Saltspring Island logger’s death is eighth this year across B.C.

Despite the recent death of a Saltspring Island resident working near Lake Cowichan, faller fatalities are becoming increasingly rare, safety groups say.

Ryan Geoffrey Burch was clearing a right of way off Meade Creek Road, near Lake Cowichan, at 1:30 p.m. Aug. 26 when he was struck and killed by a falling tree.

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The 41-year-old Saltspring father of four was identified by the B.C. Coroners Service on Thursday.

An employee reached by phone at the office of Mount Sicker Lumber said Burch was working as a contractor for the company but declined further comment.

The Truck Loggers Association, which Burch was a member of through his company, said safety precautions have contributed to a decline in deaths among fallers in recent years.

“It’s really disappointing because we almost made it a full year without a faller fatality,” said Dwight Yochim, the executive director of the association. of Burch’s death.

Falling is considered to be among the more dangerous occupations in the logging industry, Yochim said.

On average, two to three fallers have died per year as a result of workplace accidents in the past eight years, according to statistics compiled by the B.C. Forest Safety Council.

Reynold Hert, the chief executive officer of the council, said there were 22 deaths in the logging industry in 2005. Fallers made up half that number. Since then, faller deaths have declined and have ranged from none in 2006 and 2007 to four in 2012.

While there have been eight deaths in the logging industry across the province this year, Burch was the sole faller fatality. The others killed were four equipment officers and three logging truck drivers.

“We’ve put in a tremendous amount of work to try to decrease that number,” Hert said.

He credited the decline to improved safety measures, such as a requirement for fallers to obtain their blasting licence, which provides additional training for working with trees too large to cut down by hand, as well as the creation of conferences to discuss logging safety.

Hert said the creation of the Vancouver Island Safety Conference in 2005 has helped spark yearly debates with CEOs of logging companies about proper training and safety and has helped stem the tide of fatalities.

Burch had worked as a faller for about 23 years, and his father-in-law said he always put safety first.

“He was so careful and so safe,” Ken Byron said. “He was the guy who should have been teaching falling courses.”

Burch had been living in Crofton while he worked, staying in a fifth-wheel trailer and commuting home to Saltspring to see his children whenever he could.

Despite living away from home, he helped coach his children’s baseball teams, Byron said.

WorkSafe B.C.’s Fatal and Serious Incidents Investigations officers are in the preliminary stages of an investigation and are looking into the accident as well as gathering witness statements and seeing whether there were any workplace violations at the time.

nwells@timescolonist.com

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