The Major Risks Forestry Workers Face (And What to Do About Them)
Adequate PPE, proper training, and a good dose of vigilance are all needed to keep forestry workers safe.
I live and work in Canada, and most of the country is surrounded amazing forests.
Unfortunately, that also means there are plenty of people who work in the forest. The wilderness is an uncharted territory. That makes forestry a high-risk industry since it's impossible to control every aspect of the working environment.
The only way to improve safety in forestry is with better supervision, training, and equipment.
In this article, we'll look at the major hazards faced by forestry workers, starting with the forest itself.
The wilderness has many potential biological hazards. There are several types of plants, trees, reptiles, insects, and other animals you have to worry about and deal with.
One of the things you can do is complete allergy tests on employees before sending them out into the wild. That way, you're not as likely to run into something you haven't prepared for.
(Find out Why a Skin Protection Wellness Program for Outdoor Workers Should Include Bug Protection.)
Since you're not working in a climate controlled building, you might face extremely hot or extremely cold temperatures. Handling it is all about having the proper gear: make sure workers are dressed for the weather and have everything they need in case the weather changes.
In case the weather turns wet, it's important for workers to have a change of clothing, including personal protective equipment.
Since there's no clean source of running water in the forest, it's important to plan ahead and bring enough hydration for the entire crew. Pack extra on hot days and consider bringing along sports drinks or other electrolyte-rich beverages to help prevent dehydration.
(Learn What Kind of PPE Is Needed for Extreme Winter Weather.)
Have you ever gone on a hike in the wilderness and found trails that were nicely paved, without a single rut in the ground. Of course you haven't - no one has.
Working in the forest means walking on uneven terrain. You're dealing with hills, bumps, exposed roots, rocks, and different types of soil. All of these could cause workers to trip or slip.
The best way to control for these hazards is to ensure proper footwear and urge employees to walk more slowly and cautiously.
The terrain isn't just a problem for those on foot. Heavy machinery operators have to worry about getting stuck, especially during or after a heavy rain. Again, caution is your friend in these scenarios.
(Learn more in Uneven Ground Conditions: Solutions and Precautions.)
Chainsaws are a forestry worker's best friend - but it can also be their worst enemy.
Kickback is one of the most common hazards for chainsaw users. So, be sure to use two hands whenever you're operating it and be aware of where the nose bar is (keep it away from the tree to eliminate kickback).
Fatigue is also an issue for chainsaw operators. It's not a light piece of equipment and it can be a little awkward to handle at times. Workers need to be properly trained so they know how to operate the chainsaw without becoming exhausted or causing muscular damage.
(Learn more in Chainsaw Safety 101.)
And I don't think I need to tell you that chainsaws aren't the quietest piece of equipment. Since it's a hand-held tool, anyone using a chainsaw is at risk of hearing loss. A chainsaw produces approximately 115 decibels of sound. Workers, then, need earplugs or earmuffs that are rated to protect against this level of noise.
Finally, there's all the vibration that comes with using a chainsaw. Hand-arm vibration doesn't sound serious to most people, but it can cause ergonomic injuries including carpal tunnel syndrome, so it needs to be taken seriously. Since operating a chainsaw is essential for a lot of forestry work, the best way to deal with the vibrations is to purchase vibration damping chainsaws, equip workers with anti-vibration gloves, and allow chainsaw operators to take frequent breaks from cutting.
The most disastrous hazard forestry workers have to worry about is a forest fire.
Fire control is a top priority for these job sites, using controlled burns, creating fire breaks, and implementing other control measures.
In the event of a forest fire, the risks aren't just getting burned, but also suffering from heat exhausting, inhaling smoke or toxic fumes, and eye irritation from the smoke. On top of that, there is extreme stress, fatigue, and lack of visibility. Because of shifting wind directions and the unpredictability of fires, being near a forest fire requires a constant awareness of your surroundings and having a working plan in case the fire moves more quickly than anticipated.
Forestry workers need a clear understanding of the risks and hazards that come with their chosen career. Nature is beautiful but it can also be deadly, so preparation is key. Having the right safety equipment, doing the proper training, and remaining vigilant and constantly aware are all essential to your safety and that of others.
Written by Elizabeth Pattimore
I have been in the safety field for 18 years. I was born in Toronto, Ontario and moved to Fort McMurray, Alberta in the early 1980's before oil became huge business.
I have been on large construction projects and done maintenance work in the oil and gas industry. I have also written many safety programs for companies, recreation centers, and towns within Alberta. I am very passionate for the career path that I have chosen for myself and I still love going to work everyday.