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Safety Alert: Limb Under Pressure Pushes Snag onto Cutter

On a sunny, dry spring afternoon in the Appalachians, a timber cutter was felling trees with a chain saw in a clear-cut harvest.

By Staff
Date Posted: 2/1/2009


On a sunny, dry spring afternoon in the Appalachians, a timber cutter was felling trees with a chain saw in a clear-cut harvest.

Personal Characteristics

The timber cutter was in his mid-30s and had over 10 years of cutting experience. He had completed a comprehensive four-day chain saw safety training program, and he was wearing appropriate personal protective equipment, including hard hat, chaps, boots and gloves.

Unsafe Act or Condition

The cutter approached a cluster of three poplar trees along the edge of the skid road. Two 16-inch diameter trees were alive; the third tree, about 8 inches in diameter and only 12 feet tall, was clearly dead, and the top portion already had broken off and was on the ground. A limb on the dead tree was touching the nearby live trees.

The cutter notched the small, dead snag first and formed a hinge on the stump with the back cut. The snag failed to fall because the limb was caught in the other trees. Since the limb appeared to be dead, the cutter assumed there was no pressure on it, and he began to cut off the limb at the base.


In fact, the limb was under pressure, and it pushed the butt of the snag off the stump, causing the tree to fall uphill toward the cutter. He tried to escape by going uphill along the bank of the skid road. However, briars and other debris snagged his boot laces and prevented from moving away from the falling tree. It fell across his left shoulder with full force and knocked him to the ground.


The cutter did not think he was injured more severely than just a deep bruise, but later he noticed significant pain when he tried to raise his left arm above the shoulder. X-rays confirmed he had suffered a fractured shoulder blade, and the injury would take 6-8 weeks to recover.


Dead snags and small trees can be deadly and should be treated with respect. Err on the side of caution when judging whether trees and limbs even dead ones are under tension; cut the limb off first. Clear an escape route completely before felling any tree so there is a clear path going diagonally to the rear to get away.

(Source: Forest Resources Assn.)


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