Forest Industry Safety & Training Alliance, Inc.

Ben Parsons, FISTA Training CoordinatorNovember 2013

Looking for H.H.E.L.P. (Part 1)

Last month, we talked about the importance of remembering “The Felling Five” and putting them in practice before firing up your chainsaw and sending the sawdust a’ flying.   To better understand these steps and why they are so important, let’s break down each one over the next few months.  As we cover each one individually, think how they relate to your typical job; recall injuries or close calls you may have experienced, or reflect on the loss of a co-worker, friend or family member due to neglecting any of the “Felling Five” steps.

This month, let’s focus on the first “H” of the felling five; Hazards.  Hazard identification is the first step in our newly organized “Felling Five”.  Timber harvesting, regardless of the product or market, has an extremely high accident rate.  Above production, SAFETY should be our number one priority at work.  Think about it.  Not one of us can produce volume from a hospital bed or gravesite.  The hazards a sawyer may encounter are numerous.  Some are obvious, but others, not so much.  Let’s discuss a few of them.

Widow-makers and dead branches are among the obvious hazards and are somewhat easy to spot.  A widow-maker is typically a broken tree top or branch that remains suspended in the tree.  This situation is commonly found after a storm event or the falling of an adjacent tree.  Fresh widow-makers are usually less stable than an old one, but never take either for granted.  Dead tops, branches and sloughing bark are also obvious hazards and can result from numerous causes.  When you observe these situations, position yourself accordingly and test their stability before working around them.

Extreme weather conditions and terrain are also obvious hazards.  Whether high or swirling winds, sweltering heat, bitter cold, wet or slippery conditions, prepare accordingly and adjust your techniques for adequate escape time to your safe zone.  Dress for the conditions in which you will be working, and have spare or extra clothing on hand.  Hydration is important in both hot and cold weather conditions, so be sure to have plenty of water nearby at all times.  When the weather becomes too extreme, maybe staying at the shop for maintenance activities would be the best option until conditions let up.

Utility lines are becoming more common.  Transmission right of ways typically have an adequately cleared right-of-way, but as more homes are being built in wooded areas, distribution lines can sometimes go unseen till it’s too late.  Unless you’ve attended EHAP training, avoid working or cutting anything within a minimum of 10 feet from a utility line.  To learn more about EHAP, go to

A good sawyer is also prepared for unseen or unexpected hazards.  Equipment failure is one we don’t often think about until it happens.  Having spare parts and extra sharpened chains on hand is a good start.  Preventative maintenance and care of your equipment is also a necessity.  Take care of your equipment, and it will take care of you.

Watch out for others as well.  Being focused on our work area and personal safety comes first, but people entering our area may not be as alert as they should.  Be on the lookout for co-workers, landowners,recreationists, or anyone else coming in for a closer look regardless of their purpose.  Acknowledge them and advise them to remain a safe distance or in a safe zone until the hazards have been mitigated.

Fatigue and complacency are common hazards, yet easy situations to address.  While both are individually caused, they can affect not only ourselves, but also anyone else around us.  Avoid fatigue by getting adequate rest at night and taking breaks as needed throughout the day.  Remaining hydrated and eating healthy help to curb fatigue as well.  Complacency is by far the simplest hazard to avoid, but probably the most deadly.  Never take any situation for granted, plan ahead, be alert, and never stop learning or discovering ways to preform your tasks as safely as possible. 

These are just a few of the most common hazards we regularly observe.  There are many others.  However, with all of them, recognition and making a plan to deal with the challenge is the biggest part. Safely dealing with the dangers we encounter helps to ensure we go home at the end of the day with all our important body parts intact.

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