When it comes to wearing seat belts in our personal vehicle, not too many of us give it much thought. It has just become a habit, or second nature. We climb in a buckle up. But for whatever reason when we get to work, we don’t have the same muscle memory when it comes to seat belts in equipment.
Traveling the state with Jason and Tim the last few months has really opened my eyes on a couple things. Operators wearing seat belts being one of them. I am rather surprised at the number of operators that run a skidder or a buncher that don’t regularly wear a seat belt. When visiting with the operators, most of them have a similar response. “I usually put it on when I work on steep ground.” or “If this machine is going over, I’m just going to jump.” Heck I have personally heard a close relative of mine tell me the same thing when hauling logs. But just remember when you’re watching the driver jump in the movies, the stunt man has probably practiced that jump dozens of times. You haven’t.
It wasn’t too long ago a young logger working just a few miles from my house rolled his skidder down a steep hillside. He was thrown from his skidder and died at the scene. The investigation concluded that he was not wearing a seatbelt. Maybe it’s the close proximity, but that story has always stuck with me.
Last summer while working a fire in northeast Oregon, a feller buncher operator running an almost new Timberpro, rolled his machine while trying to cut just one more tree from the lower roadside. The feller buncher rolled multiple times before coming to a rest cab side down. When the dust cleared, the operator was seen exiting the machine and walked away. No medical attention was even needed. The investigation into the rollover concluded that the burned out rocks under the bunchers tracks gave way causing the machine to start to slide and eventually rollover. It also stated that the operator’s life was no doubt saved by the machine's robust cab and the operator wearing his 4-point harness. That could have been a much different ending.
Wearing a seat belt is one of the simplest and most effective ways to stay safe while operating equipment. Something that takes 3 seconds to put on may save your life. Not only does wearing a seat belt protect the operator from serious injury but, it also can help the operator maintain control of his/her machine in case of a sudden stop or loss of stability. And let me tell you; you haven’t lived until you’ve hit a high stump with your blade while running a skidder in 2nd gear. It’s like being in a car accident. There is no way you are staying in your seat without a seat belt.
On a good note, like the machines they come in, seat belts have become safer and more comfortable. Many of the new skidders and feller bunchers today come with a 4-point safety harness and a larger operator conformed seat to operate in. Some newer machines even come with reminder chimes to get the operator's attention that he/she needs to buckle up.
The fact of the matter is heavy equipment operators get injured or even die every year in the U.S. from not buckling up while operating machines. Whether it’s in the logging industry or a construction site, that is something that just should not happen. According to OSHA, if an operator is not wearing a seatbelt during an accident, and gets seriously injured as a result, the employer could be fined as much as $14,000 for the first offense. Now that is something to take seriously. I can’t think of any loggers in Montana that can afford to take that kind of hit.
So, let's make a point to keep seat belts in the forefront of our minds. Making it such a habit that it becomes just like muscle memory. We don’t think about it. We just do it.
And just a reminder in closing. You would be blind if you have not noticed the tremendous increase in traffic on our roads and highways all across the state. Montana has seen an 11.5% increase in vehicle traffic in just this last year according to the Montana Department of Transportation. With work nowadays rarely being close to home, few folks spend more time behind the wheel than our loggers and log haulers. So be aware. Think ahead. Give yourself a little more time to get to and from work. The important thing is we all get home to our families at the end of the day. And let’s not forget to BUCKLE UP! $AFETY $AVES