For decades, workers in Vermont’s forest economy have experienced prohibitively high workers’ compensation insurance rates for logging contractors, creating a significant barrier to employment growth in the sector and leading to more people working alone, and uninsured, in one of the state’s most dangerous occupations.
On April 1st, 2019, Governor Scott’s Forest Economy Task Force introduced two new occupational class codes in the workers’ compensation insurance system: “Safety Certified Mechanized Logger” and “Safety Certified Non-Mechanized Logger” and the requisite, occupation-specific training for logging contractors and their supervisors to meet the “safety certified” standard. Employers whose employees meet the training standards and demonstrate that they have implemented safe practices at their logging operations, through an onsite consultation and verification with a Loss Prevention Specialist, will be qualified to have their employees classified under these new class codes and eligible for a 15% discount on their workers’ compensation insurance premiums.
The program has been developed in a public-private partnership with Departments of Financial Regulation; Labor; and Forests, Parks, and Recreation; and the National Council on Compensation Insurance logging safety training representatives. It will be managed by an Oversight Committee, comprised of logging contractors, consulting foresters, forestland owners, sawmill representatives and the Vermont Forest Economy Task Force. The Committee will plan safety trainings, address trends in safety found on Vermont logging operations, and learn more about the administration of workers’ compensation insurance in the management of their working lands businesses.
Another occupation in the forest economy that the Scott Administration’s Forest Economy Task Force has positively impacted is log haulers. Due to a history of infrequent losses to the workers’ comp system, the Department of Financial Regulation merged the occupations of “Log Hauling” with the much larger occupation of “Contract Trucking” on April 1st of 2018, which reduced the “loss cost” or base insurance rate calculation for that occupation by 24%. Employers in this sector have reported significant workers’ comp insurance premium savings for their truck drivers when their policies renewed with employees classified under the new class code.
Analysis has shown that a higher than average number of injuries and costs as a percentage of payroll occur in Vermont’s forests than other states in the region for those that have the insurance coverage. There is also a segment of the forest economy that has avoided properly covering employees with workers’ compensation insurance, and a set of guidance documents have been developed to assist landowners and forest managers in performing due diligence to be sure they’re working with a properly insured logging contractor. Until now, Vermont’s forest economy has not had a comprehensive program that focuses directly on mandatory employee training and safety, verification of safe practices at logging operations, and a direct connection between a verified safe operation and their workers compensation insurance rates. Such a program has been successful in training employees, reducing injuries and claims, and subsequently insurance rates, in nearby states.