Forest Industry Safety & Training Alliance, Inc.

Ben Parsons, FISTA Training CoordinatorJanuary 2014

H.H.E.L.P – Part 3

This month, we’ll focus on the “E” of the HHELP 5 step felling process.  “E” stands for Escape Path.  Some may prefer to call it an Evacuation Route or Exit, but all the same.  Determining a primary Escape Path is one of the many decisions a sawyer should make before initiating a felling cut.  Once the desired direction of fall is determined, a primary and, if possible, secondary Escape Path should be identified at a 45˚ opposite of the desired direction of fall.  Be sure to distance yourself from the stump at least 20 feet.  Statistics have shown that most “struck by” injuries, whether by falling debris from the canopy or by the butt of the tree itself, are more likely to take place within 15 feet of the stump.  If possible, take advantage of a healthy, standing tree to shield you as the tree is falling.  An adequate Escape Path doesn’t need to resemble a cleared sidewalk, but be sure to clear out any trip hazards and brush that may hinder your ability to swiftly navigate to the safe zone.

Many of us have learned to “never turn your back on a falling tree”.  While this is true to an extent, we also need to be aware of ALL our surroundings, not just the falling tree.  Once the release cut is made and our victim begins to fall, we only need 2-3 seconds to be securely tucked in our Escape Path.  Obviously, we should be watching where we’re going and negotiating any trip hazards or insecure footing.  Once in the safe zone, watch for falling or flailing debris, while also observing what’s going on at the stump.  When does the hinge break?  Where did the hinge begin to tear?  Is the hinge partially or fully attached to the stump once the tree is on the ground?  Did the tree roll or slide and in what direction?  These are the kind of observations we should be making to assist in the ease and safety of the next steps in the process: limbing and bucking.

We all have our own preferences of felling and bucking techniques.  Some may be safer than others, and some may help us produce a better product for the mill.  Having a tool box with few tools, limits our ability to complete tasks.  As professionals, we would be wise to have as many “tools” (felling and bucking techniques) in our “tool box” (mental capacity) as possible to provide multiple safe options for various situations.  Those of you who know me may be saying “That fella’ ain’t got much of a tool box”, but I can promise you, I’ll be trying to stuff as many techniques as I can without others falling out.

In my opinion, the most important thing about the Escape Path is to establish one that’s adequate and USE IT!  Far too many sawyers are injured and killed because they want to stand right by the stump and admire their accomplishment.  All it takes is a branch to fall from the canopy or the tree to leave the stump unexpectedly, and that tree may not be the only thing that dies that day.  In closing, remember that the final release cut should be made on the same side of the tree as the escape path.  Never travel directly behind a falling tree.  That’s enough for this month.  Time for me to go make some sawdust and lay some wood on the ground!

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