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Martinsville, Virginia 24115
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Tree safety encouraged after accidents

Monday, September 2, 2013

By BEN R. WILLIAMS - Bulletin Staff Writer

In light of recent deaths related to felling trees, Henry County Public Safety Director Rodney Howell reinforced the message that logging and tree-cutting are dangerous activities.

“Logging is one of the most dangerous occupations there is,” Howell said, “up there with law enforcement, firefighting and deep-sea fishing.”

Two tree-related deaths have occurred in the area in less than a month. On July 30, a Martinsville man was killed when he was struck by part of a tree that he was helping cut down at a Letcher Street residence, and Wednesday, an 18-year-old Patrick County High School senior was killed in a logging accident.

“If you’re going to be cutting trees, you need protective equipment,” Howell said, including a hard hat, steel-toe boots, a long-sleeve shirt, eye protection, and pants called “chain saw chaps” which are made from special fabrics that help protect against injuries from chain saw blades.

Kevin Cox, chief ranger at Fairystone State Park, said employees there go through special training before they can cut trees. First they have an apprentice program and then they go through Sawyer Training, which involves classes, videos, hands-on experience and cutting trees, he said. It takes about a week in all, he added.

Employees also wear special safety equipment, including Kevlar chaps and boots, helmets, a face shield, ear plugs and more, Cox said.

Everything is done to meet federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) regulations, he said.

Four employees at the park have been trained and cut trees for regular park maintenance as well as to remove trees that are dangers, such as ones that are dying or diseased, before they become a liability, Cox said.

Fortunately, he added, there has never been an accident involving tree cutting at the park.

But that is not the case elsewhere. Locally, Howell said, one or two people generally are killed each year in the logging industry, sometimes from falling trees, but also in accidents involving “skidder” vehicles that are used to drag cut trees from the forest.

“Henry County is not flat,” Howell said, and often, logging companies are “logging practically on the side of a mountain,” which only compounds the danger.

“The question is, which way are the trees going to fall,” Howell said. “It takes some common sense, but it also takes some experience” to learn how trees are likely to fall.

“From what I understand,” Howell added, in the two recent fatalities, “there were circumstances that caused the trees to fall in an unusual manner.”

According to previous reports, in the July 30 incident, a large piece of the tree that was being cut had become lodged in the fork of another nearby tree. The Martinsville man was killed while while he and several others were attempting to pull this piece free.

In Wednesday’s incident, the Patrick County resident was cutting down a large poplar tree that was entangled in a thick vine, according to the Patrick County Sheriff’s Office. The vine also was entangled with a smaller adjacent tree.

As the larger tree fell, the smaller tree also fell and struck the man, the sheriff’s office stated.

“If a tree gets hung” in something, Howell said, “it quadruples the danger” because it makes it far more difficult to predict exactly how the tree will fall.

“When people are cutting trees in their yards and don’t have very much experience, it’s even more dangerous,” Howell said.

He said anyone without logging experience who is considering felling a tree on their property should call a professional tree service to do the job.


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