Logging and Sawmilling Information for the Western United States  

November 2000 - Volume 25 Number 11


The High Price of Wood - Keeping Safety a High Priority 

By Janet Hughes 

When we pick up a Sunday paper, sit down at a wood table and chair, then fill out the crossword with a stubby pencil - we rarely consider the dangers posed to the loggers who acquired the wood products around us. But timber resources do come at a price. Each year, between 100 and 150 loggers lose their lives, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, and many more suffer nonfatal injuries. Loggers face a risk of fatal work injury approximately 27 times greater than the average for all occupations. 

Dangerous jobs 

Most logging deaths occur in four occupational groups: loggers (feller, limber, choke setters), truck drivers, machine operators and general laborers. The injury rates for these occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, are reaching from 14,000 to 100,000 workers. Occupational injury and illness incidence rates for manufacturing workers in Washington State indicate that logging is one of the most dangerous occupations with 19.1 injuries and illness per 100 workers. In 1997 logging surpassed fishing as the most dangerous occupation. 

Safety stats 
It's uncomfortable to seriously consider the dangers of an occupation like logging, but it's necessary to stay aware and to keep operations as safe as possible. Timber cutting continues to be the most dangerous in logging safety in Washington state and northern Idaho, followed by yarding and cabling. In the 1996/1997 year in Idaho state: 30 percent of the reported logging claims were sawyer related. 15 percent of claims were by hookers/chokers. 14 percent of claims were by logging truck drivers. Injuries to workers classified as faller/bucker represented approximately 31 percent of all logging claims reported to Washington State Industrial Insurance. Other occupations including truck drivers, chasers, choker setters, equipment operators, riggers and hook tenderers were also rated as very hazardous. Other data indicates that approximately six percent of all logging claims in Washington State are chainsaw related with 40 percent of these occurring as a result of cuts. 

What now? 
So what's one supposed to do with all these statistics? TIMBER/WEST recently talked with George Miller, Safety Director for Associated Logging Contractors, Inc. George also handles loss control for their in-house Workers Compensation Company, as well as government issues and OHSA and ergonomic standards. We also talked with two members of the Eastern Washington University Logging Safety Program - Bob Banks, Logging Safety Training Instructor, and Mick Brzoska, Program Director. We asked these men about the current safety issues facing loggers and what advice they had to avoid or minimize injuries. 

It's All in the boot 
The three men agreed that slips and falls are probably the number one cause of injury. Inadequate footwear or uneven, wet or sloped terrain are usually the cause of these injuries. Loggers should wear shoes that fit and cover their entire foot and ankle. And when the shoes show wear, they should be replaced. Saw cuts are a close second when it comes to the number of injuries they've seen. Saw cuts tend to occur in the leg and are usually caused by the chain breaking. Better techniques when using the saw can help with these injuries. In addition, kevlar can be used to protect the leg by either being worn outside the pant or as an insert that goes into the pant leg. Kevlar shoes are also becoming available as an alternative to the inserts. 

Dangerous trees 
The three men also agreed that trees inherently pose a number of hazards to loggers. Wind or structural irregularities in the tree can cause the tree to fall at unexpected times in unexpected directions. Felled trees or tree limbs can become entangled in other trees where they can dangle, often falling onto unsuspecting loggers. Many incidents of major injury, paralysis and even death are caused by falling trees. In fact, some 65 percent of logging fatalities occurred as a result of being struck by falling objects, most of which were trees and logs. "To avoid these accidents is to have more distance between the work crews and to not work with hung trees," says Miller. "Get the tree to the ground first. Standing too close to the drag causes many accidents as well. And hookers should stand farther away from the drag to avoid injuries." Miller says that productivity has shown to improve with better safety practices. In his opinion, "People tend to get hurt in bottlenecks. Get rid of the bottleneck by teaching proper technique; use and safety improves as well as productivity."

Safety on the rise 
Associated Logging Contractors' workers compensation claims have gone down to almost half of the incidents there were 10 years ago, and that was done even in the face of rising medical costs. As impressive as that is, there is still room for improvement. According to Banks, "Safety and log quality go hand in hand. Producers of quality logs have good safety programs as well." "When companies add Safety Managers typically production goes up and accident rates go down," adds Brzoska. 

The avoidable accident 
Awareness is the biggest factor involved in safety. The greatest cause of major accidents is when loggers are preoccupied, usually with stress from home. Miller's advice is, "Take time off work if pressures are making you unable to think clearly or concentrate on the work at hand and get professional help if necessary." Paying attention, even in tough situations, greatly reduces the chance of injury. All the men agreed that workers new to the logging industry need to get trained on proper equipment use and even people who have worked in the logging field for years should be retrained periodically. The likelihood of injury increases when people aren't properly trained. 

Reduce the risk 
Loggers comprise onehalf of 1 percent of the total workforce in America, yet they account for nearly 2 percent of all fatalities. Even though logging can house unpredictable, sometimes unavoidable dangers, using proper personal protective equipment such as head, eye, and hearing devices, saw chaps and foot protection, injuries can be reduced. So play it safe out there. Be aware. Know when to step away from a dangerous situation and use the best equipment possible. We want everyone to come home to their families and enjoy a Sunday paper. 
Janet Hughes, a writer out of Puyallup Wash., has been involved in company health and fitness programs in the timber industry. 


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