Widowmakers


I have a general rule that anything called a widowmaker should be given some respect. I would consider a widowmaker to be the UR of my HURT acronym for Causes of Injuries … an “Unware or Unaddressed Hazard” and “Respect for tool, process & environment”. For a forestry worker a widowmaker is a branch of a tree that remains suspended by other trees. The reason this is so dangerous is you simply don’t know when the suspended tree may fall and often it happens to an unsuspecting forester. According to Wikipedia and the American Society of Agricultural Engineers widowmakers are responsible for 11% of fatal chainsaw injuries.

DuaneInTreeThe following story is an example from the spring of 2008 where I was committing more than one safety infraction at a time. Our house in Regina had a number of spruce trees in the front yard. In fact, there were seven of them all exceeding 40 feet in height. One of the trees was more to the center of the yard and was actually quite healthy and large. The other six were squished together on the edge of our property with only a couple of feet separating them. The tall crowded, gangly looking trees were really more of an eye sore than anything. Once I decided to remove them I thought I might as well get rid of all the evergreens in our front yard.

Growing up I had helped my Dad harvest many trees for his wood stove so I called my parents up and they came into Regina to give me a hand taking these trees down. At one of our previous houses I hired out the removal of some spruce trees and knew you could make the tree limbs into a ladder to scale the tree then topple the top of the tree. We used ropes to ensure the trees fell the way we wanted them to. When I was up in the tree I didn’t actually use a chainsaw, but rather a swiss saw since I felt safer with my precarious positioning. Precarious because I had no fall protection while working at that height … hmm … what could result from falling out of a 40 foot tree?

The middle tree came down without issue then we moved on to the gaudy looking trees that were creating all this work. I needed to use a ladder at the base since the branches weren’t significant enough to hold my weight. Once I got to a certain height I was again able to scale the tree. The first tree came down without incident. I descended as we took section after section of the tree down. Each of the sections would be about 8 feet in length and weighed between 150 to 200 pounds.

True to my previous disposition of “Cutting Corners”, descending and ascending the trees seemed to be extra steps that weren’t required to the process, so after the first tree was down I simply moved from one tree to the next at about the 30’ mark. Once I changed trees the first time subsequent transgressions were much easier to make. I know this is likely a move most of you wouldn’t make, but take a look inward here. Are there tasks you are carrying out that you once considered very dangerous, but now refer to as part of the job? Could these tasks be carried out in another manner that isn’t nearly as dangerous?

Back to the widowmaker … After cutting one of the tree tops it got held up between two of the other trees. Due to my location and inability to secure a rope on the branch we continued onto the next tree, leaving the branch suspended. We had a lot of work to do and thought we would worry about the suspended branch once I worked my way over to its location. While cutting on the next tree one of the branches snapped back up towards me. I didn’t really know what happened, but it was odd to have a branch shooting upward.
When I looked down my Dad was laying face down on the ground underneath the widowmaker.

I yelled down to Dad, “Are you okay?”
He responded an unconvincing “Yeah” as he began to get up.
I inquired, “What happened?”
“Ah … The branch that was caught in the tree fell and hit me in the head and shoulder”, he said as he slowly rubbed his neck and shoulder.

My Dad’s a pretty tough guy, but I needed to come down the tree to do my own assessment. My Dad was fortunate that it was a glancing blow, but just the same it hurt quite a bit and was certainly preventable.

I know some of you are thinking “Man, you’re dangerous … no wonder you eventually got hurt.” The fact is Saskatchewan has twice the hospitalization rate as the rest of Canada so I know my previous lack of safety habits and safety awareness is very common for a lot of people reading this blog. Hindsight provides perfect vision of the impact of a decision … we have to empower that hindsight to become foresight which will assist in future decisions. I hope that by sharing some of my hindsight you will have a chance to reflect your own actions and feel empowered to make a positive change for the sake of your safety and well-being. Do you have a similar story? Can your hindsight provide insight for some of your co-workers?

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