A serious close call I had last week got me thinking a bit here. I almost didn’t share this since I’m embarrassed about what happened. In the end, I decided to send it because I want you to feel comfortable sharing this kind of thing, too. We all need to share close calls not so that we can assign blame or hand out punishment but so we can look at what happened and try to figure out how to prevent it from happening again. If I can’t share a close call myself, to help us all keep ourselves a bit safer, why should you?
Here it is: I had an alder tree barber chair on me. It could have killed me. Whew, there it is, it feels good to get that out. The site where it happened was an involved site, with 3 large 100ft tall, 18″ DBH alders uprooting across the road. I successfully took out the first two by boring the back cut. These were hard leaning alders and I just able to finish cutting to the back of the cut before escaping to safety.
The third tree was the worst. It was the hardest leaning, had large stress cracks up the middle and was tangled in a tree across the road. I was frigging stressed. There was no way to release the top and reduce the weight at the stump using an aerial lift. I used a bucket truck to boom up and check out the tangled top. I couldn’t cut anything up there, it just wasn’t worth risking the whole mess falling down onto the truck below. I didn’t want to cut that fugly thing from the ground, either. As soon as my saw touched the back of that tree it would have exploded and taken my face off. Time was ticking. 3 highways workers were blocking off the road and they were getting tired of waiting. “What’s taking this guy so long?” I could hear them saying in my head. Shit. What the hell was I going to do?
One of the roads guys suggested falling a tree onto the last uprooting tree to get it down. I decided that smashing the whole thing to the ground from a distance sounded pretty good. I wasn’t excited to try cutting that thing only to have it tear my face off. Blammo, problem solved, or so I thought.
The alder I chose to act as a “smasher” tree was a little up the bank and leaning right at the mess hanging over the road. The lean was pronounced but not nearly as bad as the previous two alders I had successfully taken out. I put an undercut into the smasher tree. My adrenaline was cranked. The tree wasn’t leaning as badly as the ones I had just cut down, so I decided to use conventional cuts. As soon as I came in the back with my saw, I knew I was screwed. I had made a critical error.
I could hear the tree starting to pop. I could feel it failing. I was yelling at the saw to cut faster but it couldn’t keep up with the splitting in front of my face. Point blank, I wasn’t cutting enough wood. I couldn’t stop. I had to stop. I had to make a quick decision – do I stay at the trunk and try to save the cut or bail and get as far away as possible?
“Fuck this,” I thought and ran for it, pulling my saw and running back up the bank using one of my escape routes. I glanced behind me as I was scrambling away and saw the smasher tree splitting 20ft up the trunk, right beside where I had just been standing. The back strap shot into the sky and fell with the heavy lean, down onto the badly uprooting tree, tearing everything down to the ground. Trees exploded. Debris flew. A 10ft high chair like you see in barber shops was left at the stump of the smasher tree. The target tree broke off 6ft up the stump. It was over. I was alive.
Everyone on site hooted, clapped and cheered at the carnage. They all thought I was a hero. I knew better. I could have died.
I’ve searched myself for the cause of why this happened.
“It was an extreme circumstance and it could have happened to anyone.” Sure, ok.
“My saw must have hit some dirt cleaning up the trunk of the smasher alder, slowing how fast I’d be able to cut the back cut.” Right.
It would be easy to stop there. I know that’s not what happened, not for real.
At the beginning of the job, we drove a lot of roads with the foreman to point out trees to take out. The job was only supposed to take one day, maybe a day and a half. During the assessment with the foreman, I knew that the work was more involved than I was told. There was easily a week of work, if not more. I should have said something but I kept to myself, even though I knew we weren’t going to be able to get this job done in the planned time frame.
Then there were the 3 roads guys who were pushing me to get this thing on the ground. I could feel them watching me work. It was taking too long. Except. Nobody told me to hurry up. There were no calls to “GET MOVING!” – those were all in my head. I didn’t want to disappoint anyone, my reputation, and the company’s reputation were on the line.
So I rushed. I could have used chains/straps or ropes above and below the cuts to prevent splitting. I could have had the backhoe on standby rip the thing down with a bull rope. I could have even walked away. But I didn’t. I made a critical error, one that could have put me in the morgue. That got me thinking about how I could have prevented this. It also got me thinking about how I’ve screwed up in other parts of my job and even outside work at home. Could all this be related? If I could find a connection is there something that could help me survive on this planet longer? Is there something out there that could help others, at work and at home? Here’s what I found:
I’m not alone. Human errors can all be traced back to four states which lead to errors that maim and kill people. Those states are frustration, fatigue, rushing, and complacency. The pattern is the same whether at work or at home. Neglecting these states, you could end up in serious pain.
I decided to memorize these states to help me recognize them in myself and others, to try and prevent the choices that lead to accidents. The only problem is that I have a super shitty memory and can’t remember what day it is most of the time.
So I want to share a trick I’ve found helps me remember these states 24/7. This works even with my crap memory. My solution is to think and repeat to myself, “
I found a great webinar put on by Don Wilson, the SafeStart VP. I watched it all and recommend checking it out, the webinar is just under an hour long.
Anyway, I’ve taken enough of your time. Thank you for reading this and repeat to yourself, “ffrc will fuck you up.” Remember, the key is awareness, so
BE AWARE AND STAY SAFE OUT THERE.