Print this page
Monday, 14 March 2011 17:53

Living Conditions

Written by
Rate this item
(0 votes)

Forestry operations, especially in developing countries, tend to be temporary and seasonal. In general, this work takes place far from urban centres, and workers must travel long distances every day or remain for several days or weeks in camps near the worksites. When workers commute from their homes every day, working conditions depend in large measure on their wages, the size of their family, their level of education and the access they have to health services. These variables, which are related to the level of development a nation has achieved and to the organization of the family group, are key to guaranteeing that basic necessities will be covered. These basic necessities include adequate nourishment, which is especially important given the intensity of the effort required of forestry workers. In many regions even commuting workers will still need protection against adverse weather conditions during breaks, particularly against rain and cold. Mobile shelters are available that are specially designed and equipped for forestry. If such forestry shelters are not provided, those used on construction sites can serve the purpose too. The situation in the camps is different, since their quality depends on the facilities provided by the company in terms of infrastructure and maintenance. The discussion which follows therefore refers to living conditions in forestry camps in so far as housing, leisure and nourishment are concerned.

Camp Infrastructure

Camps can be defined as temporary homes for forestry workers when they operate in remote or hard-to-reach locations. To fulfil their purpose, the camps should provide at least minimal levels of sanitation and comfort. It is therefore important to ask: How do different people interpret what these minimal levels should be? The concept is subjective, but it is possible to assert that, in the case of a camp, the minimal conditions required are that the infrastructure provide facilities and basic services that are consistent with human dignity, where each worker can partake with others on the crew without having to significantly alter his or her personal habits or beliefs.

One question that needs to be addressed when planning a forestry camp is the time that the camp will remain in a particular location. Since normally tasks must be shifted from one place to the other, fixed camps, while easier to set up and maintain, are not the solution that is usually required. In general, mobile structures are the most practical, and they should be easy to take down and move from one location to the next. This presents a complex problem, because even well-built modules deteriorate easily as they are moved. Conditions at mobile camps, therefore, tend to be very primitive.

In terms of facilities, a camp should offer an adequate supply of water, enough dormitories, a kitchen, bathrooms and recreation facilities. The size of each site will depend on the number of people who will be using it. In addition there should be separate stores for food, fuel, tools and materials.

Dormitories should allow workers to maintain their privacy. Since this is generally not possible in a camp, the number of people should not exceed six in each dormitory. This number has been arrived at through experience, since it has been found that a collapsible structure can accommodate six workers comfortably, allowing enough room for lockers where they can keep their personal belongings. In sharp contrast to this example, a dormitory that is crowded and dirty is absolutely inadequate for human use. An adequate dormitory is sanitary, with a clean floor, good ventilation and a minimal effort to create a comfortable atmosphere (e.g., with curtains and bedspreads of the same colour).

The kitchen, for its part, constitutes one of the most critical facilities in a camp. The first requirement is that the individuals in charge of the kitchen be skilled in sanitation and food handling. They should be licensed by an authorized authority and be supervised regularly. The kitchen should be easy to clean and should have adequate space for food storage. If food is stocked weekly or biweekly the kitchen should have a refrigerator to keep perishable food. It may be inconvenient and time-consuming for workers to return to camp for lunch: sanitary arrangements should be provided for packing lunches for workers to carry with them or to be delivered to them.

With regards to recreation facilities, mess halls are commonly used for this purpose. If workers are at their tasks all day and the only place to unwind is the eating quarters, these rooms should have enough of an infrastructure to allow workers to feel comfortable and recuperate physically and mentally from their workday. There should be adequate ventilation and, if the season requires, heating. Eating tables should not be for more than six people and should be lined with an easy to clean surface. If the dining-room is also used for recreation it should have, when possible, a television or a radio that can let workers stay in touch with the rest of the world. It is also advisable to provide some table games like checkers, cards and dominoes. Since among forestry workers there is an important contingent of young workers, it is not a bad idea to set up an area where they can play sports.

One aspect that is extremely important is the quality of sanitary facilities, showers and facilities for workers to wash and dry their belongings. It is important to keep in mind that faeces and waste in general are one of the most common avenues for the transmission of disease. It is therefore better to obtain water from a deep well than from a shallow one. If electric pumps can be installed, well-water may be raised into tanks that can then supply the camp. If for any reason it is not possible to erect sanitary services of this kind, chemical latrines should be installed. In any case, the elimination of human and other waste should be done carefully, making especially sure that they are not discharged in areas close to where food is kept or where drinking water is obtained.

Nutrition

Nutrition is a basic necessity for the maintenance of life and for the health of all human beings. Food provides not only nutrients but the energy required to carry out all activities in daily life. In the case of forestry workers, the caloric content of foods consumed is especially important because most of the harvesting, handling and forest protection activities demand great physical exertion (see the article “Physical load” in this chapter for data on energy consumption in forest work). Forestry workers need, therefore, more nourishment than people who do less demanding work. When a worker does not consume enough energy to offset daily energy expenditures, at first he or she will burn the reserves accumulated in body fat, losing weight. However, this can be done for only a limited time. It has been observed that, in the medium term, those workers who do not obtain in their diet the energy equivalent to their daily expenditures will limit their activity and lower their output. As a consequence, if they are paid by piece rate, their income also decreases.

Before analysing just how much energy a worker must consume as part of his or her diet, it bears mentioning that modern forestry work relies on increasingly sophisticated technology, where human energy is replaced by that of machinery. In those situations, operators run the risk of consuming more energy than they require, accumulating the excess as fat and risking obesity. In modern society, obesity is a malady that affects many people, but it is unusual in forestry workers where traditional methods are employed. According to studies carried out in Chile, it is becoming more common among machine operators. Obesity diminishes the quality of life because it is associated with a lower physical aptitude, predisposing those who suffer from it to accidents and to illnesses such as cardiovascular disease and more joint and muscle lesions.

For this reason all forestry workers, whether their daily activity is heavy or sedentary, should have access to a well-balanced diet that provides them with adequate amounts of energy. The key is to educate them so that they can regulate their food needs themselves. Unfortunately, this is a fairly difficult problem to solve; the tendency observed in studies carried out in Chile is for workers to consume all the food provided by the company and, in general, to still find their diet insufficient even though their weight variations indicate the opposite. The solution therefore is to educate the workers so that they learn to eat according to their energy requirements.

If workers are well informed about the problems created by eating too much, camps should offer diets keeping in mind the workers with the highest energy expenditures. The intake and expenditure of human energy is commonly expressed in kilojoules. However, the more widely known unit is the kilocalorie. The amount of energy required by a forestry worker when the job demands intense physical exertion, as in the case of a chain-saw operator or a worker using an axe, can reach 5,000 calories a day or even more. However, to expend those high amounts of energy, a worker must have a very good physical aptitude and reach the end of the workday without undue fatigue. Studies carried out in Chile have resulted in recommendations of an average of 4,000 calories provided daily, in the form of three basic meals at breakfast, lunch and dinnertime. This allows for the possibility of snacking at mid-morning and mid-afternoon so that additional amounts of energy can be provided. Studies over periods of more than a year have shown that, with a system like the one described, workers tend to maintain their body weight and increase their output and their incomes when pay is tied to their output.

A good diet must be balanced and provide, in addition to energy, essential nutrients for the maintenance of life and good health. Among other elements a diet should provide adequate amounts of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, minerals and vitamins. The tendency in developing countries is for groups that have low incomes to consume fewer proteins and fats and higher amounts of carbohydrates. The lack of the first two elements is due to a low consumption of foods of animal origin. In addition, a lack of certain vitamins and minerals has been observed due to a low consumption of foods of animal origin, fruits and vegetables. To summarize, the diet should be varied to balance the intake of essential nutrients. The most convenient option is to seek the help of specialized dieticians who know about the demands of heavy work. These professionals can develop diets that are reasonably cost efficient and that take into account the tastes, the traditions and the beliefs of the consumers and provide the amounts of energy required by forestry workers for their daily labour.

A very important element is a supply of liquid of good quality—not contaminated and in sufficient quantity. In manual and chain-saw work with high temperatures, a worker needs approximately 1 litre of liquid per hour. Dehydration drastically reduces working capacity and ability to concentrate, thereby increasing the risk of accidents. Therefore water, tea or other suitable drinks need to be available at the worksite as well as in the camp.

Consumption of alcohol and drugs should be strictly forbidden. Cigarette smoking, which is a fire hazard as well as a health hazard, should only be allowed in restricted areas and never in dormitories, recreation areas, dining halls and worksites.

Comments

This article has dealt with some of the general measures that can improve the living conditions and the diet of forestry camps. But while these two aspects are fundamental, they are not the only ones. It is also important to design the work in an ergonomically appropriate way because accidents, occupational injuries and the general fatigue that result from these activities have an impact on output and consequently on incomes. This last aspect of forestry work is of vital importance if workers and their families are to enjoy a better quality of life.

 

Back

Read 3004 times Last modified on Tuesday, 28 June 2011 10:38