Skidder Operator Cuts Leg When Topping Tree
On a clear, warm fall day in the southeastern U.S., a logging crew was select cutting grade logs. Most trees were felled with a three-wheeled feller-buncher, but the over-sized trees and timber in the SMZ’s were manually felled. One employee–the skidder operator–limbed and topped the felled timber. He decided to top a 26” dbh oak tree before he dragged it to the deck.
The 40-year-old skidder operator/topper had been working for his current logging employer for 11 months but had 5 years of experience with other employers. He was considered an experienced chain saw operator, but he was not wearing the required personal protective equipment.
Unsafe Act and Condition
He failed to put on his chain saw chaps before he topped the tree. He started to cut an 8-inch diameter, 15-foot limb from the tree. The operator stood on the wrong (tension) side of the stem as he cut the limb and failed to recognize that this limb was under pressure.
When he completed the cut, the tension (stored energy) of the limb was released, and the limb forcefully struck the chain saw. This forced the saw onto the operator’s left leg below the knee.
Since he did not wear chaps and he stood on the side of the limb that was under tension, the chain saw cut into his lower left leg, causing a severe laceration and chipping his shin bone. He required surgery to remove the bone fragments.
Recommendations for Correction
- Employers must ensure that chain saw operators wear all personnel protective equipment, including cut-resistant chaps/pants and boots, eye and hearing protection, and hard hats.
- Operators must be trained to identify and avoid or properly mitigate all hazards, including limbs and tops under pressure.
- Chain saw operators must keep their bodies out of the danger zone. Operators can often position themselves to use the tree trunk as a shield against “loaded” limbs striking the legs.
- Use a limb-lock to prevent the sudden release of tension wood: Make the first cut on the side with compression pressure and the second cut on the side with tension, slightly offsetting and bypassing the first cut so that it creates a step in the limb which will prevent the limb from kicking back when it breaks.