ALBANY, N.Y. — Federal investigators are probing the death of a 23-year-old man who became caught in the blades of a wood chipper May 5 while helping a tree-removal company on a job in suburban Guilderland, N.Y.
Justus Booze took the day job with Countryside Tree Care expecting to be paid $65, which he intended to put toward rent on an apartment he shared with his fiancée, Kristen Hickey, and her three children.
Tony Watson, Countryside’s owner, told the Times Union that he is present at every job “100 percent of the time” and usually operates the wood chipper. For the times he can’t, another worker who “knows everything about that chipper” operates the machine.
Mr. Watson called Mr. Booze’s accident “devastating and traumatic.”
Other company employees besides Mr. Watson and Mr. Booze were working at the site, but none of them witnessed the accident.
“I have no idea what happened and why it happened and what could have prevented it,” Ms. Hickey, 31, told the Times Union. “But I do know he had no business next to that machine.”
According to the Times Union, Countryside Tree Care’s website says it is “fully insured,” but it does not carry workers’ compensation insurance. Various sources in the industry told the Times Union that tree-care and removal companies that do not provide workers compensation insurance can offer low prices to customers who usually don’t know that corners have been cut.
One Albany tree-care professional who is also a tree-care industry association representative for the American National Standards Institute told the Times Union that not providing workers’ compensation insurance is unsafe for all involved, because employees, companies, and homeowners can be held liable for accidents on their land.
It’s also a good idea for tree-care companies to be certified by the International Society for Arboriculture (ISA), a trade association that helps keep industry professionals up to date with latest techniques and resources. Mr. Watson’s company is not ISA-certified.
“It shows a basic level of interest in doing things safely and appropriately,” a New York State ISA Chapter official told the Times Union.
According to the Tree Care Industry Association, 92 people died last year in the tree-care industry. Three workers were killed by becoming caught in a wood chipper and two others were seriously injured by the machines.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is investigating Mr. Justus’ death and whether Countryside Tree Care was in compliance with federal safety rules at the time. The agency issues citations for safety violations and penalties if violations are found. The more serious the violation, the more expensive the penalty is.
OSHA recommends that employers with wood chippers supervise new employees to make sure they operate the machines properly and safely. The machines are usually designed so that workers feed branches and limbs into chutes, and feed rollers at the end of the chute pull the wood into the rotating blades.
Source: The (Albany) Times Union