Forest Industry Safety & Training Alliance, Inc.

Ben Parsons, FISTA Training Coordinator

March 2014

Looking for H.H.E.L.P. (Finally!)

Throughout the generations, many timbermen have suffered great injury or loss of life due to the lack of sufficient planning before performing a task.  In their defense, however, we don’t know what we don’t know.  More specifically, if we don’t know the “Felling Five” or other safety practices, how can we adequately implement them?  Let’s not allow the accidents of the past be suffered in vain.  We have a responsibility to the following generations to learn from these unintentional sacrifices and pass our lessons to anyone who will apply them.  This month, we are wrapping up our series of the “Felling Five” steps of H.H.E.L.P. with PLAN.

Within a few seconds of focused thought, we can come up with a pretty darn good cutting plan for evaluating and mediating any Hazards, calculating our Hinge, establishing our Escape path and compensating for Lean.  But the cutting Plan doesn’t stop there.  Conjuring up a good cutting Plan includes a few more factors the sawyer should make decisions on before the first wood chip goes flying.

Housekeeping in our work area is one of the first things to consider prior to any cutting on our tree.  Observe the areas you anticipate standing, kneeling or walking during each step of the cutting process.  Are trip hazards present, such as vines or thick underbrush?  What about any saplings in the felling path that could result in spring pole hazards? Are your Escape paths navigable?  Could a neighboring tree create a hang-up; should we re-evaluate our order of removal?

Sighting our tree is something we all do, but are we properly by lining our vision with the sights on the saw?  There’s a difference between directional felling and precision felling.  Which of the two do you practice?  Do you know the difference?  If not, maybe it’s time for a chainsaw safety refresher; and if you don’t know where the sights are on your saw, then it’s high time for your first chainsaw safety class.

Cutting techniques that make up our felling plan include decisions on what type of notch, back cut and release cut do we plan on implementing?  Notches vary, but the most common are the conventional, or 45˚, the Humboldt, and the open face notch.  The open face notch is deemed the safest notch, and there are a few variations.  Differences are mainly associated with the bottom or opening cut angle.  Regardless, any notch opening equaling 70˚ or greater is considered an open face notch.

As for your back-cut, the safest method to date is determined to be the bore, or plunge cutting method.  This determination is mainly based on two scenarios:  First, bore cutting enables us to reduce the likelihood of a barber-chair.  Second, bore cutting allows the sawyer to control when the tree falls, rather than the tree controlling when the sawyer retreats.  In addition, when the back-cut is followed through and exits the back of the tree, our back-cut and release cut are one in the same motion.  However, if the sawyer prefers to leave an anchor strap in the back of the tree, pull the saw out and execute a release cut from the back, the back-cut and release cut are two separate moves.

What about wedges?  Do we need any for this particular situation?  How many do we need?  It will make for a bad day when we need two or three wedges to influence a tree in our favor, but only have one in our pouch!  Again, the preceding topics are important to consider and make decisions on before the first wood chip goes flying.

There might be a consideration or scenario I haven’t mentioned in this short article.  If you have a different process that has consistently worked for you or something you would like to add, by all means let us know.  Over the years, I’ve come to believe that there’s no such thing as an expert, only those who have learned more about a particular subject that others.  FISTA will never pass up an opportunity to improve the message of safety we offer.

Wisdom and good judgment comes from experience, which usually comes from bad judgment.  Here’s hoping we survive our moments of bad judgment and are wise enough to learn from the experience.

Winter is almost over…hang in there!


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 ben.parsons@fistausa.org