Safety and OSHA News

Chipper fatality: Employer can’t show it provided safety training, faces $23K fine

Injuries from a wood chipper claimed the life of a 24-year-old employee who was the father of two children. Following an investigation, the employer now faces safety violations and fines. 

On Aug. 24, 2017, Jeremy Booth was part of a two-person team working for Gorilla Tree Service in Napa, CA, removing tree limbs.

According to an account by the Napa Valley Register, the other employee was trimming branches from an aerial bucket about 35 feet above the ground and lowering the limbs to Booth using a rope. Booth would take the limbs from the rope and feed them into the chipper.

The other employee noticed the rope was entering the chipper drum infeed and yelled to Booth to watch out for the rope. Booth looked up at his co-worker and tried to get out of the way, but the rope wrapped around his neck, pulled him toward the chipper drum and feed wheel.

Although a safety control bar was activated, the chipper disc continued operating, rotating at 1,140 revolutions per minute.

Booth suffered multiple injuries including a deep cut to the neck, a neck fracture and a spinal cord injury. His larynx was crushed and his lungs collapsed.

Cal/OSHA says Gorilla Tree was unable to certify it had properly trained Booth, who had been with the company for about six months.

Gorilla Tree received seven violations (one serious accident related, one serious and five general) for failure to:

  • prevent entanglement hazards and unwanted material from entering the point of operation on the chipper ($16,200)
  • provide documented training records for workers to certify that they had completed the required tree work and CPR training
  • brief workers before starting the job, including a description of hazards, work procedures and appropriate protective equipment, and
  • ensure the chipper was equipped, maintained and operated in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations ($4,500 – Cal/OSHA found the chipper’s belt and pulley drives weren’t guarded as required).

The employer was also fined $500 for each of the five general violations.

Tree workers are 56 times more likely to suffer a fatal occupational injury than other workers, according to Cal/OSHA. The major causes of tree worker injuries and deaths include falls, electrical shock, being struck by a tree branch and chainsaw lacerations.

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