By Tim Ard


Often I am asked after a presentation, "How did you know that tree would go there?" I usually answer, I wasn’t. Well, wasn’t is southern terminology for not being sure. Wasn’t is a past tense experience. I guess in the south and probably true elsewhere, experience has been a good teacher. In my mind, I may have had a doubt the tree would perform, as I would like to see it, landing in its perfect placement. Lucky that time-- it worked out.

Why did I go ahead with the task? Because the information and plan outweighed my common sense… no, no. Usually I continued because the outcome wouldn’t have been too terrible either way. Not all plans work right? The trick is to limit the liability. What happens if the results of the plan go wrong? Say, if the consequences were much more costly to bear? The tree going wrong could do damage to an adjacent structure or personal harm. What do you do?

My answer would have to be one of two:

1. The person doesn’t possess the skill, aptitude, tools or training to handle the task. This is not an issue of experience.

2. The person didn’t plan.


Why just these two? It simply doesn’t take a lot to figure it. You can say it was a mistake, an accident, or write it off to fate but the facts are facts. There is a reason the property was damaged or the person was injured or killed.

In the scenario I spoke of, I didn’t know for a fact that an accident wouldn’t take place. I wasn’t sure. Nevertheless, I had clear in my mind already that if something went wrong -- the damage, extra work to correct it, would be feasible. I was as certain as I could be, in that particular situation, with thought given to the information comprised and the plan chosen that I, and any one else around, would walk away unharmed. If the tree went toward its lean and not in the desired direction, that everyone and everything was clear as to what could happen. That’s the reason for a plan--taking the time to simply observe all options!

How can a tree or anything else, harm property or person if everyone in the area is aware and taking information, planning? A house would not be harmed by a falling tree if the distance from it is great enough. Someone placed the house or tree too close. In our case, someone didn’t take sound information, or formulate a plan, have the proper tools, or wasn’t trained properly to handle the task. Simply number one or number two! If it’s not the case, it is an act of God. Someone’s still responsible.

This year I have had two maintenance workers with county parks crews, tell me they had been hit by falling trees more than once. Naturally, they placed most of the blame on the saw-wielding co-worker for the accident. However, this rather substantiates a theory that safety isn’t necessarily a one-person program. It is an awareness of all situations that may occur. Just for my clarification—if the gentlemen hit by the trees knew the tree was tall enough to hit them, why didn’t they move? If you and someone else are in a work area, especially if they don’t know what you are doing and are not watching you work, they may become surprised by a falling tree or whatever. It sometimes takes two for accidents to take place. If both parties are planning, standing in the proper places, the results should be a bit more positive. Thus, the long-standing rule of not working within two tree-lengths of falling trees is a good one.

What about certain techniques, can they be at fault? With techniques, like understanding and using a hinge and what a hinge can do for your safety, there are still important parts of planning to make sure you and or others around understand the risks and are prepared.

Example technique:

The Hinge is planned, placed, installed and attempts to keep the tree (or limb) directed during its fall. A sawyer relies on the hinge to direct the tree to a specific place during the fall.

Exceptions or limitations:

All of these seven and probably more, are considerations to selecting a technique or job task for felling/falling a tree. These are things the saw operator and anyone else on the crew must be aware. If not, is it a safe area to be? Many times techniques are applied without enough planning knowledge. All important information is set aside for what is believed to be improvements in production.

Two techniques/terms used by tree care and logging professionals in the western and eastern United States. In the West, it’s called "Dutchman" or "Dutchcut". In the East its usually termed "stumpjumping". I’ve been told many times by professionals that experienced fallers don’t need all this hinge and wedge stuff, "I can put the tree right where I want it to go without all that". It’s true, many times they can. Other times, something or someone is in the way if the tree doesn’t go right.

The Dutchman or stumpjumping, both require either a modified notch or removal of hinge on one side, to allow the weight of the tree to start a momentum and rotate the weight of the tree in a desired forward direction. Often this can be performed successfully on trees with substantial side or back lean. These techniques however, require very accurate information and near perfect wind and tree fiber conditions to be successful. It is also very important that the tree doesn’t contact another limb or tree during this rotating action, or the tree will bust or go astray. Broken trunks, tops or limbs are often thrown toward the sawyer. Either way, more variables are more chances for failure. That’s why OSHA dictates that the Dutchman, or these similar swing or launching techniques, are illegal and should not be used by professionals and novices alike in the workplace. That’s Federal Law! In all cases, it places the sawyer close to the tree, not in an escape route, during the tree’s initial movement. Many injuries and deaths are attributed to these techniques.

So, whether a hinge is weak or is taken partially off by a sawyer, control is minimized in some fashion.


Confidence—should be a true sign of a professional in any trade. Especially chain saw work. However, that confidence is not assumed by anyone. It must come through training, experience, communication and a safety awareness that never sets aside the time for taking information and planning.

Crews are observed many places with this scenario in action – One person working with another one or two standing watching, or maybe even performing another job site task. Do they know or do they understand the plan and the risks? On the other hand, are they concentrating on their own task or conversations? All work should stop on the site if not! I hear often, "we would be here all day if we wait on him to finish". "We get paid by production, we have to work close sometimes."

In closing, productivity is a by-product of two things -- safety and precision. Production comes when safety is numero uno and precision is an every action event.

Let’s strive to see every job site where equipment and machinery is used, especially around trees, a productive one!

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2001 Forest Applications Training, Inc.

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