Safety Alert: Sawyer Struck, Killed While Working Near ‘Set Back’ Tree

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Safety Alert

A timber cutter using a chain saw was felling hardwood saw timber and cutting off limbs on an autumn morning in the Southeast.

The sawyer had about five years of logging experience. He was not wearing any personal protective equipment. No one on this crew had completed a state logger training and education program.

The sawyer completed a face cut and a back cut on a 26-inch diameter yellow poplar tree, but the tree merely ‘set back’ on the stump and did not fall. The sawyer was able to extract his chain saw from the tree, but he did not use a felling wedge to help push the tree over.
He informed two skidder operators and another sawyer that the tree had been cut through but had not fallen. A skidder operator then told the sawyer that he would push the tree over with his skidder after he returned from the landing.
The rest of the crew stayed away from the danger tree, but the sawyer returned to the area and began cutting off limbs from a tree that he had felled earlier that was within falling range of the set-back tree.

The logging crew heard the sawyer beginning to work again, and then they heard the loud crash of a tree falling. The sawyer’s chain saw immediately went silent.

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The logging crew rushed to the area of the set-back tree and found that it had fallen over. The top portion of the tree, at a point where forked branches were about 8-10 inches in diameter, had struck the sawyer across the back of his neck and head, killing him.

• When felling trees manually, be sure to leave adequate holding wood as a hinge to guide the tree’s fall. Do not extend the back cut beyond the face cut.
• Use wedges as necessary to guide a tree’s fall.
• Remove hung trees, set-back trees and other danger trees before continuing work within two tree heights of the base of any danger tree. If the tree will not be removed immediately by mechanical means, mark the area with flagging and alert all crew members to maintain the same distance.
• Do not let impatience lead to bypassing of common sense safety.
• OSHA requires sawyers, like all logging employees, to be fully trained for their work. Training must include instructions on directional felling, hazard recognition, avoidance and abatement, and use of personal protective equipment. Employers should verify and document skills of employees.