Maine Safety Pro ‘Champion for the Industry’

- Advertisement -

Andy Wood is recognized for safety leadership by Forest Resources Assn.

In the early 1990s, Maine’s logging industry had the highest occupational injury and death rate in the nation. For every $1 paid in wages, a logging contractor had to pay an additional 50 cents in worker’s compensation insurance.
It was at this time that Andy Wood first became involved in safety issues in the forest products industry. And due in large part to his leadership, Maine significantly improved its figures for occupational injuries and fatalities.
The Forest Resources Association recognized Andy for his safety efforts earlier this year. He was presented with the association’s annual H.H. Jefferson Memorial Safety Award.
Andy, 44, graduated from the University of Maine in 1982 with a degree in forest management and then attended the wood harvesting program at Washington County Technical College. For the next several years he worked as an independent logging contractor, providing forestry services to small woodlot owners.
In order to address the high rate of injuries in Maine’s forest product industry, the Certified Logging Professional (CLP) program was formed in 1991. Its purpose was to raise the professional standards of loggers through training and certification. The program was organized and sponsored by various stakeholder groups in the forest products industry.
Andy was asked to serve on the board of directors as a representative of small independent loggers. “I got involved in the delivery of the program and as a class facilitator,” he recalled, and continued to work as a logging contractor.
Most of the CLP training was delivered during mud season in the spring, when logging operations were shut down.
The Certified Logging Professional program had its start in Jackman, Maine. In 1993, another organization was launched that also had an impact on logging safety in Maine — the Maine Employers Mutual Insurance Company (MEMIC).
“This was an insurance company created out of thin air to deal with the workmen’s comp problem,” Andy said. He advised MEMIC as a safety management specialist for forest products.
About this time a third organization came into play, the Game of Logging, an international organization which has its U.S. base in Hallstead, Penn. World-renowned logging trainer Soren Eriksson came to Maine to help boost the standards of the CLP and MEMIC with his innovative training program. Andy eventually joined the Game of Logging board of directors and became one of its certified instructors.
Andy continued to work as a contractor for a time, first full-time and later part-time, before finally making the transition to become a full-time safety professional. The synergy of the three groups — certification, insurance, and training — provided an organizational focus and strength.
Before looking at how the problem was addressed, let’s first look at why logging accidents apparently got so out of hand during the 1980s. After all, the logging industry had been around in Maine for a long time and did not always have a poor record of accidents. What happened?
“Traditionally, logging was a family business, and people grew up through the ranks, learning how to avoid the hazards in the process,” noted Andy. “In the 1980s the equipment started getting bigger. Mechanization actually helped lower the injury rate, but what made it increase were the cable skidders and chainsaws. That’s where most of the injuries came from. There were standards out there, but compliance was not good. So general practices started catching up with people at the same time that the push for production aggravated the situation. Add to that the rising cost of medical care, and workmen’s compensation rates went higher and higher.”
So, how did the safety experts rein in the injuries?
“When MEMIC got started, we didn’t know anything about insurance,” Andy said. “But we did something that the insurance companies and OSHA don’t do. We tried to get a partnership going so that all stakeholders saw some benefit. OSHA had been involved in the industry for years but had minimal impact. Just putting out regulations did little to improve safety.”
A three-pronged approach was adopted, Andy explained. The first was ‘selling’ safety by showing the obvious personal and financial costs of an injured worker. This was not enough, Andy noted, to persuade loggers to make a strong commitment to safety, so the second prong was to demonstrate the relationship between safety and increased production and efficiency. “In business it’s always the question of money, of going to the bottom line,” said Andy.
Safe practices improve a logging contractor’s production and efficiency because they reduce time lost for injuries and the costs associated with injuries.
The third prong was an emphasis on quality, directed toward the landowner. Environmental concerns were coming to the forefront, so there was a focus on harvesting methods to conserve natural resources as well as recovering the most fiber from trees that were harvested.
This philosophy did not gain ready acceptance at the start. “For sure, it was a challenge,” Andy said. “There was an incredible skepticism.”
The state tracks job safety by occupational category, noting how much each one pays for insurance and how much is paid out. Loggers who underwent the safety training saw their injuries and associated costs plummet, and MEMIC began offering them a 74% cut in worker’s compensation insurance premiums. The skepticism began to dissipate.
Out of about 4,000 loggers in Maine, about 2,400 are currently CLP certified, having received training from Andy or other instructors in the four day certification program. Andy also conducts ‘train the trainer” instruction for the CLP staff, and he has recertified 750 loggers in the Game of Logging safe chainsaw operations.
When asked how they came up with the three-pronged approach, Andy said, “It grew out of a lot of brainstorming at MEMIC. We got everybody at the table, and we saw that we could not simply go out and reiterate standards and hope there would be any real change. That’s where we got our motto, ‘Partners for Workplace Safety.’ We knew we had to have a partnership with the employers, the workers and the land owners.”
The program has not been limited to the forestry industry, Andy observed. “We have the freedom to work with whomever we want and go out to promote safety in all industry groups,” he said.
Workmen’s compensation insurance premiums have dropped from 50 cents to about 24 cents per dollar of wages for loggers on the ground. In the mechanical category, with the worker in a cab, the rate is only about 7 cents.
“I’d like to think we’ve turned the corner,” said Andy. “I’ve had contractors who have asked me, ‘How can I spend more money on safety?’ They have reasons. One of the benefits of safety has been recruiting; the safety component was a real selling point. I hope they realize that it’s a real benefit in the long run.”
During the 1990s, the Hispanic migrant workforce increased significantly in Maine. The Hispanic workers had little if any safety training. Andy had been developing a safety program for Hispanics, but it had not been implemented yet when an automobile accident involving a van killed 15 people. The fatal accident dramatically galvanized interest in finalizing the program and implementing it.
As a key participant in the Forest Resources Association’s migrant labor subcommittee, Andy was instrumental in developing the pre-commercial thinning safety standard, training requirements, and field compliance standard for migrant workers. He personally developed the supervisor’s safety and van driving safety courses to improve awareness and knowledge of the common hazards.
“Andy Wood is a champion for the industry,” said Kenneth Fox, safety and health manager for J.D. Irving Woodlands. “His perseverance and can-do attitude have led and set the standard for the rapid advancement of safety. He is a silent workhorse who deserves recognition for his leadership.”