As planned reforestation efforts get underway in B.C. many new COVID-19 precautions are being implemented to protect the safety of workers and the public.
“Every year about 5,000 tree planters from B.C. and other areas travel to the province to work in remote camps throughout the province,” said forests minister Doug Donaldson during a press conference with chief forester and assistant deputy minister Diane Nicholls and John Betts, executive director of the Western Forestry Contractors’ Association (WFCA) Friday. “Following extensive discussions with the ministry of health we believe this important work can proceed.”
Some of the new rules involve mandatory social distancing, reduced interactions between employers and nearby communities, handwashing stations at camps and the hiring of third party security companies to monitor planting crews when they are staying at motels or hotels.
Donaldson said developing the new measures has been a non-partisan effort and he has support from Liberal forest critic MLA John Rustad.
Nicholls said she asked contractors and licencees last month to delay any planting until the beginning of May so a COVID-19 plan could be implemented.
“I did this to provide the planting community time to ensure that the most current guidance to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus is being applied to planting start up and implementation, ensuring the health and safety of workers and the nearby communities they were going to operate within.”
She thanked the contracting communities for their co-operation.
The ministry has worked with the Forest Enhancement Society of B.C., BC Timber Sales, licensees, and the WFCA to ensure the appropriate procedures are in place to reduce the risk and spread of COVID-19, she added.
“We have worked extensively with the ministry of health to develop silviculture guidelines specific to COVID-19,” she said, noting they are in addition to the existing B.C. Centre of Disease Control guidelines for industrial plants.
Employers will use the guidelines to develop operational protocol at work camps and risk-assessment plans.
Employer plans must be submitted to government and all forestry camps and work sites will be inspected by provincial infection and control inspectors to make sure all health requirements are in place.
“All employees must participate in COVID-19 training and education provided by the employer.
Hand sanitizing stations must be in place, all common area surfaces cleaned daily, and physical distancing of at least two metres must be maintained at all time. If hotels and motels
The target was to plant 314 million seedlings, with a large portion in areas impacted by the 2017 and 2018 wildfires, and Nicholls said they are hopeful to meet that goal.
Betts said it isn’t unusual to deal with upsets such as fires and floods during the regular tree planting season, although there hasn’t been experience working through a pandemic up until now.
When the prospect of the pandemic began to be realized, Betts said the parties started talking about the pressures by January and by February were planning on how to operate in such a scenario.
Best said they began building best practices that are already being implemented on the Coast where 400 workers have been planting and so far they have been COVID-19 symptom free.
“There were a lot of concerns so on our own we were working with communities and letting them know how differently things were going to be managed to have a safe season,” he added.