BACKGROUND: On a sunny, dry, spring afternoon in the Appalachians, a timber cutter was felling trees in a clearcut harvest.
PERSONAL CHARACTERISTICS: The timber cutter was in his mid-thirties with over ten years of cutting experience. He had completed a comprehensive four-day chain saw safety training program, and he was wearing appropriate personal protective equipment, including hard hat, chaps, boots, and gloves.
UNSAFE ACTS AND CONDITIONS: The cutter approached a cluster of three poplar trees along the edge of the skid road: Two 16-inch-diameter trees were alive, and the third tree was clearly dead and about 8 inches in diameter and only 12 feet tall. The top portion of the third tree had already broken off and was on the ground. A limb that had grown out of the dead tree was touching the live trees nearby.
The cutter notched the small, dead snag first and formed a hinge on the stump with the backcut. The snag failed to fall because of the limb which was wound up in the other trees. Since the limb appeared to be dead, the cutter assumed that there wasn’t any pressure on it. He began to cut the limb off at the base.
ACCIDENT: In fact, the limb was under pressure and pushed the butt of the snag off the stump, causing the tree to fall uphill toward the cutter. The cutter attempted to escape from the falling snag by going uphill along the bank of the skid road. Briars and other debris snagged the cutter’s boot laces and kept him from moving away from the falling tree. The tree fell across his left shoulder with full force and knocked him to the ground.
INJURY: The cutter didn’t think that he had an injury more severe than just a deep bruise until he noticed that he had significant pain when he tried to raise his arm above his shoulder. The x-rays confirmed that he had sustained a fracture to his shoulder blade and that recovery would be from 6-8 weeks.
RECOMMENDATIONS FOR CORRECTION: Dead snags and small trees can be deadly and should be treated with respect. Err on the side of caution when judging whether trees and limbs-even dead ones-are under tension; cut the limb off first. Clear an escape route completely before felling any tree, so there is a clear, diagonally-rearward path to get away.
Appalachian/Southeastern Region Manager