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Journal of Occupational & Environmental Medicine:
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Nonfatal Logging-Related Injuries in West Virginia

Helmkamp, James C. PhD; Derk, Susan J. MA

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From the Center for Rural Emergency Medicine, West Virginia University, Morgantown, W.V.

Address correspondence to: James C. Helmkamp, PhD, Research Director, Center for Rural Emergency Medicine, West Virginia University, PO Box 9151, Morgantown, WV 26506-9151.

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A survey was conducted via mail among West Virginia certified loggers to determine the number of nonfatal, logging-related injuries received during the past 12 months that required medical attention or restricted job ability. Loggers were asked to describe injuries, safety training, and protective equipment use. Thirty percent (546/1816) responded to the survey, and 9% (42/481) of those directly involved in logging operations reported injuries. Leading cause of injury was being struck by a falling tree or limb (29%); leading body parts injured were the leg/knee/hip (31%); and the most common type of injury was bruising (43%). Seventy-six percent of the injured sought medical treatment. A majority reported using some type of protective equipment including hard hats, safety shoes, and goggles. Loggers reported that training in the proper use of equipment and machinery, use of a safety plan, acting on worker suggestions, and landing talks might improve safety.

Logging operations, from felling the tree to transportation to the mill, are performed by a variety of workers with different skills who are subjected to an array of hazards associated with the environment, work tasks, and equipment used. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated between 75,000 and 82,000 persons were employed in logging activities in 1996 and nearly 60,000 in 1997.1-3 While logging continues to play a vital role in national and state economies, workers are exposed to serious hazards and are at a high risk for fatal and nonfatal injuries.4-15

The Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries of the BLS and the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health's (NIOSH) National Traumatic Occupational Fatalities (NTOF) surveillance system provide a thorough and generally accurate national ascertainment of work-related deaths. Fatality rates in the logging industry are significantly higher than rates observed for other industries (Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, 1997, 140.7 per 100,000; and NTOF, 1990-1994, 93.8) (Marsh S. State logging fatality rates, 1990-1994. NTOF surveillance system. NIOSH, Division of Safety Research [personal communication, December 1998]).4,14 About two-thirds of logging-related deaths are caused when workers were struck by falling trees, limbs, or snags or were caught under or between moving logs.4,6,16

NTOF data indicate that 30 fatal logging-related incidents occurred in West Virginia (WV) from 1990 through 1994 at a rate of 248.2 per 100,000 (Marsh S, personal communication, December 1998). This rate was third after Alaska (323.6) and Kentucky (253.3), and 2.5 times higher than the national rate (93.8). In 1997 and 1998, the NIOSH-sponsored WV Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) program identified 11 deaths due to logging, 9 of which were caused by trees or limbs striking the victim (WV FACE program, 1997 [unpublished data, Center for Rural Emergency Medicine, West Virginia University, June 1998]).

Ascertainment and description of nonfatal injuries relating to logging operations is more problematic and less complete than for fatalities. In 1982, BLS conducted a special regional survey of 1086 loggers from 12 states who were injured while performing logging activities at the logging site or while transporting logs.17 Survey participants were selected from state workers' compensation files. Results indicated that half of the workers were injured during cutting operations, with injuries resulting from being struck or crushed by trees or logs (25%), slipping, tripping, or falling (25%), and contact with chain saws (20%).17 Nearly three-fourths of the injured loggers missed one or more days of work, and one-fifth were hospitalized for an average of 6 days.17 In 1996, the most recent year for which annual BLS occupational injury survey data are available, there were an estimated 2136 cases among loggers involving time away from work.4 Of these, 15% resulted in 3 to 5 days away from work and about one-third had 31 or more lost workdays.

In 1995 to 1996, data from the WV Worker's Compensation Fund identified 154 compensable cases among loggers that resulted in at least 4 days of lost work time (Syed I, Haque A. West Virginia Workers' Compensation case data for loggers: 5-1996 [unpublished data, West Virginia University, School of Medicine, Institute of Occupational and Environmental Health, April 1999].) Average medical expenses were approximately $5000 per case. Logging has the highest base rate for workers' compensation premiums of any industry in the state-$52 per $100 of payroll-twice the rate for underground coal mining.18

During the 2-year period 1992 to 1993, the West Virginia University Center for Rural Emergency Medicine (CREM) conducted a study of logging-related injuries experienced by patients seen at Ruby Memorial Hospital's Emergency Department-based Level I trauma center.12 A review of the trauma registry data identified 36 patients injured while engaged in logging activities.12 One-third of the victims were not using protective equipment, such as hard hats, at the time of injury. Forty-four percent of the injuries were to the head and face, and 33% were fractures to the extremities. All patients were hospitalized, with an average length of stay of 10 days. Loggers' suggestions on how to prevent injuries included: slow down speed of logging production, require at least two men to fell a tree, and provide for onsite medical care. To determine the number of nonfatal, work-related logging injuries in WV and to better understand their causes and circumstances, CREM and the WV Division of Forestry (WVDOF) designed and conducted a survey among WV certified loggers.

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This pilot study was conducted by CREM in collaboration with WVDOF. For the purposes of this study, only WV certified loggers were selected, and the following definitions were used. According to the WVDOF, to become a certified logger an individual is required to successfully complete a 2-day training curriculum with Best Management Practices and chain saw safety and possess a current first aid card. A 1-day recertification is required every 3 years with Best Management Practices on safety updates and optional topics.19,20 A certified logger must be at a logging site each day that it is active but does not have to be continuously present. Also, a certified logger may not supervise more than one logging crew at a time.19,20 Loggers currently involved in logging were defined as having been directly involved in logging field work (eg, marking, surveying, felling, limbing, skidding, bunching, topping, loading, trucking) during the past 12 months. A work-related logging injury was defined as an injury that occurred during the past 12 months that was a direct result of work-related logging or timbering activities and either required medical attention or resulted in a restricted ability to do one's regular work.

Loggers were asked to answer questions regarding employment status, detailed history of the most recent injury experienced during the previous 12 months, use of safety equipment, how the injury incident may have been prevented, and medical treatment received. Finally, respondents were asked to comment on how they thought logging safety could be improved. Basic demographic information was collected as well.

A list of all WV certified loggers (1816) was obtained from the WVDOF. Established survey methodology was used in conducting this mailed survey.21 After the initial mailing, two additional mailings were sent out over a period of 4 weeks to those who had not responded to the survey. Each respondent received a cover letter describing the study, a survey, and a self-addressed stamped return envelope. Data was summarized using descriptive analysis. Similar to other injury-related surveys, this survey used a 12-month recall period for reporting injuries.22,23 The survey was approved through the University's Institutional Review Board. Participation was voluntary, and all information was kept confidential.

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Demographic Profile

Of the 1816 surveys mailed, 21 surveys were undeliverable, and one respondent indicated that they were out of business. Of the remaining 1794 potential respondents, 546 returned completed surveys and 4 were returned blank, resulting in an overall response rate of 30%. Not all respondents answered every question; therefore, response rates for individual questions varied.

Eighty-five percent (461/540) of the respondents were WV residents with the remainder from other states. Ninety-nine percent (508/512) were male. Ninety percent (484/540) indicated that they had been directly involved in logging and timbering field work during the previous 12 months. All subsequent analyses were based on these 484 respondents. Ten percent of loggers directly involved in logging operations were between 20 and 29 years of age, 31% were 30 to 39, 33% were 40 to 49, and 26% were 50 years of age or older (n = 475).

Sixty-four percent (308/482) of the respondents indicated that they were an owner-operator of the their own logging company. Of these, 80% (240/300) had five employees or fewer (including themselves). In addition, 39% (116/300) reported themselves as the only employee. Respondents reported, on average, working about 44 hours per week (n = 468), and the average number of years worked in logging was 17 (n = 471). Eighty-seven percent (418/480) indicated that logging was their main source of income.

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Injury History

Nine percent (42/481) reported sustaining an injury during the previous 12 months that was a direct result of work-related logging activities and either required medical attention or resulted in a restricted ability to do their regular job. Twenty percent (8/40) of these respondents reported sustaining injuries two or three times during this period. The age range of those reporting an injury was 20 to 69 years, and all were male. Loggers had been working on the job an average of 4.3 hours when their most recent injury occurred.

The leading causes of injury were being struck by a falling tree, tree top, limb, or snag (29% or 12/42) and being struck by/caught under/between falling or moving logs (21% or 9/42) (Figure 1). Of those reporting an injury, 31% (13/42) were injured in the leg/knee/hip (Figure 2). Respondents reported that bruises (43% or 18/42, cut/pierces/punctures (31% or 13/42), and fractures (29% or 12/42 were the three leading injury types.

Fig. 1
Fig. 1
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Fig. 2
Fig. 2
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Seventy-six percent (32/42) of those sustaining a logging-related injury sought medical treatment of some type. Of these, 50% (18/36) sought treatment in an emergency room, and 31% (11/36) were admitted to the hospital with an average stay of about 3.5 days. Seventeen percent (6/36) reported treating themselves. Forty-eight percent (20/42) of those reporting an injury had to take time off work, ranging from 2 hours up to 16 weeks. Twenty-one percent (6/28) of the loggers reporting an injury missed 3 to 5 days of work, whereas 39% (11/28) missed more than 30 days. The median time away from work was 9 days.

Injured loggers reported that carelessness (36% or 15/42), uneven ground where working (19% or 8/42), and working too fast (17% or 7/42) were contributing factors to their injury. Ninety percent of the injured loggers reported using some type of personal protective equipment (PPE) at the time of their injury including hard hats (88% or 37/42), safety boots (67% or 28/42), and hearing protection (50% or 21/42). Only 46% (6/13) of the respondents who reported an injury to the leg/knee/hip were wearing chaps. Respondents reported that proper use of safety equipment (22% or 8/36) and being alert/paying more attention (17% or 6/36) may have prevented their injury. Fourteen percent (5/36) stated that nothing could have prevented their injury.

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Safety Issues

Loggers who were working in logging operations within the past 12 months reported that they always used safety boots (82%), a hard hat (77%), gloves (55%), hearing protection (54%), and eye protection (53%) (Table 1). Several respondents indicated that they rarely or never used face protection (34%), chaps (27%), hearing protection (21%), or eye protection (19%). The two leading reasons loggers reported for not using PPE were that it interfered with their job/they felt safer without it (39% or 84/218, and it was uncomfortable, too hot, or too heavy (24% or 52/218).

Table 1
Table 1
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Loggers reported that training in the proper use of equipment and machinery, use of a safety plan, utilizing worker suggestions, and holding landing/toolbox talks may improve safety in the logging industry (Table 2). Forty-three percent of the loggers indicated that they had participated in the "Game of Logging" classes, which provide hands-on training in safety, productivity, conservation, and cutting techniques.

Table 2
Table 2
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Because of limited information available on nonfatal, logging-related injuries, we felt it was imperative to conduct this study to obtain a better understanding of the circumstances and causes of nonfatal, logging-related injuries in WV. Although this was a pilot study among WV certified loggers, and respondents represented a small subset of the entire logging work force in the state, noteworthy results were obtained. Data presented in this paper regarding logging-related injuries are similar to results from previous local,12 state (Syed I, Haque A, unpublished data, April 1999), and national studies,17 and some will be high-lighted below.

The few number of injuries reported among the certified loggers may be a reflection, at least in part, that certified loggers might not be involved in the most hazardous job tasks on a logging site. Local logging safety experts indicate that certified loggers typically are loader/landing equipment operators, with only a few working as fellers or skidder operators. Thus, their injury experience may be lower than the injury experience of workers in other logging job classifications-particularly among those who are not certified and who were not included in this survey.

The 1982 BLS survey and 1992-1996 BLS data indicated that the median number of days away from work was 11,4,17 compared with 9 days in our study. Of those in our survey reporting an injury, approximately three-quarters sought medical treatment, and half of these were treated in an emergency department. Slightly less than one-third of the 42 injured were admitted to the hospital, with an average stay of 3.5 days. Similarly, the 1982 BLS survey identified 20% of the loggers being admitted to a hospital, with an average stay of 6 days.17 Although the number of injuries reported in our survey seems to be low, the severity of those injured is quite high based on the percentage admitted to the hospital and their length of stay.

Use and nonuse of various types of PPE and the reasons for this was an important finding in our study. Over three-fourths of the loggers reported that they always wore safety boots and hard hats, whereas about half reported always wearing gloves, hearing and eye protection, and chaps. The 1982 study conducted by the BLS found that most loggers were wearing some type of PPE at the time of their injury; almost all were wearing hard hats and gloves, with less than half wearing safety boots, chaps, or kneepads.17 Many of the WV certified loggers reported that when they did not use particular types of PPE, it was because the equipment was uncomfortable, too hot, or they felt safer without it. For example, several loggers stated that if they had been wearing hearing protection, they would not have heard the limb crack or a coworker yelling at them to move out of the way. However, those loggers in our survey who reported an injury stated that their injuries might have been prevented if they had been paying more attention to what was going on at the time, if they would have had the proper equipment or PPE, or if they had followed proper procedures. The debate then becomes, was an injury nonfatal or less severe because PPE was being used or because of its absence? Also, if used, was it in proper working order with all safety features installed?

Some of the most important findings of our survey were the ways in which the loggers themselves thought the logging industry might be made safer. Many respondents indicated that more worker input through suggestions, safety meetings, and toolbox talks would enhance logging safety. Use of safety plans, so that others know where one is, and improved communications systems were thought to be important, particularly when working alone and in isolated areas. Others felt that job site surveys and hazard identification and control were important. These suggestions complement those from the 1992-1993 CREM study, in which injured loggers highlighted the need to slow down the pace of work, to require more workers for specific logging tasks, and to have better on-site medical care available. More must be done to explore the specific attitudes and opinions that WV certified loggers have regarding safety in logging.

Future research should detail the personal protective equipment worn or not worn, types of machinery and equipment used, and methods used for site inspection before cutting, and how these factors may relate to hazard avoidance and control. Research and collaboration between CREM and the WV FACE program, the WVU Appalachian Hardwood Center, and the state Division of Forestry could prove beneficial in improving knowledge regarding risks and in developing injury prevention strategies designed to promote safe logging practices in West Virginia.

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The findings of our pilot study are subject to certain limitations. First, because of the nature of a mailed survey, the characteristics of nonrespondents is unattainable; therefore, these findings cannot be generalized to all WV certified loggers. Second, the small sample size reduces the reliability of these findings. Finally, this was a self-reported survey, and respondents tended to provide socially desirable responses. The number of injuries may be underestimated, or they may have been limited by the definition used for work-related logging injury.

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Survey and research was supported by a U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention grant R49/CCR308469-06 for the West Virginia University Injury Control Training and Demonstration Center, and a NIOSH cooperative grant for the FACE program. Special thanks to Elizabeth Rodd of CREM for her timely and highly efficient data entry and quality control, and to the secretarial staff for their assistance in copying, collating, and mailing the survey. Finally, appreciation to Doloris Higgins of the NIOSH Division of Safety Research for her assistance with the initial survey development and for comments, suggestions, and review of the draft manuscript.

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© 1999 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.


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