The logging industry has changed. Though mechanization has made timbering much safer, it has changed the injury profile of the typical accident.
“The typical logger in New Hampshire is 54 years old,” said Steve Patten, program and membership director of the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association (NHTOA), Concord. Many loggers work timbering operations that are mechanized with the operator cocooned in a rollover protection structure-protected cab. That means accidents in the field usually concern heart attacks rather than broken bones and bleeding limbs.
“Mechanization makes us more productive. But it also causes more stress,” Patten said.
For that reason, one safety recommendation NHTOA makes for those operating mechanized equipment is to get out of the cab and take a couple of quick walks around the machine every two hours. Stretch. Move your limbs.
“Add a bit more exercise to your day,” Patten advised equipment operators. “It’s a bit different than when everyone was running chain saws and we tried to get them to slow down. Some of the more prominent injuries in the woods today are related to being sedentary.”
No matter the equipment used, logging is one industry that requires constant focus. The same distractions that face a truck driver on the highway face the operator of a feller-buncher. These machines are all equipped with creature comforts that are great to have but can be a distraction. Cellphones ring. Text messages get sent. Radio stations need to be changed. It only takes a momentary glance away from the business at hand to create a dangerous situation.
So challenging are these new situations around mechanized harvesters that the U.S. Forest Service’s White Mountain National Forest operations approached NHTOA about establishing a new safety program for their personnel who are on the ground, interacting with high-tech, large forestry equipment. What Forestry Service employees will learn applies equally well to private industry. The first of the public seminars is slated for May (see sidebar).
Read more: Maintaining the Portable Sawmill
Advice to operators
No matter how big and brawny a logger is, he always will come out second-best in a fight with a machine. Those on the ground have safety responsibilities as well. Folks on the ground are not protected by cabs and seat belts.
Stay on the uphill of any operating machinery as well as uphill of anything that can move. Working a timbering site often does not present many options for where ground-based crews must do their jobs. They need to be where they need to be. Yet both the machine operator and the ground-based worker can make things safer for both.
“You can’t pick the terrain you work on,” Patten said. “Be constantly aware of the hazards. There are no one-size-fits-all programs for safety.”
Those operating machinery need to be aware of humans wandering around. It might be a crew member with a chain saw. It could be a consulting forester. Typically, crew members or foresters are aware of the dangers from mechanized harvesting equipment. However, the walkers could also be a couple of day hikers looking for the shortest route through a job site.
Half of the new Forestry Service program will focus on communication with personnel on the ground – people from the woodlot’s landowner to foresters cruising the area.
For that reason, communication between and among equipment operators is vital. Whether a two-way radio, CB radio or simple walkie-talkie is used, there needs to be communications with everyone on a site and the people best positioned to expedite those communications are those sitting up in a cab, operating equipment.
“You don’t need to know where everyone is at all times – everyone does have their own job to do,” Patten said. But being able to communicate is beneficial for everyone.
Say a consulting forester walks into the landing or staging area on a job site. The forester makes good eye contact with the loader operator and both wave to one another. That’s a good start. However, the uphill equipment crew still has no clue that another person has entered the work zone. They need to be told to be on the lookout for the newcomer.
This is when it is incumbent on the loader operator to pick up the walkie-talkie and let the other equipment operators in the area know that there is someone new walking around the site.
The same holds true for two machines passing by one another. Simple hand and arm signals can clarify each operator’s intentions.
“Be sure you make eye contact with one another,” Patten said.
The ground crew has responsibilities, too. For one thing, chain saw crews need to recognize there are many blind spots around the equipment – a different kind of “no-seeum” in the woods from the operator’s point of view. The blind spots for a grapple-skidder operator are different than those for a crane operator. Blind spots will vary by equipment type and even by manufacturer.
The idea of “walk a mile in my shoes” is tweaked to “sit a minute in my seat.” Patten said, “As part of the NHTOA training, ground-based logging crew members will be invited to climb up into the cabs of a variety of grappling and skidding equipment, sit in the operator’s chair and see [or not see] for themselves where the blind spots are. That will help them recognize areas around the equipment where they fall into blind spots and they become invisible to the operator.”
Such training can actually be scary for the little guy on the ground when he recognizes which areas are invisible to the operator as they move across a job site.
At the moment, Patten knows of no documentation that provides a protocol for approaching a machine from the ground. “Just because the machine is stopped or stationary does not necessarily mean it is safe to approach,” Patten warned. The operator might have paused for a moment to sip a soda or read a quick text message.
“Making eye contact and waving to the operator is the only true way to be sure it is safe to enter the zone and get a little closer,” Patten said.
Just as one approaches a horse or mounts a motorcycle from one side, the ground crew needs to be aware of the correct approach directions for each machine. Know which side is the safe spot.
“Even if the operator has to step out of the cab and give you a wave, that’s the only time it is safe to be within that danger zone,” Patten said.
Workers obviously are much safer in the cab than on the ground. “Mechanization has made us far more productive. The injuries are still there but they’ve changed to a lot more heart-related injuries,” Patten said. Avoid them all.
Read more: Stay Safe While Using Harvesting Equipment via Growing Magazine