Each year, Australian workers are seriously injured or killed during tree felling and related activities.

Australian data indicates:

  • about 65% of fatalities occurred during tree felling
  • 20% during trimming/lopping and
  • 7% during cutting/clearing of felled material.

Professional arborists and loggers are most likely to be trained and competent in their tasks, but some allied occupations undertake tree felling as an 'occasional' task and may have limited skills and experience. These include:

  • landscapers
  • gardeners
  • farmers and
  • emergency service volunteers.

Safe systems of work

All PCBUs must ensure workers are not exposed to health and safety risks resulting from their work activities. This includes determining and implementing safe systems of work to eliminate or minimise risk.

Safe systems of work are based on a risk assessment process. Remember to include those performing the work when undertaking a risk assessment. Documenting the method in which the task will be performed will become your safe work procedures (SWPs).

SWPs are usually written to cover common or known risks. In addition to these, you must undertake an on-site assessment to identify and control site-specific risks on every new tree felling job. You should develop procedures for each job and ensure your workers are following them.

Risks

Manual felling

Common risk factors when manual felling with a chainsaw include:

  • leaning, stressed, rotten cores, unpredictable trees
  • difficult ground conditions and slope
  • undefined or not clearly identifiable escape routes
  • chainsaw recoil or kickback
  • objects or branches falling from the tree you are working on and other trees in the vicinity
  • nearby structures and powerlines
  • other trees in the intended fall direction
  • being struck by the butt of the tree such as the barber chair – a particular risk in Australian hardwoods
  • inclement weather conditions such as strong winds.

Using mobile plant

Common risk factors when felling is assisted by mobile plant include:

  • inadequate falling objects protective structure (FOPS) fitted to the machine
  • inadequate weight and reach capacity
  • incorrect calculation of stability and capacity
  • utility services such as overhead powerlines or underground gas pipes
  • movement/shaking of tree by machine when feller is near the tree
  • unidentified escape route for feller and machine operator.

Sectional felling

This is the process of felling a tree by working at height to gradually cut and lower the tree in sections to the ground. Only professional arborists should undertake sectional felling.

Additional hazards in this task include:

  • damage/exposure to underground services with falling sections
  • instability/tipping of assisting mobile plant
  • bouncing of dropped sections, requiring a larger exclusion zone, particularly on slopes
  • feller being struck by a newly cut section.

Safety solutions

It is highly recommended to use professional arborists for felling:

  • trees near powerlines, roads or buildings
  • large shelterbelt trees
  • trees with a heavy lean
  • trees on steep or unstable slope
  • trees requiring machine assisted and/or sectional felling.

General safety solutions include:

  • ensuring sufficient and qualified resources are on site (equipment, skilled arborists and workers)
  • ensuring qualified people are on site to enable appropriate decision making of work to be carried out
  • only using equipment designed and rated for the intended purpose (such as ropes, cables, correct sized chainsaw and wedges)
  • ensuring those undertaking the work are adequately trained and that safe work practices are being adhered to
  • never asking for the assistance of untrained people (client or member of public)
  • assessing and controlling all environmental factors
  • establishing appropriate exclusion zones where residential premises, persons or public access are in the vicinity
  • only undertaking jobs within the capability of you or your team.

Further information

Tree felling - Information sheet

Guide to managing risks of tree trimming and removal work, Safe Work Australia

Chainsaws

Personal protective equipment

Managing noise

Firewood saws

Page last updated: 27 February 2020