This is the next article in WorkersCompensation.com’s “Risky Business” series, as we explore what is it like to be employed, and the employers, in the United States’ most dangerous workplaces.
Liberty County, TX (WorkersCompensation.com) – At the end of August, Matthew Aaron Sellers was killed when he was struck in the back of the head by the logs he was transporting.
Deaths like his are what make logging one of the most dangerous jobs in the country. But technology in the industry is not only changing the way loggers work, but making the profession safer as well.
Sellers, 33, was loading logs into his truck while working for South Texas Logging and Transport Company. Officials said Sellers was involved with loading his 18-wheel truck with logs when he exited his rig and walked around to the passenger side of the vehicle. The move put him in the blind spot of the employee driving the log loader. Sellers was struck in the back of the head with the logs on the log loader.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, logging is the most dangerous profession of 2018. Based on data from the most recent fatality report, logging averaged 135.9 fatal injuries per 100,000 workers in 2016. Of the 91 fatal injuries and 900 nonfatal injuries, the most common accident was being struck by an object, like Sellers.
The nation had 5,200 fatalities in 2016, for an average of 3.6 deaths per every 100,000 full-time workers.
In addition to being in a physically demanding job, often in remote areas, loggers must face hazards from the environment they are in, the equipment they work with and the products they are harvesting. Per OSHA, just the sheer weight and momentum of the trees as they are felled and moved can lead to injury or death.
Jeff Wimer, senior instructor and manager of the Student Logging Training Program at Oregon State University and chairman of the Western Region of the Council on Forest Engineering, said the industry is changing by putting loggers inside of machines, instead of leaving them in the open.
“The best solution is to get a worker into a machine,” he said. “He is 10 to 20 times safer while operating machinery.”
Wimer said other changes include machinery that can be used on steeper slopes, and new technology called tethered assist, which would allow a logger to work a machine on a slope that approaches a 45 degree angle. The technology takes existing machines and attaches new equipment to help the machine navigate the slope.
“In essence, when the machine on the slope needs to move, the tethering machine provides enough tension on the cable to allow the tethered machine to navigate the steep slope,” Wimer said.
Wimer demonstrated that and other new technology at the Pacific Logging Congress this summer. The Live in-Woods Conference showed off nine live demonstrations and more than 30 static displays.
The hold-up to implementing the new technologies, Wimer said, is simple: Money.
“These systems will cost in the $1.2 million range,” Wimer said. “The question is how to make that much capitalization pay for itself. How can we increase production enough while maintaining a safe work environment to make these systems cost-effective?”
Tom Cook, owner of R & T logging, attended the event with his son. Cook agreed that money was an issue.
Cook told KDFM during the event that the tethering equipment was impressive, but that he didn’t think he was ready to invest in any of the systems yet.
New regulations from OSHA for the logging industry require more job training and first-aid training, more protective equipment, and “comprehensive manual felling procedures.”