Forest Industry Safety & Training Alliance, Inc.

Ben Parsons, FISTA Training Coordinator

February 2013

There’s Still Work To Do

I just finished reading an article titled “So Much for Book Learning”, and being a better student of experience than literature, I eagerly dove into the story. It didn’t take long before I realized the author was giving discredit to the professional chainsaw training he had received in the past. As an experienced sawyer, forester and educator, I can appreciate the thoughts of the author and the manner in which his conclusions were derived. Unfortunately, I am deeply concerned that the message being portrayed to the readers is that professional chainsaw training is irrelevant. Please allow me to clarify at this time; the following comments are not intended in any way to be disrespectful to the author.

“We are never so wise as to think we know everything and cease to learn” are words spoken quite often by a colleague and mentor of mine. This individual coached me through all four levels of the S.A.W.W. (Safety And Woods Workers) training program and then some. For those of you that are not yet familiar with S.A.W.W., this is the Mid-Western equivalent to Soren Eriksson’s Game Of Logging. Now that I too am a chainsaw safety instructor with FISTA, do I now believe my preferred methods exemplify perfection in every situation? Absolutely not! As a matter of fact, another quote I’ll often hear from this mentor is, “There are 80+ ways to cut down a tree”.

Of these 80+ ways, I have learned that some are safer than others, some produce a better product than others and some are considered proven safe and efficient while some are not. Regardless of preference, I am certain not one single method can be learned AND mastered in an 8 hour training course; but can take years to practice, critique, adjust and perfect. Whether they are considered to be right or wrong, every method was developed out of necessity, with the knowledge an individual had at that time for the given situation.

Crosscut saws really didn’t come into wide European usage until the mid-15th century. For nearly 500 years, the crosscut saw was the fastest tool we had to accommodate the felling axe. The first gasoline powered chainsaw wasn’t developed until 1927 – only 86 years ago! So, do I believe that after having the chainsaw around for 86 years we could still learn more about the safe and efficient use of this tool? You bet your opposable thumbs I do! But at some point, folks had to figure out how to use a gasoline powered chainsaw based on their existing knowledge of muscle-powered equipment. Although invented for the same purpose, these are different tools, engineered differently with different reactive forces, therefore requiring different methods of use to ensure safety. What makes us think the same methods of using a crosscut saw and axe would also be applicable for today’s modern chainsaws? Years of trial and error, fatality investigations and experience (both good and bad) have gone into developing the chainsaw operating techniques we practice today.

In the discouraging article, details of pushing on the tree while a second sawyer cut used a “flat-cut” or “Stump-jumping” method was mentioned throughout. By now, we should all know how risky it is to be pushing on a tree while someone else is cutting. I learn more and more as I age, you just can’t trust anyone, period. Then, to put trust in someone with a chainsaw in hand, at arm’s length, is simply pushing the limits too much for me. Also, the flat-cutting method is discouraged in chainsaw safety and efficiency classes today; NOT because it’s impossible to be used effectively, but because OSHA has linked this method to more deaths than other alternatives (and this method has never consistently been proven otherwise).

Rather than arguing whose methods are right or wrong I will simply agree there’s just as many ways to fell a tree as there is to skin a cat. I admit the bore-cutting method isn’t a one-size-fits-all method for every tree. However, with every cutting method, whether deemed safe or not, is a degree of skill, practice and most of all, PLANNING. My duty as a safety instructor (scars-and-all) is to learn, improve, develop and pass along proven safe and effective methods, while discouraging those that are not. I’m not perfect; none of us are; but the modern techniques we encourage today are developed and continuously improved by professionals. We dedicate our efforts for everyone’s safety and productivity. I prefer to NOT take risks or chances, and choose to use proven methods.

Ben Parsons, FISTA Training Coordinator, is originally from West “By God”, Virginia as they say in that part of the Appalachian Mountains. His family’s deeply rooted philosophy of living off the land was monumental in deciding to earn a degree in Forest Management from West Virginia University.  Throughout his career, Ben has had the opportunity to tackle a wide variety of assignments.  He measured Forest Inventory and Analysis research plots in Virginia and Georgia, been involved with urban and utility forestry operations throughout the Appalachian region, procured lowland hardwood timber in the swamps of South Georgia, managed logging contracts and harvest operations in Arkansas and specialized in water quality and harvest planning as well as fighting forest fires in Virginia. As FISTA Training Coordinator, helping to meet your safety and educational needs is the number one priority here at FISTA.  For more information, contact Ben at 800-551-2656 or