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Forest Worker Safety Network

fwsn 2008


Tree-Falling Tool Cuts Down Risk
1950s Cartoons Laid Blame on Workers While Spoofing Clumsy Behavior Logging Video Feature Pick

fwsn 2008

University of B.C. forestry researcher Kevin Lyons uses the university’s nearby research forest to demonstrate a remotely operated safety device for manual fallers.

Of all the jobs in B.C., manual tree falling is one of the most dangerous. While fallers have to contend with remote locations and harsh environmental conditions, the greatest hazards exist at the base of a tree itself — just when it’s starting to topple.

Branches and tree tops can break off and fall from above. Trees can fall in unintended directions. Fallers face the occupational dangers of being hit or crushed by heavy trees, tree limbs, and logs. To avoid being struck, fallers need to have planned escape routes, and move away from the base of the tree as it’s beginning to fall. It’s a precarious situation that doesn’t always go as planned.

To keep fallers away from potentially treacherous falling spaces, University of B.C. (UBC) researcher Kevin Lyons has developed a novel system that permits falling to be initiated by a remotely operated tool. This new falling wedge is dubbed the “wood duck.” When combined with a cutting pattern that prevents a tree from moving while the faller is at the base, the wood duck has the potential to drastically reduce the injury rate in the forestry industry.

“A lot of unexpected events can happen when you’re falling trees,” says Lyons, a former logger and logging supervisor, currently associate professor at UBC’s department of Forest Resources Management. “Sometimes trees can split and go in different directions. Sometimes there’s rot and trees fail in ways you don’t expect. We need to find new ways to improve faller safety.”

New tool proves effective
Building on his earlier research, Lyons redesigned a scissor jack fitted with a drill motor that fallers attach at the base of a tree after making a series of specific, initial cuts. Once the fallers have moved away from the tree, they pull a trigger on a remote control to activate the wedge. Then, they watch the tree fall from a safe vantage point.

Wood Duck Falling ToolWith a grant from WorkSafeBC’s Research Services department, Lyons undertook a study of prototypes of the remotely controlled wedge that included field testing — to great success. The highest productivity the test group achieved in a six-hour day was 40 trees, all of which were felled successfully using the wood duck. On average, the device showed a 98 percent success rate.

“The results demonstrate that it is possible to develop falling methods that remove a faller from the hazardous position at the base of a tree when it begins to displace,” Lyons says. “The goal is to have something in widespread use that achieves the goals of reducing the fatality rate and serious injury rate.”

The injury rate for the manual tree falling and bucking classification unit is indeed high — 26.8 in 2013, with a serious injury rate of 8.4 that same year. What makes falling-related incidents particularly serious is the enormous amount of energy and powerful, dynamic forces involved.

“Anytime there’s contact, either from a falling branch or tree kickback, the impact on the human body is bound to be devastating,” says WorkSafeBC manager of Industry and Labour Services Tom Pawlowski.

“Manual fallers are masters at what they do and they usually manage to stay out of harm’s way every hour of their working day. But any technology that helps to keep them away from the most dangerous area around the base of the tree that’s beginning to fall may have tremendous life-saving potential. And therefore, it should be explored.”

Industry and WorkSafeBC have worked hard to improve falling safety in recent years, from standardized training and work procedures to increased awareness of the dangerous effects of factors like fatigue and dehydration on workers. “However, at the end of the day, tree falling is a very complex activity — with a multitude of factors that are difficult to anticipate, let alone control,” Pawlowski says.

Even in today’s automated age, forestry workers require protection. Fallers can use machines like feller bunchers, processers, grapple skidders, stroke de-limbers, and harvesters to take down nature’s giants, but they can’t be used everywhere: the equipment can only handle so much weight, and can’t access excessively rugged, uneven, or steep terrain. Typically, mechanized falling is more common in B.C.’s interior, while manual falling predominates on the precipitous slopes of the coast. Hence, the need for a smaller and portable safety-enhancing device.

Future directions in faller safety
At the same time, while manual falling will always have a role in timber harvesting, it’s important to look to new, emerging technologies that may limit workers’ exposure. For this reason, industry in B.C. is increasingly exploring mechanized harvest options that may decrease the risk to workers on the ground. WorkSafeBC is recognizing this potential as reflected in a recent call for research applications.

“Working to keep tree fallers as safe as possible in a complex, dangerous environment is a high priority for WorkSafeBC,” says Lori Guiton, WorkSafeBC director of Research Services.

“Supporting the development and testing of tools like these is an important part of the Innovation at Work funding stream. Through a Specific Priorities grant opportunity, Research Services is seeking researchers to undertake a study focused on mechanized tree falling, which may be a safer alternative to manual falling.”

In the meantime, Lyons has fine-tuned the wood-duck prototype to make it lighter and more user-friendly. “People are being safer, but we need to find other ways to keep fallers safe that involve thinking outside the box,” he says. “The results of this study show that we can make falling safer.”

For more, check out Field Testing a Remotely Operated Falling Wedge on the WorkSafeBC website.

Courtesy of WorkSafeBC Magazine - July/August 2015


Back then, the union thought that by spoofing bad choices and clumsy behaviour by workers, lives and limbs would be saved.

Click to Enlarge Image

Caption read: “Plastered Again, Huh!  Fell off the Wagon? No, Jumped Off Crummy!  The balloon quotes and captions around the IW of A’s 1950s cartoon character – forest worker “Otto Knowbetter” said it all: A Drunken logger jumping off a crew bus? No. It was a clumsy logger who didn’t wait for the bus to stop! A common occurrence? Not likely and likely not ever. But for an industrial cartoonist known as “Dill” and for the IW of A in the conservative post WWII period, stupid workers got hurt.

The union thought that by spoofing bad choices and clumsy behaviour by workers, lives and limbs would be saved. Otto Knowbetter worked in the woods and the mills. He drove truck and fell trees. There were few stupid things he wouldn’t do. Otto didn’t come up against being pushed to extreme performance levels by employers and was not a victim of bad workplace design. Not much referenced worker training or would indicate lack of proper supervision by the boss.

The accidents Otto got into were of his own making. In other words: Bad Behaviour. That captions read on: Well there goes Otto, taking another Click to Enlarge Imagedrop in income…1/3 of all woods accidents are still due to slipshod falls! Watch your step! It was the buffoon-like Otto’s fault again. “Reaching into moving machinery is another way to lose a hand” read a caption, as Otto volunteered his hand to the mouth of an alligator. The point? It’s workers who put their hands in moving machinery – not workers who are maimed by machines without proper guards. One cartoon has Otto limbing, his boot in line with the swinging axe. Caption read: “Axeing for Trouble!
A Smart Logger Always Cuts Away from Himself"

In a March issue of the BC Lumber Worker the union printed a non “Otto Knowbetter” cartoon of a millworker’s death. The man, with just one month’s experience, was mangled in the sprocket of a “slow moving” wood conveyor. Click to Enlarge ImageRead a caption: “It is assumed that his clothing became caught in the sprocket and he was wrapped around the shaft several times, causing instant death,” Read further the caption: DON’T GAMBLE YOUR LIFE WITH SLOW MOVING MACHINERY. Not a word about shutting down the conveyor’s power supply or locking out. Here too, the worker was to blame.

Otto Knowbetter was gone by the end of the 1950s. He had played his role – at times light-hearted and entertaining and sometimes embarrassing. That was in the 1950s and today is now.

An Otto Knowbetter cartoon strip wouldn’t cut it in 2010. But then again, he might – among some advocates of Behaviour-Based Safety programs, whose shiny, slick offerings can parallel comical assumptions made about workers over a half-century ago.


FWSN Media Room

The Forest Worker Safety Network regularly reviews logging videos on The video below is our feature pick for this month. Click the video screen if you wish to enlarge the video for viewing on in new browser window on the website.  [top]

Cutting Down a Huge Fir Tree

Fallers tackle a 7-foot fir tree that is well past its due date. While the big fir at some point in it's history lost the top half, it still presents a formidable task to drop it to the forest floor. For reasons of safety, a rope is attached and tightened up to ensure that the mammoth fir can be snugged over with a Faller finishing the cut at its base.  Courtesy of Skadill.

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Forest Worker Safety Network

The Forest Workers Safety Network (FWSN) is an initiative of United Steelworkers (USW) District 3, which represents over 20,000 forest workers in British Columbia.

In light of rising forest industry fatalities and injuries, the FWSN has been formed as a response to a demand for a worker-focused information and networking system. The FWSN is available to all BC forest workers, at no cost, whether or not they are members of the United Steelworkers (USW) union.

The FWSN is initiating its activities by disseminating information developed for BC Coastal loggers and woodlands employees, from stump to dump and beyond. We are also collecting information on safety issues in the sector and on urgent and pressing issues that groups of workers and individuals face. We provide general health and safety information and information on the USW’s ongoing efforts to stop needless fatalities and injuries.

There will be regular communications for all workers who sign up.

Join the Forest Workers Safety Network today!  [back to top]

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Forest Workers Safety Network - 2009