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Inmate struck by a falling elm snag.

Michigan State University
Morgantown, WV: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, FACE 10MI034, 2012 Nov; :1-13
In the spring of 2010, a male inmate in his 40s died when an elm snag (dead standing tree) fell without warning in his direction and struck his head. The decedent was a member of a 4-person inmate work crew contracted by the County Drain Commission through local law enforcement. The work crew was clearing a county drain of trees. The decedent and his coworker (Inmate 1) had just felled a 24-inch diameter cotton wood tree. Inmate 1 operated the chain saw and the decedent inserted the wedge to keep the tree from sitting back on the chain. The cottonwood tree fell in its desired direction (northeast), and also knocked several trees over as it fell to the ground. The inmates and the Drain Commission crew leader indicated the ground shook when the cottonwood landed. Approximately 10-20 seconds later, the elm snag broke approximately 12 inches above the ground fell to the northwest. The snag broke into two pieces, with the 4-inch diameter uppermost piece striking the decedent on the right side of his head. The decedent was not wearing a hard hat. An emergency response call was initiated by one of the inmates, and another inmate began resuscitative efforts. Emergency response arrived and assumed care of the decedent. He was transported to a local hospital where he was declared dead. Factors contributing to this incident include: 1) Inadequate site assessment for hazard trees; 2) Lack of personal protective equipment use; and 3) Inadequate training regarding tree felling. RECOMMENDATIONS/DISCUSSION: 1) Crew supervisors and tree fellers should receive training to properly evaluate the trees and surrounding area so potential hazards can be identified and appropriate control measures implemented. Training should be a continuing process for skills development and for the understanding of safe methods and practices in the logging industry. 2) A "pre-job safety plan" should be in place for the cutting site and the plan should be reviewed prior to each day's cutting. 3) Correctional facilities with an inmate work crew program should develop, implement, and enforce a written health and safety program for the inmates, which includes, but is not limited to, training in hazard identification and mitigation, personal protective equipment and methods for dealing with inmate noncompliance of the health and safety program requirements, such as unannounced inspections. 4) Drain Commissions should develop, implement, and enforce a written health and safety program for its employees which includes, but is not limited to, training in hazard identification, avoidance, and abatement for the work performed by them as well as methods for dealing with employee noncompliance of the health and safety program requirements. Although not causative factors in this incident, MIFACE makes the following recommendations to minimize the possibility of a future work-related fatality: 1) All tree cutting operations should adhere to the principle that a distance of at least two tree lengths should separate adjacent occupied work areas. 2) The area surrounding an incident site that has standing trees which pose a hazard to rescue and/or investigative personnel should be felled if possible. If unable to be felled, an individual should be assigned as a spotter to alert rescue/investigative personnel to any change in the tree(s) stability. 3) Investigative agencies, such as Police, Sheriff and State Police should have hard hats and other personal protective equipment readily available for protection against hazards present at the incident scene.
Region-5; Accident-analysis; Accident-potential; Accident-prevention; Accidents; Injuries; Injury-prevention; Traumatic-injuries; Prison-workers; Law-enforcement; Forestry; Head-injuries; Outdoors; Training; Personal-protective-equipment; Head-protective-equipment; Headgear; Correctional-facilities; Safety-education; Safety-helmets; Safety-measures; Safety-programs; Author Keywords: Tree trimming; inmate; struck by; elm snag; Drain Commission; Public Administration
Publication Date
Document Type
Field Studies; Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation
Funding Type
Cooperative Agreement
Fiscal Year
NTIS Accession No.
NTIS Price
Identifying No.
FACE-10MI034; Cooperative-Agreement-Number-U60-OH-008466
SIC Code
Source Name
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
Performing Organization
Michigan State University
Page last reviewed: December 17, 2021
Content source: National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Education and Information Division