Working safely with trees

October 7th, 2011

Manual tree felling is a dangerous operation by nature, with heavy objects falling from great heights onto the worksite at regular intervals.  Safe timber harvesting practices can be implemented in your workplace to reduce risks and keep your employees safe. In the last 10 years, 22 people have died in tree felling accidents, with most fatalities occurring in manual operations.

Take action
To conduct tree felling operation in compliance with relevant health and safety laws, you must take action to ensure all reasonable steps are taken to implement and maintain safe work systems. This includes:

  • Providing workers with adequate information
  • Giving all employees access to relevant training
  • Ensuring adequate instruction and supervision is on hand

Where risk assessment finds a hazard, take immediate action to eliminate or minimise the danger. Possible solutions include using a mechanical harvester, which isolates the worker from falling timber, instead of manually operated chainsaw. If a manual chainsaw is necessary, implement the full range of personal protection gear, including a hard hat, face shield, hearing protection, high visibility clothing, cut resistant trousers or chaps, and lace up boots with good ankle support.

Use correct methods
Manually felling trees should begin by ensuring enough holding wood is in place to control the tree as it falls. The chainsaw operator should also establish a quick, clear escape route to take once the appropriate cuts are made. Saplings in the trees direct line of fall can form a hazard as branches can be snapped and flung in the direction of the chainsaw operator. Make sure the felling direction follows the path of least resistance and minimises damage to the surrounding environment.

Take precautions
Before the work even begins, steps can be taken to make the operation safer. Make sure all employees are properly inducted, as this sets a good foundation for their future safety practice knowledge and attitude. Keep a record of which employees are qualified for certain activities, so only capable employees are designated particular tasks. Have you got effective communication systems in place? An instant message to someone 20 meters away could ensure their safety by relocating them in a safer position, or warning of an impending action.
While tree felling operation sites are highly mobile, signage can still be used on machinery and temporarily implemented at work sites. These can inform people of restricted access, constantly moving machinery, high noise areas and places requiring full personal protection gear. They can also outline emergency information; to ensure the best possible action is taken in a bad situation.

Above all, foster an environment that values the safety of everyone on the work site, and encourages safe work practices. Low-risk sites where safety is ridiculed and seen as a joke can be more dangerous than high-risk operations with impeccable safety standards.