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Chainsaw work and safety in forestry operations (FWN32)

16 July 2019

As a farmer or landowner, you’re often expected to be a ‘jack of all trades’ and undertake a vast array of jobs: engineer, vet, inventor, bookkeeper and administrator to name just a few.  Often forestry work is also thrown into the mix, from topping fence posts, tidying up a dead or blown over tree, maintaining hedgerows around the farm to harvesting large mature trees, if you’re lucky enough to have them.  Regardless of whether there’s a larger forestry operation being undertaken on your land or the work consists of maintaining a small number of trees on the farm, safety should always be a top priority.  All work with trees and machines, including chainsaws, is deemed high risk.

Agriculture, forestry and fishing accounts for around just 1% of the workforce in Great Britain, however, figures published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) show that these sectors have the highest rate of fatal injury of all the main UK industries.  Between 2017 and 2018, 33 people were killed as a result of farming and other agriculture-related activities, four more than the previous year.  To put into context how dangerous this sector is, over the last 10 years, almost one person a week has died as a result of agricultural work and related actives.  These statistics don’t include those who have suffered a serious injury while at work or indeed those who have been made ill by their work.

Two recent deaths reported by the HSE are particularly relevant as both occurred during maintenance of a hedge or a tree, work that most farmers or landowners will undertake at some point.  The first incident occurred in the West Midlands on the 28th August 2018, where a self-employed man was killed whilst cutting a hedge with a chainsaw.  The second incident involved a man aged over 65 in north Wales on the 8th November 2018.  He was killed on a farm when he was trapped by a branch he was removing from a tree.  Both of the above tasks seem simple enough to carry out but sadly fatalities can occur all too easily.  This why it is key to plan and evaluate this kind of work with risks in mind, and make sure you are adequately trained before undertaking any chainsaw work.

When undertaking any kind of forestry work you must consider: are you ‘competent’ to use a chainsaw?  Have you had sufficient training? Do you know what you’re doing?  If the answer to any of these questions is no you might want to consider getting a ‘competent’ and skilled contractor in to carry out the work instead.

What does a ‘competent’ contractor look like? Before hiring someone, ask the following questions:

• Do they have relevant qualifications for the work they will be carrying out?
• Do they have the relevant experience?
• Do they have the correct equipment for the job?
• Do they understand the legal duties both with regards to health and safety, and the environment?

As a landowner it is important to check the above and also try to obtain a reference from a place where they have previously carried out similar work.  Lastly, it’s always good practice to check that the contractor holds the relevant insurance before work commences.
For larger sites or operations a landowner may require a Forest Works Manager (FWM).   The FWM will need to be appointed by the landowner, otherwise the role falls to the landowner.  The role of FWM is vital to managing a safe site, and will also influence other factors such as the quality of wood, volume of harvested timber and value from the site, so be sure to choose a good FWM!  However, even with a competent and experienced FWM it’s vital that they receive the correct information which needs to be current, detailed and specific.  Usually, the best way to do this is through a detailed and up-to-date site map.  It’s important to know the site and the access to it so that any potential hazards can be identified. Hazards that should be identified to the FWM or contractor include:

• Routes or areas of public access
• Overhead power lines
• Underground utilities
• Areas of steep or particularly hazardous terrain
• Areas of windblown or diseased trees

Once again it’s important to check that those you engage hold the relevant insurance.  When it comes to public access through or near the site, it is important to take into account the position of roads and footpaths and provide adequate warning signs. In some cases it may be necessary to have barriers or even close roads while operations are taking place.

Finally, if you’re thinking about undertaking any kind of forestry work and you aren’t sure about how to identify the risks or safe systems of work, useful safety information and safety guides are free to download from the Forest Industry Safety Accord (FISA) website:  A document that is particularly important for landowners to understand their role and the duties and responsibilities that come with it, is Guidance on Managing Health and Safety in Forestry.  It contains guidance for everyone involved in forestry, from landowner to contractor, to meet their duties under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974.  This is one of the publications available free to download from the FISA website.  FISA encourages anyone who is often involved in forestry work to join and become a member – you will find more information about FISA logomembership on the FISA website.

Gillian Clark, CEO of the Forest Industry Safety Accord (FISA)

This article has been published in the Spring 2019 edition of the Farm Woodland News.  Download a copy to access all articles.  Subscribe to receive newly published editions via email by using the form here.

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