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March 28, 2011
Worker's Death Highlights Brush Chipper Hazards; What Workers Need to Know to Safely Use Chippers

It was a piece of safety equipment that actually created the hazard that killed 33-year-old Antonio Barajas in Concord last November while trimming a tree. The climbing rope Barajas wore became entangled in branches being fed into a brush chipper. The new father was slammed against the chipper's gate, suffering fatal head injuries. Could an accident like this happen in your workplace? Read on to find out how to keep workers safe when they use brush chippers.

Background on Brush Chipper Hazards

Who needs to be trained? Workers who operate brush chippers or work near them must be trained in the hazards they face as part of your Injury and Illness Prevention Program, under General Industry Safety Orders Section 3203.

Why train workers in brush chipper hazards? Brush chippers can cause many types of injuries, including injuries from objects that are thrown or kicked back by the machine and potentially fatal injuries that can result when workers are pulled into the chipper's mechanism. Workers need to know how to avoid these hazards and how to activate safety devices, which vary with the make and model of chipper being used.

Practice Tip

To prevent unexpected movement on chippers that are operated free-standing, rather than attached to a truck, chock the wheels.

Basics of Brush Chipper Safety

Instructions to Trainer: One of the most important things workers need to know is which safety devices a chipper is equipped with and how they are activated. This will depend on the make and model of the chipper. Make sure workers know about the safety devices on their specific equipment.

Brush chippers cause multiple injuries, including amputations and fatalities, in California every year. Keep yourself safe while working with this equipment by observing the following safe work practices:

Dress safely. You can be pulled into a chipper if branches catch on loose clothing or equipment. Protect yourself by:

  • wearing fitted clothes without strings (no hoodies with strings, for example)

  • wearing properly fitted safety gear (gloves, for example)

  • tying back long hair

  • avoiding jewelry

In addition, be sure to wear your safety gear, including safety glasses, hearing protection, and a hard hat.

Place equipment with care. Where and how you place the chipper will affect your safety and the safety of co-workers. Chippers should be:

  • On a level surface. An unbalanced chipper may move unexpectedly during operation.

  • Away from workers overhead. Do not locate a chipper immediately beneath a worker in a tree or on a ladder. That worker's safety line might become entangled with brush being fed into the chipper, causing a fall or other hazard.

  • On soft ground. A chipper that throws material onto concrete, gravel, or pavement can create a ricochet hazard.

Inspect the chipper. Before operating the chipper, make sure that:

  • All safety decals and markings are legible.

  • All guards and safety shields around the feed mechanism are in place and secured.

  • All guards and safety shields around the power take-off (PTO) shaft are in place and secured (if applicable).

  • The hood is closed and securely latched.

  • No foreign objects are in the cutting chamber.

  • The chipper has no fluid leaks.

  • With the chipper set at the lowest possible speed, you hear no noises that could indicate loose or broken parts.

Operate the chipper safely. To feed materials into the chipper without feeding yourself or a co-worker into it, be sure to:

  • Feed material only when the chipper is operating at full speed.

  • Never operate a chipper alone; always work with a buddy.

  • Feed branches from beside the feed chute or feed table, not from directly in front of it.

  • Keep hands and feet outside the feed chute or feed table.

  • Use a push stick (not hands, feet, shovels, pitchforks, or other tools) to feed small pieces of brush into the chipper.

  • Release material as soon as the chipper feed mechanism "grabs" it and walk away from the chipper to avoid being caught as the material is fed through.

  • Feed branches butt-end first to reduce the chances of kickback and machine jamming.

  • Lay shorter pieces of material on top of longer pieces to feed them through the machine.

  • Never leave the chipper unattended.

  • Never perform adjustments, maintenance, repair, or refueling while the chipper is operating.

  • Remove brush and debris from the front and sides of the chipper to prevent tripping hazards.

Know your safety stops. Each brush chipper has a different safety stop mechanism. Know where the safety stop mechanism(s) on the chipper we use is located and how to activate it!

Conclusion

Sometimes workers don't recognize that chippers are a deadly hazard. Make sure they understand how to operate the specific brush chipper that they use, the proper safety equipment to wear, and the requirements of the manufacturer's operating instructions.

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