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Faller crushed by falling tree as he walked behind cut-up trees

Date of incident: September 2014
Notice of incident number: 2014158930103
Employer: Manual tree falling and bucking company

Incident summary

A recently certified manual tree faller was attempting to fall four limb-tied trees. The worker placed undercuts and backcuts in the trees and exited the area, likely to go to another tree to use it as a pusher tree. He had placed no wedges in any of the backcuts of the four limb-tied trees. While he was moving behind and below the cut-up trees, the trees came over backward toward the backcuts, and one of the trees landed on top of him. The worker sustained fatal injuries.

Investigation conclusions


  • Worker crushed by trees felled using unsafe falling practices: The worker was fatally injured when four trees he was attempting to fall together became unstable. The worker went behind and below the backcuts sawn into the cut-up trees, likely to go to a fifth tree, which could be used to push over the other four trees. The four cut-up trees went over backward and fell on top of him. None of the trees involved were felled with safe and compliant falling practices. Sufficient holding wood was not maintained, and none of the cut-up trees had wedges set into them.

Underlying factors

  • Skills deficient and inconsistent: The worker demonstrated inconsistencies in his falling practices. At times, the trees he felled met requirements, and at other times did not. In the week before the incident, half of the trees were not felled acceptably. The worker was not adequately competent to fall trees in the area he was working in, which was known to be an area requiring considerable falling skill and experience. Audits determined the worker’s falling practices did not regularly meet the requirements of the Occupational Health and Safety Regulation or the BC Faller Training Standard.
  • Experience limited: The worker had limited falling experience. He gained some experience in the BC Forest Safety Council’s New Faller Training program and worked as a trainee faller for two employers. Although the usual minimum period as a trainee is 180 days, the worker worked for less than half that time. For most of the time as a trainee faller, he felled only uncomplicated, small-diameter trees. Despite this limited experience, the worker was subsequently certified as a faller. In the three months he worked as a certified faller, the worker had limited time to develop experience and to gain the judgment and proficiency needed for falling on his own.
  • Inadequate supervision for skill level and environment: The worker was falling trees in an area known to present difficult falling conditions, including stunted and limb-tied trees. The worker was not adequately supervised in this more complicated falling environment, considering his recognized deficient falling skills. Although he had knowledge of falling and had trained in the New Faller Training program, and to some degree had trained and learned while with prior employers, he had not yet attained the ability or means to control hazards and identify the defects of his own falling work and correct these on his own. The worker’s unsafe falling practices persisted due to insufficient correction and supervision.
  • Recommendation for faller certification improperly granted: While working for a previous employer, the worker persistently asked his falling supervisor for the written recommendation the worker needed to take the faller certification examination without working for the full 180 days as a trainee faller. The falling supervisor provided the recommendation using a progress report that provided incorrect information that did not reflect his actual opinion or his observation of the worker’s competencies and experience.
  • Lack of acceptance criteria for faller testing application: The worker persistently pressured the BC Forest Safety Council to permit the certification processes to occur. The BC Forest Safety Council accepted the worker’s application for certification examination even though the manager of Falling Programs had concerns regarding the worker’s readiness for certification. Although the manager felt the worker was not yet ready from a competency perspective to take the faller certification examination, he felt he had no other choice and conceded because the worker had satisfied the minimum regulatory requirements.
  • Certification field evaluation over-scored: Based on an audit of the 23-page certification document and an inspection of the property where the certification took place, WorkSafeBC officers determined that the worker was incorrectly certified. The field evaluator awarded the worker higher scores than were warranted for the worker’s falling in the certification field examination and evaluation.
  • Field evaluation site not appropriate: The field evaluation site used for the certification testing was flat, and the trees felled were of small diameter. Because the worker cut only small-diameter deciduous trees scattered through the lot, he did not adequately demonstrate the use of wedges or how to open a falling face, both of which are essential skills critical for safe falling.
  • Worker was allowed to graduate from training course: Due to insufficient clarity and inadequate communication about the student ejection criteria from the New Faller Training course, the worker was not ejected from the training program. One trainer had very serious concerns about the worker’s safety and insufficient skill levels. This trainer did not believe he could have the worker removed from the course unless the worker demonstrated a blatant disregard for safety or the trainers’ authority. The worker continued to demonstrate substandard skills and abilities throughout the 30-day course. Although one trainer became progressively concerned about the worker and documented this, the worker was nevertheless permitted to remain in the course. Insufficient communication and an absence of written policies about the course ejection criteria enabled the worker to remain in the course, graduate, and proceed to become a trainee faller in industry.

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Publication Date: Jun 2017 Asset type: Incident Investigation Report Summary NI number: 2014158930103