Things were relatively quiet at Squamish Mills on Friday (Oct. 25) — just four loads of logs handled at the company’s local facility when 12 were expected.
Meanwhile, at a large-vehicle maintenance shop in the Squamish Business Park, several logging-truck drivers were doing a slow burn while their trucks were waiting to have repairs ordered by provincial safety inspectors completed, according to Squamish Mills president John Lowe.
In general, logging trucks in the Sea to Sky Corridor are extremely safe and well maintained, Lowe told The Chief in a telephone interview. Squamish Mills, for example, is meticulous with its three trucks — each is inspected thoroughly each time it comes in, and each goes in for regular maintenance every three weeks, Lowe said. Every six months, trucks also have to go in for inspections by an independent inspector.
Those who make their livelihoods in the industry locally fully support the many regulations meant to ensure that logging trucks operate safely in B.C., Lowe said. But sometimes, inspectors with the Ministry of Transportation’s Commercial Vehicle Safety Enforcement (CVSE) program get a bit overzealous in carrying out their duties, ordering trucks off the road for minor maintenance issues that have little or nothing to do with safety, Lowe said.
Lowe, in fact, said he thinks the fact that logging-truck safety is in the spotlight in the aftermath of five different logging-truck mishaps in B.C. over a five-day period — including one that resulted in the death of a motorcyclist in Whistler — caused CVSE inspectors to be especially zealous with drivers in the Sea to Sky Corridor last week.
As a result, Squamish Mills handled only one-third of its expected volume of logs on Friday, costing all involved time and money, Lowe said.
“I don’t care what vehicle you check, you’ll find something wrong with it, but those things are maintenance issues, not safety issues,” he said.
“One of our trucks is pulled over and the inspector says, ‘The bushings are gone on those springs.’ They were replaced one week ago. The stickers are still there on the parts. One truck got stopped for three hours and we had to send a man up there because an air line had a rub mark on it. So it gets to the point where if you went over to Squamish Truck and Trailer, and saw all the [drivers] who are fuming there over this, it’s unbelievable.
“The problem is not with the regulations. The problem is that you can get two different inspectors out there and one will say one thing and one will say another.
“We all know we’re under the microscope right now. But maintenance is maintenance, not safety. All I’m saying is these guys, in doing their jobs, should use a little bit more common sense.”
A Ministry of Transportation spokesperson told The Chief in an email that last week’s inspections of commercial vehicles were planned before the recent spate of logging-truck mishaps.
“The Sea to Sky is a busy corridor and these inspections are planned events as part of the ministry’s regular inspection schedule,” MOT officials wrote in an email to The Chief.
“The inspectors are looking for safety issues with vehicles, and while they follow a set of inspection standards, as with all law enforcement, they use their discretion depending on the circumstances.”
Like other commercial transport vehicles, logging trucks in B.C. must stop at every weigh scale and are subject to checks by CVSE inspectors. As well, drivers are required to stop and check their loads just after loading and again when entering a public roadway from a logging road, MOT officials said. Each time that?s done, drivers are required to record it in their logbooks, which are also subject to CVSE inspections.
While other commercial truck drivers can work no more than 14 hours at a stretch, log-truck drivers may work up to 15 because of the need to stop and check their loads and trucks more frequently, said Reynold Hert, chair and CEO of the B.C. Forest Safety Council.
As well, while other commercial drivers must take at least eight hours of rest between shifts, logging-truck drivers are required to take at least nine.
Last week, an official with a union that represents many B.C. logging-truck drivers told CBC News the fact that drivers are paid by weight serves as an incentive for them to push the limits of their loads.
Hert responded, “It is correct that many drivers get paid by the tonne-mile, and that’s an incentive to go up to the allowable limits, but there are also many checks to ensure that they don’t go beyond that weight, as well as the incentives of incurring more wear and tear on vehicles — and higher risk of fines and penalties — if you go over.”
Said Lowe, “We always strive to be within the weight limits. I think everybody does.
“The driver is captain of that ship,” he added. “Our loaders are instructed to listen to the driver when they’re loading and if he says, ‘That’s it,’ you stop.”
Hert said the five logging-truck mishaps recorded in B.C. between Oct. 19 and 23 is unusually high. The spate of mishaps sparked a conference call last Thursday that included representatives of the B.C. Forest Safety Council — an industry-funded agency — the Truck Loggers Association of B.C. and associations from across B.C., representing both log haulers and the companies that receive the logs.
The reasons behind the five mishaps appear to be unrelated. Still, “the industry is taking this very seriously,” Hert said.
During the conference call, officials talked about the need to understand what happened in the five incidents, especially the fatal mishap in Whistler.
“The big question is, ‘Has something changed or is this just a one-time unusual set of circumstances?’” Hert said.
As well, a technical advisory committee on logging-truck safety will meet in November to review what’s known about the incidents and discuss what, if anything, can be done over the short and medium term to improve safety, Hert said.
Lowe said he planned to huddle with other corridor-based logging companies on the issue.
“We’re all concerned. Us and every last one of the truck drivers, this is our livelihood,” he said.
The truck that dumped its load in the fatal Whistler accident on Oct. 19 was the second to have done so in the Sea to Sky this month. Another dumped its load on Highway 99 in the Cheakamus Canyon on Oct. 2.
However, Lowe said, “We have our trucks on the road, and we have drivers who pull people out of the ditch every day, but for the number of trucks that go up and down that road every single day, the percentage [of accidents] is minimal.”
He said he doesn’t appreciate Whistler Mayor Nancy Wilhelm-Morden’s call for citizens to pay particular attention to logging trucks when watching for and reporting speeding or erratic driving.
“The mayor of Whistler is encouraging people to report on logging trucks for speeding and other driving issues… and yet, Whistler doesn’t want to help pay for a bus to get its workers to work there,” he said.
“I don’t know that Whistler’s mayor doesn’t have a hidden agenda to shut us down. It seems like the pot calling the kettle black. There are more people injured on that mountain than almost anywhere else I can imagine. So let’s not start pointing fingers.”