Although specialized machinery has largely replaced full crews of lumberjacks wielding axes and chainsaws, injuries and fatalities persist in industries such as timber harvesting and forest conservation.
The way modern forestry workers carry out their jobs in sometimes remote locations has changed significantly. But new hazards have effectively replaced the dangers of physical wounds. Statistics, coupled with a commonsense understanding of the work environment, demonstrate greater awareness of forestry personal protective equipment (PPE) and clothing is needed.
Injuries & Fatalities Caused by Forest Safety Hazards
The number of fatal incidents in forestry-related occupations has gone down, according to recent data. The U.S. Census Bureau reports that logging worker deaths declined from above 90 per 100,000 employees to 82 per 100,000 from 2020 to 2021.
This figure ranked loggers as the second highest at-risk group behind fishing and hunting trades. By contrast, the national workplace fatality average was only 3.6 in 2021, with transportation deaths as the leading cause.
It’s also important to understand that logging-related loss of life has been something of a rollercoaster ride. The industry has seen deaths per 100,000 peak in 2008 at 118. In 2012, they reached 129, and a troubling 132 per 100,000 workers in 2015, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
It may seem counterintuitive, but the heavy machinery expected to reduce forestry safety hazards for workers has emerged as a primary cause. The BLS indicates contact with falling objects and equipment contributes as much as 79 percent to all fatalities.
The BLS also noted that seemingly less hazardous occupations in the related forest management and conservation industries struggled with high incidents of injury and fatality. The federal agency pointed out that forest and conservation workers consistently post among the “highest rates of injuries and illnesses of all occupations.”
Although non-logging workers do not necessarily encounter heavy machinery as frequently, people who work in the wild also face the following types of forestry safety hazards.
- Wildlife Encounters: People working in forestry settings are routinely exposed to biting insects, poisonous snakes, rodents, and large predators.
- Falling Trees and Limbs: Logging workers are at the highest risk of being struck by falling trees and limbs. However, high winds tend to snap rotted and weak limbs that fall without warning.
- Forest Fires: The destruction from wildfires repeatedly crosses the annual 10-million-acre threshold annually. Wildfires put workers at risk of smoke inhalation and burns across sectors. Forest management and conservationists are also called upon to perform preventative controlled burns.
- Reactions to Plants: Most people have an allergic reaction to plants such as poison ivy and sumac. There are a wide variety of lesser-known plants that can cause serious illness or death. Potentially deadly plants around the world include White Snakeroot, Nightshade, Rosary Pea, Water Hemlock, and Oleander.
- Gasoline, Diesel, and Kerosene: Logging crews are routinely exposed to fuel used to power heavy machinery and chainsaws, such as gasoline and diesel. Forestry workers who perform controlled burns typically bring in trucks and backpacks to deploy kerosene. These toxic and combustible fuel sources pose a clear and present danger. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), recommend forestry PPE when handling flammable materials.
- Chemical Exposure: The use of herbicides and fungicides is more preventive than workers in forestry trades generally realize. It’s crucial to wear a full complement of forestry protective clothing when spraying chemicals or conducting duties in previously affected or treated areas.
Weather conditions also play a role in forestry illness and injury. Extreme temperature swings and flash flooding task workers with planning layered clothing protections. Lastly, the uneven terrain calls for appropriate footwear that can also withstand exposure to chemicals, fire, and hard impacts.
Preventative Measures for Forestry Safety Hazards
Working in a woodland puts workers in an unpredictable and risk-filled environment. To offset various forestry safety hazards, logging and forest conservation trades usually adopt preventative policies that keep people out of harm’s way.
Workers are generally advised against venturing into areas where emergency services cannot be contacted or deployed. Workers are also encouraged to maintain regular contact with team members when covering remote locations. They must also carry first-aid kits, sunscreen, and insect repellant.
It’s critical for loggers to always work in tandem. Whether felling trees, hewing off limbs, or extracting timber, multiple crew members need to be present to provide health and safety measures in the event of an injury.
When fast-moving storms roll in, logging crews are required to cease operations. Conservation workers may need to shelter in place, which is why carrying lightweight forestry protective clothing remains a standard practice. These rank among the necessary forestry PPE employers need to provide workers.
- Safety Boots: Work boots for loggers must protect against the hard impacts of falling limbs, and machinery contact, as well as possible bites from pests and snakes. Specialized products are available for those in the timber-cutting trades. Those in forest conservation and related fields also require durable footwear.
- Footwear Coverings: When deploying herbicides, pesticides, or fungicides, forestry protective clothing must include disposable footwear coverings such as shoe or boot covers.
- Protective Legwear: Durable trousers are necessary to prevent cuts, abrasions, and insect bites to the calves and thighs. So-called “chainsaw chaps” deliver enhanced protections for people operating cutting tools. Fire-resistant forestry PPE is needed for controlled burns.
- Gloves: A variety of gloves may be used that correspond to specific forestry safety hazards. Heavy-duty gloves are needed to operate chainsaws, heavy machinery, and brush cutters. Conservation occupations require lightweight hand coverings. Those involved in the use of chemicals or controlled burns require appropriate disposable personal protective gloves.
- Head Safety: Hard hats are standard workplace safety equipment in the logging trades. Employers and team supervisors are tasked with enforcing hard hat mandates.
- Eye Protection: Goggles or face shields are needed to operate chainsaws, brush cutters, or deploy chemical and combustible agents.
- Ear Protection: Loud noises can damage sensitive parts of the ear canal. Working near heavy machinery or operating chainsaws leads to severe hearing conditions over time. Without adequate protection, workers may suffer a ringing in the ears known as tinnitus. In other cases, hearing loss or hypersensitivity to sound may occur known as hyperacusis.
The need for employers to maintain a stockpile of forestry PPE cannot be understated. People in these occupations continue to suffer high rates of workplace injury and the second-highest number of fatalities of any occupation. Durable products that stand up to hard impacts, as well as chemical and fire-resistant forestry protective clothing, are needed for workers in related occupations.