Bears Are on the Prowl—and Could Endanger Your Workers

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Bears, especially black bears, are becoming a more common site in developed areas every day. Why should you care about bears? Because if your company’s workers routinely work outside, then they could be exposed to bears—and your company thus has a duty to protect them from being attacked.

Risk of Bear Attacks at Work

Employers have a duty to take reasonable steps to protect workers from all known hazards in the workplace. And even though wild animals such as bears are rarely mentioned in the OHS laws, they’re likely to be considered a known and foreseeable hazard for certain kinds of work and industries. (Click here for more on this duty.)

When it comes to bears, the workers most at risk are those in industries and occupations including oil and gas, silviculture, parks and conservation, forestry, guides, outfitters, industrial or recreational camps, orchards, garbage collection, commercial fishing and construction.

But as bears migrate closer and closer to populated areas, any worker who works outside is at risk.

Bear Attack Stats

Bear attacks on Canadian workers are not all that rare. Here are just a few examples:

  • In January 2007, two forestry workers were attacked by a grizzly bear near its den. Both suffered bites.
  • In June 2006, a black bear attacked a forestry worker in Ontario. The worker was treated and released.
  • In 2004, three mine workers in the Northwest Territories were attacked by a grizzly bear. One worker was seriously injured.

And WorkSafeBC reports that from 2005 to 2010, it accepted:

  • 13 claims—including one fatality—for injuries caused by direct contact between a bear and a worker
  • 10 claims related to bears that involved no contact with the animal (the injuries occurred from being chased, confronted or startled by a bear).

How to Protect Workers

To protect workers from bears, you should train them. Click here for a checklist of the areas your bear safety training should cover.

For example, your training should cover what to do if workers see a bear and if one attacks. For example, BC Parks recommends the following:

What to do if you see a bear. If it doesn’t approach:

  • If spotted in the distance, do not approach the bear. Make a wide detour or leave the area immediately.
  • If you’re at close range, don’t approach the bear. Remain calm, keep it in view. Avoid direct eye contact. Move away without running.

If the bear approaches:

  • If the bear is standing up, it’s usually trying to identify you. Talk softly so it knows what you are. If it’s snapping its jaws, lowering its head, flattening its ears, growling or making “woofing” signs, it’s displaying aggression.
  • Don’t run unless you’re very close to a secure place. Move away, keeping it in view. Avoid direct eye contact. Dropping an object may distract it to give you more time. If it’s a grizzly, consider climbing a tree.

What to do if a bear attacks. Your response depends on the species and whether the bear is being defensive or offensive. Bears sometimes bluff their way out of a confrontation by charging then turning away at the last moment. Generally, the response is to do nothing to threaten or further arouse the bear. Although fighting back usually increases the intensity of an attack, it may cause the bear to leave.

Every encounter is unique and the following are offered as guidelines only to deal with an unpredictable animal and potentially complex situations.

Grizzly Attacks From Surprise:

  • Do nothing to threaten or further arouse the bear.
  • Play dead. Assume the “cannonball position” with hands clasped behind neck and face buried in knees.
  • Do not move until the bear leaves the area. Such attacks seldom last beyond a few minutes.

Black Bear Attacks From Surprise: Playing dead isn’t appropriate. Try to retreat from the attack.

Grizzly or Black Bear Attacks Offensively: Don’t play dead. Try to escape to a secure place (car or building) or climb a tree unless it’s a black bear. If you have no other option, try to intimidate the bear with deterrents or weapons such as tree branches or rocks.

Grizzly or Black Bear Attacking For Your Food:

  • Abandon the food. Leave the area.
  • Don’t deal with a problem bear unless it’s an emergency.