An upstate New York tree service company faces fines of nearly $142,000 for violations that safety regulators say contributed to the horrific death of a young man who was killed during his first day on the job.
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Countryside Tree Service’s failure to provide proper safety training for workers, plus its dependence on wood chipping machines equaled a lethal combination.
On May 4, 2016, Justus Booze, 23, was working his first day on the job when a wood chipper pulled him into the machine at a job site in Guilderland, N.Y. An OSHA investigation of Booze’s employer, Tony Watson, who does business as Countryside, found the company exposed workers to the danger of being caught in the wood chipper’s moving blades by failing to train them in the safe operation of the machines.
“A young man’s life ended tragically and needlessly,” said Robert Garvey, OSHA’s Albany area director. “Countryside Tree Service bears responsibility to ensure that all phases of tree trimming, tree felling and tree removal work are performed safely. Putting employees to work with potentially dangerous machines with no safety training is unacceptable.”
Mr. Garvey added that it’s critical that tree service companies properly train their workers, especially climbers, trimmers, and ground crew. “These workers must also be instructed in safe work practices and use of equipment including chain saws, cutters, and especially hand-fed wood chippers that cut and grind branches and logs into pulp,” Mr. Garvey said.
Wood chippers are one of the most dangerous machines used in the tree service industry, and the number of injuries associated with these machines has grown dramatically in recent years.
According to OSHA, there has been a six-fold increase nationally in the number of amputations associated with wood chippers since 2011– from a rate of 0.5 per 10,000 workers to 3.3 per 10,000 workers.
Since 2015, OSHA has received 19 severe injury reports related to wood chippers, including reports of amputations and head trauma. Of those, five occurred because the chipper pulled fingers or arms directly into the blades, and four occurred when a machine’s belt or pulley caught a body part and pulled it in.
The last available report on wood chipper safety shows that 39 workers died in wood chipper incidents from 1996 through 2005. Thirty of those workers became caught in the chipper, and most of the remainder resulted from “struck-by” accidents involving the machines.