This short presentation describes a preventable workplace incident where a worker in Washington state was killed on the job and is narrated by the L & I safety inspector who conducted the investigation. To view the narration script, click on the button on the lower right corner of the screen. To move between slides, or view a particular slide again, click on the same lower right hand corner button and then click on the back and forward arrows at the bottom of the screen.
Hello, my name is Rick White and I am a safety and health specialist with the Department of Labor & Industries, Division of Occupational Safety and Health. In February 2011, I was assigned to investigate the death of worker who was working alone when he was caught in the blades of a large brush cutting machine.
The employee, an experienced equipment operator, was working in a remote forested area trimming trees on the side of a logging access road. He was operating an excavator with an attached mulching disc cutter head similar to the one in this video. This rotating cutter head is designed to reduce a small standing tree to mulch in just minutes.
When the worker did not return to the office at the end of the day, his supervisor went out to the worksite to investigate. He found the worker lying on the ground with the cutter head on top of him. The engine of the excavator was still idling. When the cutter head was raised up, the deceased worker was observed with a part of an alder branch in his left hand. The other end of the alder branch was lodged in the cutter head. It is surmised that the worker had stopped the vehicle to inspect the cutter head while it was rotating, grabbed the jammed alder branch and was pulled into the rotating disc, suffering a fatal head injury. The 2000 pound brush cutting head eventually moved downward, pinning the worker to the ground as indicated by the blue arrow.
The machine cab was found with operating controls in activated positions shown in this photo. The red arrow shows the foot treadle jammed under the foot rest, the blue arrow shows the hydraulic lever activated, and the black arrow and second photo shows that the activation switch for the foot treadle and cutter head was in the on position.
The hydraulics that controlled the brush cutting head could have been easily de-activated by shutting the machine down and waiting for the disc to stop rotating. But there were no specific written lockout procedures for this equipment nor was there evidence that operator had ever been trained in lockout procedures. With a powerful open-faced brush cutter head like this one, mandatory lockout training of operators is essential.
This worker was assigned to work alone, but his employer had no procedures in place to check on him periodically which is required in logging related activities such as this. He was not discovered until nearly 8 PM, two and a half hours after his shift ended. Although periodic checks may not have prevented his death, these checks can be critical to ensure adequate response in case of an emergency or injury. After this incident, the employer implemented a check-in policy requiring solo workers to call another employee every two hours. Letís keep Washington Safe and Working by always providing lockout training where needed and setting up check-in procedures for lone workers.