Logging is Dangerous Work


Logging is dangerous work. Everyone in the forest products industry knows that, but being in and around logging all the time, it is sometimes easy to not keep this front of mind. While every job has its dangers, there is no question that logging is particularly dangerous; it entails being in remote areas, on varied terrain, felling trees that can be unpredictable and dangerous.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) keeps records on workplace fatalities, and they can help us understand the trends in safety and what is causing on-the-job fatalities. The information that follows is some of what we can learn from that data.

In 2016, logging had the highest fatality rate of any U.S. occupation, with nearly 136 workplace fatalities per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers. The good news is that since 1992, the rate of logging fatalities has seen a weak downward trend, though an increase since 2013 is troubling. There is much work to do, but the long-term trend is in the right direction (though individual years may show spikes in fatalities).

Figure 1. Fatal occupational injuries per 100,000 FTE workers

A chart that shows fatality rates in logging. Trend line is slightly angled down.

Digging a little deeper into the data, it’s possible to get a better sense of what is occurring in the woods. In 2016 (the last year data is currently available for), there were 109 fatalities in the country’s logging workforce. Of these, 97 (89%) were from what statisticians at BLS term “fallers”. You and I would think of them as a logger using a chainsaw to fell trees. Nine of these deaths were from “transportation” – basically deaths that occur in car accidents on the way to work or on the way home. The rest were from what BLS refers to as “contact with objects and equipment”. With trees literally falling around a logger, it does not take much imagination to know what that means.

For mechanized loggers (which BLS calls “logging equipment operators”), the situation is much different. Of the twelve fatalities in 2016, five occurred from “transportation”, and seven were from “contact with objects and equipment”.

Figure 2: Logging Fatalities in 2016

A bar graph showing logging fatalities in 2016

As much as this data informs us, it raises questions as well:

  • How much wood was logged using mechanized harvesting equipment, and how much is cut by hand crews?
  • Are loggers who have completed logger certification / safety training programs less likely to have a fatal logging injury?
  • Are there regional differences in fatality rates, and if so why?
  • Are there differences in fatality rates by how long a logger has worked in the industry?
  • Are certain harvest prescriptions more likely to result in logging fatalities?

FRA has long been a proponent of logger safety and training, and the stats on logging fatalities remind us there is a lot more work to be done. FRA publishes Safety Alerts that discuss real on-the-job accidents, and ways to avoid making the same mistake. We support state-level logger training programs, making certain that loggers have the knowledge necessary for safe timber harvesting. Our partners at the Timber Harvesting and Transportation Safety (THATS) Foundation provide tools, information and resources to encourage safer harvesting.

We’ll continue to follow and share these statistics, and we’ll continue to work to make logging a safer profession.