Ontario safety training for people accessing forest roads

Video screenshot shows logging truck driving down snowy road

“Safe Driving on Forest Roads” course piloted across province

Concerned with the safety of community members and workers accessing Ontario forests, a new health and safety training program is now available across the province. 

The “Safe Driving on Forest Roads” course from Workplace Safety North (WSN) addresses the unique dangers associated with forest roads, with the goal of promoting awareness and reducing the number of incidents. 

“Many Ontarians live, work, or play in the forest, and they’ve helped shape this training by completing an online survey about their use of forest roads,” says Chris Serratore, WSN Prevention Services Director. “We also reached out to industry and community partners to enlist their support and collaboration in the development of the program.”  

High rate of fatalities and injuries on forest roads

Ontario forests can be a well-travelled workplace for the forest industry, mining, utilities, government, and Indigenous communities. In addition, public use of forest roads often includes hunters, anglers, hikers, campers, berry-pickers, snowmobilers, and ATV drivers. From 2011 to 2016, the Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) 2016 annual report shows an average of 20 fatalities and 300 injured per year for snowmobile and ATV drivers off-highway. Off-highway road locations may be maintained less frequently, have fewer safety features, and be less accessible for emergency vehicles than provincial or municipal roadways. 

Vehicle incidents and accidents are not uncommon on our forest roads. A 2015 industry health and safety report shows logging, tree planting and silviculture forest management companies in the Ontario forestry sector experienced a total of eight vehicle-related fatalities over a six-year period. According to Workplace Safety and Insurance Board (WSIB) statistics, claims for these types of incidents are slowly declining, but the severity remains extreme. 

New training available to both public and industry

“The ‘Safe Driving on Forest Roads’ course has training modules  tailored for the audience,” says Serratore, “There’s one for the public who use forest roads recreationally, one for forestry workers who drive these roads for work, and one for professional commercial drivers who drive large trucks. 

“All training shares the same introduction to forest access roads to help build awareness of how these are a very different type of road than what they might be used to. Unlike city or highway roads, forest access roads are built to a lower standard and less maintained—they’re unpaved and narrow, the corners aren’t banked – they can be steep and rough, with tight curves and sudden obstacles like a fallen tree or a washout. Along the road, there’s often no signage or speed limit, and there’s lots of different types of vehicles on the road. These roads can also be remote; your cell phone might not get reception out in the bush, so communication can be difficult if you don’t have a two-way radio."

Forest roads a different and more dangerous kind of road

Mike Maxfield, Certification Superintendent with Resolute Forest Products and past chair of the Central Canada Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) Implementation Committee was one of many project collaborators in strong support for this training. “Gravel forest roads can be dangerous driving, if untrained or unfamiliar” says Maxfield.  

“Soft shoulders, road dust, washboarding, roadside brush, road rocks, pooled water and narrow bridges can all be road hazards. At the same time, forest travelers can expect to encounter wildlife, heavy equipment, large trucks and recreational vehicles.

"This training is a must for forest workers, truck drivers and safety-minded forest stakeholders that depend on the forest for lifestyle or livelihood," notes Maxfield. "It builds awareness; promotes best practices for safe driving and will go a long way toward our common goal to ensure we can all travel safely on forest roads.”

In conjunction with MTO statistics, the Ontario Ministry of Labour conducted a risk assessment and root cause analysis with the logging industry, which was facilitated in collaboration with Workplace Safety North and members of the forest products industry.  

Distracted driving top health and safety risk in logging sector

Of the top ten risks identified, distracted driving was the top health and safety risk for the Ontario logging sector. Both forestry employers and workers are concerned with the potential for fatalities, serious injuries or environmental damage resulting from vehicle incidents on forest roads.  

Organizations work together to create safe driving course

With the input of a training program advisory team, Workplace Safety North facilitated the development of best practices and classroom training materials for safe operation of motor vehicles on forest roads. Organizations involved in supporting and creating the course include Sustainable Forest Initiative Inc., Central Canada Sustainable Forestry Initiative Implementation Committee, Domtar, and Resolute Forest Products.

“Based on the number of incidents happening on forest roads, there is a lot of concern for the safety of communities and organizations accessing Ontario forests,” says Serratore. “This new training program provides valuable guidance to employers, supervisors, forest workers and forest users, to help them control the risks associated with driving on forest roads. We encourage people to attend the training and help make Ontario forest roads safer.”

Once the pilot is completed, the course is expected to become available regionally in Ontario by December 2019, with an online version slated for development by May 2020.


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