On a dry, cool, early spring morning in the Appalachians, a timber cutter was felling marked trees in a hardwood stand. The terrain was hilly but not difficult for manual felling operations. The trees had not yet leafed out.
The 35-year-old timber cutter was experienced and had completed his state’s logging safety training and SFI continuing education programs. He was regarded by another logger acquaintance as an excellent timber cutter. He was wearing personal protective equipment, including a hard hat and cut-resistant pants.
UNSAFE ACTS AND CONDITIONS:
Sometime in the past, a black cherry tree had broken off approximately 20 feet from the ground. The portion of the tree above the break landed in an upright position and had stuck into the ground, and the top of the cherry tree was now leaning against a maple tree. The timber cutter began felling this maple tree. He placed himself underneath the leaning, broken-off black cherry tree. (It was unclear to the investigators whether the timber cutter failed to notice the hung, leaning tree or was simply in a hurry to fell the next tree before the skidder operator returned to the spot.)
After the timber cutter had sawn most of the way through the maple, the leaning black cherry tree top fell on him, striking him directly on the neck.
By the time the skidder returned to the timber cutter’s work area five minutes later, the timber cutter had already died—probably almost instantly from the blunt force trauma, according to the coroner’s office.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CORRECTION:
• Before each tree is felled, the timber cutter must evaluate the immediate vicinity for any overhead or other hazards, including broken or dead tops, snags, lodged, or leaning trees.
• Never attempt to fell a tree manually if another tree is hung in it! Instead, the timber cutter should warn others in the vicinity of the unsafe condition by tying strips of high-visibility “killer tree” flagging around the area. The feller should then move at least two treelengths away from the lodged tree before resuming work. In addition, a skidder operator should be notified about the lodged tree and instructed to ground it immediately. OSHA requires that “each danger tree, including lodged trees and snags, shall be felled or removed using mechanical or other techniques that minimize employee exposure before work is commenced in the area of the danger tree.”
• Loggers should train their employees in these procedures and stress the importance of preventing anyone from wandering into the “danger zone.”
Southwide Safety Committee;
Appalachian/Southwide Region Manager