hard worker. Other guys wouldn’t have worked in that spot, but Jer was trying to help out the machiner.”

The WorkSafeBC report states Tanaka was trying to fell trees so the supersnorkel operator would have something to do.

As for the fine, Carlson says it’s an insult.

“I could afford that,” he said.

WFP responded to a request for comment with an emailed statement: “First and foremost, our thoughts continue to be with the family, loved ones and those who worked alongside Jeremy Tanaka.

”The safety and security of everyone in our workplace is our first priority.

”Western has a safe separation policy in place with minimum distance requirements between mobile equipment and people working onsite. This policy also restricts access to active worksites. We also have comprehensive training, communication, and documentation procedures in place.”

The WorkSafeBC investigation report was signed July 14, 2017, but the fine was not charged until March 5, 2020.

WorkSafeBC replied to a request for an interview with a comment stating that the penalty is meant to motivate employers to comply with safety regulations.

The amount is based on “the size of the employer’s payroll, the nature of the violation, and an employer’s history of violations.”

They added that “an administrative penalty does not, and cannot, reflect the tragic loss of life.”

Do you have something to add to this story or something else we should report on? Email:
zoe.ducklow@blackpress.ca.


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

forestry

Just Posted

Island man’s brother and cousin shot dead during Chicago protests

Ladysmith school principal Dionte Jelks doubts he’ll ever set foot on US soil again

Monday rang in partial return of school across Vancouver Island

School District reopening of schools came with revised health measures

Federal government says no to relaxing log export rules

News comes after Steelworkers, Mosaic ask for ‘temporary relief’ on log export policy

Fire at Victoria hotel contained to one room, leaves 20 suites in need of remediation

Fire crews extinguished the blaze at the Comfort Inn in 12 minutes

B.C. records four new COVID-19 cases, Abbotsford hospital outbreak cleared

Four senior home outbreaks also declared over, eight still active

Victoria man identified as victim in Thunder Bay murder

Police investigating after Paul Vivier, 29, discovered in hotel

Firefighters called for technical rescue at Sooke Potholes

Woman breaks her leg while walking along riverbed

Island mayor joins fight to protect wildlife from rat poisoning after second owl dies

Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes to meet with provincial, federal pest control industry representatives

San Group opens Island’s first new sawmill in 15 years

New Alberni operation first in the west coast in a long time

Lake Cowichan firefighters douse blaze at vacant shop

Sahtlam called in for mutual aid as motorhome also burns

About 30% of B.C. students return to schools as in-class teaching restarts amid pandemic

Education minister noted that in-class instruction remains optional

Be cautious expanding COVID-19 bubble, Dr. Bonnie Henry tells B.C.

Senior homes stay off-limits as schools, businesses reopen

Most Read