What Are Loggers Saying About Safety?
Over the past several months, I’ve been talking to loggers and sawmill operators about logging safety. I begin by saying logging is the most dangerous occupation in the country. This statement always brings agreement and discussion in a room full of loggers. Some loggers start sharing recent experiences with a near miss from a limb coming down close to where they were standing, or they show me a scar from a past injury. Either way, it reinforces what we’re saying about logging being dangerous work! For this issue of Woods to Mill, I wanted to share what loggers have told me that they do to stay safe while working in the woods.
COMMUNICATION is a priority among loggers. Wherever they’re working, they make sure someone always knows the location of their job. A close family member or friend is the contact most often mentioned. Providing GPS coordinates or a map to the job to the local fire/rescue service is vital, so in the event of an emergency, there is no question about where they can be found. Crews use 2-way radios or wireless headsets for added safety. Years ago, the expression “you can’t outrun the radio” was used when someone would try to outrun a police pursuit, but in logging, the radio is still the fastest and most efficient way to communicate between crew members.
PHONE TECHNOLOGY can play an essential part in logging safety. Everyone has a smartphone these days, and the “Life 360” app is readily available to loggers. A few guys I talked to are sole proprietors and working by themselves. This app allows you to stay connected with a close friend or family member, and that person can see where you are on the ground at all times. The Timber Harvesting and Transportation Foundation (THATS) Safety Meeting App is another tool for loggers. This app allows you to document monthly safety meetings for Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) compliance and provides multiple training resources to help crew members stay focused on safety. FRA publishes quarterly Safety Alerts, which are 1-page documents describing real-life logging accidents or near-miss situations and recommendations to avoid.
Forestry trade magazines such as Timber Harvesting, Southern Loggin’ Times, and Northern Logger often highlight safety alerts for their subscribers. One interesting thing I learned about loggers and their habits of reading these resources is that they go out of their way to find the safety alerts first. Then they read the short industry summaries, and, finally, they get to the feature article. The loggers I talked to said they read in this order because they know the Safety Alert would help them the most. The Tree Care Industry Association dedicates a section of its website to Accident Briefs. They include descriptions of real-life scenarios and report whether the accident was fatal; a sad but critical reminder that keeps workers vigilant and safety the top priority!
LIFE LESSONS Here are a few other safety “nuggets” I think are worth sharing. You can decide for yourself if they make sense for you or not. Some loggers said they always back their tool trucks or pick-up trucks into the job. They know that if their truck is headed out to begin with it would be a time saver in an emergency. Another good suggestion came from a veteran logger who admitted that when he got tired, he got careless! Taking steps to make sure you are staying alert and aware at all times was his tip. Another logger commented that when he’s in an unfamiliar situation, he asks himself one question, “If this goes wrong, what’s the worst thing that can happen to me?” If the answers he comes up with are perilous, he’ll find another option. You could say the last “nugget” is faith-based and came from more than one logger. They say a prayer for protection and safety before starting to work. In the bible, faith is “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we cannot see.” If you pray for protection and safety, your faith is in God. There’s a simple and well-known expression that could certainly apply to logging: “there are no atheists in foxholes.”
The idea that when you live with death close by, you think a lot about your mortality, its possible abrupt end, and the meaning and value of it all. Maybe that’s why so many loggers believe in God. Logging is a dangerous occupation, sometimes fatal. Sharing best practices for logging safety is a great way to help yourself and others stay focused and informed about everyone’s safety. I invite you to share what’s working for you. Send me or any FRA Region manager a message. We’d love to hear from you and create a Safety Alert to share your experience to help keep everyone safe.