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Unusual snowpack conditions create increased risk of avalanches in B.C.

WorkSafeBC reminding backcountry workers to be aware
REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

Workers whose jobs take them into British Columbia’s backcountry are at potential risk of serious injury or death in avalanche terrain. This month, the snowpack in several regions of B.C. has shown indications of increased risk of avalanche. WorkSafeBC is reminding employers of the need to identify, assess and mitigate avalanche risks.

Since 1998 in B.C., avalanches have caused three worker deaths and 50 accepted time-loss injury claims, including three injury claims in the first nine months of 2016. While the majority of workers injured were in occupations within the ski hill and winter lodge industries, a land surveyor and a truck driver were also injured.

Workers in B.C.’s primary resource, construction and adventure tourism industries may be working in avalanche terrain and therefore could face risks of avalanches at their worksites. Examples of worksites which may have increased avalanche risk to workers include forest service roads, highways and backcountry areas.

Avalanche risk can be present all year in some areas and snow stability can change daily, hourly or even sooner depending on sufficient snow depth, steep-enough terrain and the right weather conditions.

“We want to prevent employers and workers from being caught by surprise by the risk of an avalanche as a result of the rapidly changing weather and snowpack conditions,” said Patrick Davie, manager of prevention field services for Kamloops region.  “Employers in these situations are required under the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation to ensure a well-rehearsed safety plan is in place and well-understood by all workers. If the conditions warrant it, the best plan may be to avoid areas of high risk entirely until the end of the avalanche season.”

WorkSafeBC’s Occupational Health and Safety Regulation 4.1.1 requires all employers whose workers travel through, work around or within a potential avalanche hazard area to have a qualified person conduct a risk assessment and if there is risk of an avalanche, develop and implement appropriate avalanche safety plans or a program.

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