Experienced fellers, no matter how well taught or how well-versed they are in the skills of tree felling, can all tell of many accidents or near misses they have seen. Tree felling is a very hazardous occupation characterised by a high proportion of fatal accidents, but like any other job, observance of safe working practices will reduce the hazards.

The first requirement is that fellers by physically fit and reasonably active. Any man with any disability which restricts his ability to move quickly when required should not engage in tree felling.

No man should engage in tree felling until he has been thoroughly instructed in the techniques of felling, has been made fully aware of the hazards and dangers which may occur, and knows the safety precautions necessary at each stage of the job.

He should wear well-fitting clothing. Flopping sleeves, trouser legs, overly loose jumpers or flying shirt tails can too readily catch on something, causing the man to trip or stumble or to misdirect a blow. Safety helmets should always be worn for all felling operations. Good, solid boots, giving a maximum of support to the feet, with soles and heels either sprigged or with non-slip tread are essential - safety boots with steel toe caps are, of course, by far the best, but no matter what type, the soles and heels should not be worn smooth and should provide plenty of grip for the conditions the feller is working under.

During any felling operations, each feller must keep aware of any other people in the area. He should not fell a tree directly uphill from any other men (nor should he work in an area immediately downhill from tree felling), nor should he fell a tree if he suspects that anybody is on or near the area where the tree will fall. Where felling is being carried out near a road or a track which may be used by other persons, prominent signs should be displayed on the track on each side of, and before, reaching the danger zone.

When walking up to the tree to be felled, its crown should be carefully inspected for broken or dead limbs which may be dislodged and fall during felling. The crowns of nearby trees should also be inspected at the same time. Often these 'widow makers' cannot be seen from directly below, but are easily seen from a short distance.

On arrival at the tree, the first essential is to gauge the direction and amount of the natural lean of the tree. Overhanging or interlocking branches and limbs, which may interfere with, or regulate the normal fall of, the tree should be considered. The natural pull of gravity will always prevail, and it is not possible to fell a tree against its natural lean, though it may be guided to some extent.

Felling should not be done when strong winds are blowing. Even with a light wind, the effect of the fall of a tree, particularly a large-crowned tree or a very tall tree, can be most marked, and the effect of wind should be considered before starting to fell.

If possible, plan the felling path or 'bed' of the tree so that it is clear of obstructions. Intervening trees or branches may deflect the tree in its fall and rocks, stumps or logs on the ground may shatter the tree when it falls.

Before commencing to fell, clear a working area around the base of the tree. This should be large enough so that no nearby vegetation will interfere with the swing of any tools and so that there is sufficient room to lay out on the ground any tools and gear not being used. It should be clear enough so that there are no obstructions to the feet and so that the feller can obtain a good footing.

The next step is to prepare suitable escape paths for use in the event of a mishap. Two of these should be selected and cleared of obstructions for at least 25 feet back, and each at an angle of 45 degrees to the direction of fall of the tree.

Before commencing to fell, the feller should warn all other persons in the vicinity that he is about to commence. Before finally dropping the tree, he must repeat his warning and make sure that his warning has been heard and taken notice of by other persons in the vicinity.

The bottom cut of the scarf should be made horizontal and the upper cut sloping down toward it so that a wedge-shaped piece is removed. In felling with a chainsaw, the two cuts may be made parallel and the piece between knocked out by axe or hammer. For very small trees, a single chainsaw cut may be sufficient. The depth of the scarf into the tree should be one-third of the diameter of the tree. The height of the scarf should be 2½ inches for each foot of the diameter of the tree - the crown of the tree should move through an arc of 30 degrees before the scarf closes. The scarf should point directly in the direction in which the tree is intended to fall. In a tree with a considerable lean, the scarf should be cut deeper into the tree to prevent it splitting up the trunk when it commences to fall.

The backcut should be as level as possible and two to three inches above the bottom of the scarf. This provides a step between the backcut and scarf which helps to prevent the tree sliding backwards off the stump. The holding wood on each side of the tree should not be cut through or the tree may spin off the stump when it falls. A wedge-shaped holding wood, thicker on one side than the other, will pull the tree slightly to the side on which the wood is thicker to counteract lean. In heavily leaning trees, it may be necessary to cut the sides of the tree first (behind the holding wood) before cutting through at the back of the tree, to prevent the tree splitting up its length. Wedges should be used to prevent the tree riding back and binding on the saw - these also help to control the direction of fall to some extent.

As soon as the tree begins to fall and the cut begins to open, remove the saw from the cut and place on the ground. Immediately move to a safe position 20 to 30 feet from the tree and watch the tree as it falls, looking out for falling branches, broken and flying limbs, whip-back from nearly trees etc. Your retreat from the tree should be by walking, never by running. Wait until the debris has settled, then inspect the crowns of surrounding trees for any debris that may have lodged temporarily before entering the felling area. Once felling of a tree has been started, it must be finished. Never leave a tree 'half-felled' - always complete the felling before leaving it.

Particular care needs to be taken when a tree hangs up in another. Such a tree is best brought down by pulling it with a tractor or winch, but can be brought down by felling another tree into it. In this case, remember that the second tree may swing sideways or kick back when it hits the first. The second tree should also be chosen so that it is big enough or falling fast enough when it hits the hung-up tree, to bring it down, or it may become hung-up too. In the case of very small trees, the butt may be levered off or away from the stump.

When trimming the branches, work from the butt of the tree towards the head. Always stand on the uphill side when trimming a large area and when trimming small trees stand on the side opposite that of the limb to be trimmed. Always stand in such a position that any deflection of the axe will not cause it to hit you. Do not cut off any branches which are or may be propping up the tree until it is sufficiently well chocked to stop it dropping or rolling. Remember that a branch of a felled tree may spring with considerable force when cut off and could cause serious injury.

When crosscutting, stand on the uphill side of the tree and clear an area large enough to work in without hindrance. Make sure you have a firm footing free of obstructions to the feet. Before commencing the cut, chock the tree if necessary, so that it will not drop dangerously or roll when cut through. Bridging cuts should be made from underneath the log to avoid pinching the saw in the cut. Beware of the log rolling or kicking as it drops when such a cut is finished. Wherever possible, fellers should not work alone but should always be within calling distance of another person.

Reprinted by permission of the Forests Commission, Victoria

DATE: November 1984

* * * * * * * * * * * * *