Tree Kills Man


On a summer morning in the South, a timber cutter was manually felling hardwood timber. Ground conditions were dry, winds were relatively calm, and the terrain was fairly level.


The fifty-year-old timber cutter had approximately thirty years of logging experience, including manual felling of timber. The incident report did not state one way or the other if he was wearing a hard hat and other required Personal Protective Equipment.


The timber cutter was felling a hardwood sawtimber tree. There was very little gas left in the chain saw’s tank. He completed the undercut and had started his backcut. Before he could complete the backcut, the saw ran out of gas. The timber cutter then left his saw in the tree and began walking toward the gas can. Unfortunately, his direction of travel placed him directly underneath the expected path of the tree’s fall.


Although the accident was unwitnessed, evidence indicates that the tree fell while the saw was still in the tree and the logger was still walking to get the gas can.


The tree fell squarely on top of the logger and killed him. When his co-workers realized they hadn’t seen the timber cutter or heard his chain saw for about ten minutes, they started looking for him and discovered his body.


Always be aware of the fuel and oil level and the working condition of a chain saw during use. Running out of fuel during the felling process is very dangerous, as this incident shows. Keep fuel and oil supplies close by.

Timber cutters and other on-the-ground workers must not approach dead, hung, partially severed, or other “danger trees” within a distance of twice the tree height. Employers should enforce safety policies and ensure that employees are trained to recognize and avoid hazards such as those associated with walking underneath or in the vicinity of danger trees. Wear all required Personal Protective Equipment.

To reduce the likelihood of a partially cut tree falling prematurely, use the “bore cut” felling method, as taught in The Game of Logging training program: Create an open-faced undercut notch of 70 to 90 degrees; then bore through the tree to create the hinge first, working backward toward the outside of the tree from the direction of the hinge to complete the cut, using wedges if necessary. When using this method, the uncut, backside strap of wood (the last piece of wood to saw through) will usually hold the tree in place and prevent its breaking free unexpectedly.

Reviewed by:
Southwide Safety Committee;
Rick Meyer
Appalachian/Southwide Region Manager