Working alone: Is it the most dangerous thing you can do?

hammsarborcare

New member
Location
Wisconsin
On Thursday April 20, 2000 my brother was sick and I went to work anyway alone. I misconnected but didn't visually inspect and foot-locked up to 33 feet, put my feet on a stub, started my Husky 339 to cut a branch and fell backwards to the ground landing on my head and shoulders with my head pressed against a nearby second tree and my right leg suspended in an upright position on the tree I fell from and my left leg flat on the ground dressed in all my glory with the latest safety gear. A neighbor woman was watching me out her kitchen window at the very moment of my fall (bad day for her). An off-duty first responder was driving three blocks away listening to her scanner. I was med-flighted to a hospital within an hour. So I experienced and survived, by the Grace of God, the most touted reason to never work alone: You might die because no one will rescue you. But I ask, what exactly were the odds of something happening that day and would the presence of my brother have helped?

Periodically in safety talks I share a formula: R x (R - 1) = Risk Factor Total people on site x Total - 1 = Risk Factor. I operate from the premise that we are all fallible human beings. It is, after all, how I was able to not visually inspect. I made a mistake. For every fallible human being we add to a work site, the risk of incident does not go down, it goes up and it goes up logarithmically.

Two people on site 2 x 1 = 2 There are two ways for something to wrong
Three 3 x 2 = 6
Four = 12
Five = 20
six = 30
seven = 42
Eight = 56
Nine = 72
Ten = 90

We recently worked a large job with a crew of 10. Our safety awareness needed to be elevated due to the extreme risk of something going wrong. Technically in this formula it is necessary to count equipment and the tree as a person because the risk factor of working along is obviously not zero. But when I think about this formula it ALMOST makes me think: Work alone if you are able, with one other person if you need help and with a crew if you absolutely must. :) I close with stating I do not promote working alone, but I have found it beneficial considering the risk factor of adding crew members to a site. Understand the added risk and communicate it with your crews. Working with a crew of ten just might be the most dangerous thing you can do.

Kevin Hamm
 

OasisTree

Participating member
Location
Central Missouri
That is an interesting assessment. We are normally a crew of 4, and I have had opportunity to increase that to 6 on some larger jobs. I realize that the increased manpower comes with some risk, but that also allows us to work in 2 crews of 3 on the job. That is what we try for, but of coarse due to how the jobs are laid out is not always possible.

I think that due to more going on on the worksite with more people and machines, communication is even more critical. I envision everyone being connected by headsets, and a constant flow of communication to keep all informed as to what is going on. I know that is expensive to get set up, but its not expensive considering current healthcare costs.

Promoting teamwork - getting everyone on the same page, keeping the same guys working together over time for predictable worksite behaviors, can make the jobs much safer than working alone.

ALL accidents are preventable!
 

Jehinten

Carpal tunnel level member
Location
Evansville
You have a risk formula but no safety formula. With even one more set of eyes on the ground could they have seen that you didn't weight test your footlock tie in or that you didn't lanyard in before cutting?

I'm not opposed to working alone, but I don't see how being solo actually contributed to your accident. Only to your rescue.

At all times it's the climbers responsibility to be tied in correctly and twice while cutting. It's imperative to slow down and double check these things and all other factors while working solo.
 

Dan Cobb

Branched out member
Location
Hoover
Glad you survived and hope you make a full recovery.

I've never seen the risk factor formula you shared. Do you know anything about the origin of or basis for the formula? I agree that more fallible humans can increase risk, but can also argue that more people increase the chance a potential accident will be spotted and prevented. I believe that a situation where each person is working individually is much different than if they are working together. Working together as a group has accident potential from a lack of coordination and/or communication, but also can reduce risk if they watch out for each other.
 

southsoundtree

Been here a while
Location
Olympia, WA
Wishing you the best.

When did this happen?


Every time i have been in the most danger it had been at the hands of employees!






When I work solo, there are no distractions. Everybody goes steady, smooth, and boring (even that is supposed to happen, happens as is planned to happen). This is from Japanese maple pruning to 3 dismantles of dead as doornail conifers up to 170'.


Followership is as critical as leadership. Leadership doesn't do squat without followership.
When nobody is actively in charge, people often want to start making decisions, which are often good, until someone gets a stick in the eye.




How many threads about saws, climbing bling, grapple saws, etc, and how many about pro-active safety, communication, leadership/ followership (aka teamwork)?
 

climbingmonkey24

Branched out member
Location
United States
There can be just as much risk working solo as there can be working with a crew of 1-5, and vice versa.

I think working solo can be perceived as more dangerous because what if something happens right? You're all alone. I get that. I've done a large amount of solo work, rigging and all, etc. and simply applied the same safety protocols that I would if someone else was there.

With that being said, now that I have a part-time employee there are some jobs that are just better suited to have at least two people even if it's something I think I could do myself if he isn't available. Plus it's more enjoyable and fun and it's more efficient to have someone on the ground working the ropes and helping with cleanup then having to do it all yourself.

I've also worked with larger crews doing large jobs with a lot of machinery, etc. Part of the safety factor is how each individual works as part of a team fulfilling his or her duty, and how the team functions as a whole in unison. If one team member is off, it can throw the whole team off.
 

Jonny

Been here a while
Location
Buffalo
Wow, that’s one hell of an awakening!
I’m so sorry this happened, and I’m so happy you’re still with us.
I hope you heal up fast!

I’ll take this moment to say Rest In Peace to Stephen Lopaki. Former co-worker, insanely strong, and a hell of a good guy.

His employee left to dump the chip truck, Stephen kept climbing and at some point cut either his lanyard or his climbing line or both, and he fell. I don’t know how far he fell. He was unconscious at the base of the tree when the worker returned, and he was pronounced dead at the emergency room.
Nobody knows how long he laid there in a broken heap. I hope he didn’t suffer.

Y’all be careful.
 

Stumpsprouts

Branched out member
Location
Asheville
Two people on site 2 x 1 = 2 There are two ways for something to wrong
This is really interesting and I think your theory would be true for large crews, but I can’t see how having two people instead of one would add to risk. I can see many, many ways having a second person can reduce risk. There are a lot of risky solo rigging techniques, not to mention moving material without a helper, having to jug all the way back down a tree and back up if you forgot something, etc etc that in my mind increases the risk of working alone versus having a buddy.
 

hammsarborcare

New member
Location
Wisconsin
You have a risk formula but no safety formula. With even one more set of eyes on the ground could they have seen that you didn't weight test your footlock tie in or that you didn't lanyard in before cutting?

I'm not opposed to working alone, but I don't see how being solo actually contributed to your accident. Only to your rescue.

At all times it's the climbers responsibility to be tied in correctly and twice while cutting. It's imperative to slow down and double check these things and all other factors while working solo.
My point exactly. We have many safety features in place. I just use the risk assessment as an awareness tool. We have headsets on every crew member. I like the discussion this generates. There are so many aspects to what we do we can't put safety on any simple formula. A super competent climber on a worksite is likely to be safe alone or otherwise. And yes, a second person obviously adds a lot of help along side a struck by potential. All good thoughts gentlemen. Thanks for engaging.
 
Last edited:

Neill

Participating member
Location
North carolina
but I can’t see how having two people instead of one would add to risk. I can see many, many ways having a second person can reduce risk.
How about dragging your rope into the chipper? Running your foot over with a vehicle? Cutting your rope? Felling a tree and misjudging the situation- struck by a fallen tree.

I once had a coworker suddenly try pushing a dead tree over that I was felling. The jolt broke the top out and a piece came down and hit my arm- narrowly missing my head. Thankfully it was just a bruise/ close call.

I agree though that another set of eyes can go a long way to job site safety awareness.

@hammsarborcare I’m not sure I fully agree with your formula but I can see your point. I feel safe with my current coworkers and I also do some side work alone where I feel safe.

I can really see how working with multiple workers( especially if you have not worked together before) could add to the risk of an accident
 

islandarb

De' Island Buzzer
Location
Barbados
I have found that when running a saw aloft having a proper tie in and lanyard setup really works wonders for NOT falling out of a tree. Amazingly, this seems to hold true whether I'm working alone or with 20 people.
Best thing I read all day. Power post my friend. 100% endorsed.
 

islandarb

De' Island Buzzer
Location
Barbados
I normally work as a 3 man crew. Sometimes 2 and up to 6 or 7 at times like storm work. Saying that I work alone when I choose to which I find refreshing. Honestly I find it more stressful with a bigger crew because I cannot predict how focused others are. The added help on larger projects is nice but spatial awareness jumps quite high as a few are not as seasoned as my main crew.
 

southsoundtree

Been here a while
Location
Olympia, WA
risk assessment isn’t an exact science where A always = B+C.

Just because you have more bodies on the job site doesn’t automatically mean more risk than working alone, and vice versa just because you’re climbing alone doesn’t automatically mean there is more risk then working with someone in my honest opinion.

There are way too many factors to consider beyond just the environmental, scope of the job and potential hazards.

Yes with more bodies you do have the potential for miscommunication, people running into each other, other hazards...but this goes back to how an individual works with a team and how the team works as a whole. And how a team works as a whole and how each individual performs starts with how management / crew leaders train their crew and each individual crew member.

That’s assuming of course you have workers who actually want to work and show up to work, are willing to learn and be a team player and not just someone looking for a paycheck who could care less about the job.
This assumption is very not- real- world, imo.
 
On Thursday April 20, 2000 my brother was sick and I went to work anyway alone. I misconnected but didn't visually inspect and foot-locked up to 33 feet, put my feet on a stub, started my Husky 339 to cut a branch and fell backwards to the ground landing on my head and shoulders with my head pressed against a nearby second tree and my right leg suspended in an upright position on the tree I fell from and my left leg flat on the ground dressed in all my glory with the latest safety gear. A neighbor woman was watching me out her kitchen window at the very moment of my fall (bad day for her). An off-duty first responder was driving three blocks away listening to her scanner. I was med-flighted to a hospital within an hour. So I experienced and survived, by the Grace of God, the most touted reason to never work alone: You might die because no one will rescue you. But I ask, what exactly were the odds of something happening that day and would the presence of my brother have helped?

Periodically in safety talks I share a formula: R x (R - 1) = Risk Factor Total people on site x Total - 1 = Risk Factor. I operate from the premise that we are all fallible human beings. It is, after all, how I was able to not visually inspect. I made a mistake. For every fallible human being we add to a work site, the risk of incident does not go down, it goes up and it goes up logarithmically.

Two people on site 2 x 1 = 2 There are two ways for something to wrong
Three 3 x 2 = 6
Four = 12
Five = 20
six = 30
seven = 42
Eight = 56
Nine = 72
Ten = 90

We recently worked a large job with a crew of 10. Our safety awareness needed to be elevated due to the extreme risk of something going wrong. Technically in this formula it is necessary to count equipment and the tree as a person because the risk factor of working along is obviously not zero. But when I think about this formula it ALMOST makes me think: Work alone if you are able, with one other person if you need help and with a crew if you absolutely must. :) I close with stating I do not promote working alone, but I have found it beneficial considering the risk factor of adding crew members to a site. Understand the added risk and communicate it with your crews. Working with a crew of ten just might be the most dangerous thing you can do.

Kevin Hamm
Glad you can talk about your fall. That said, lose the math and describe what you did wrong so others do not hit the ground.
 

JeffGu

Been here a while
Over the course of the last fifty years, I've seen so much stupid and enough disaster to write a book about it. The one thing that stands out is that almost without exception, someone was trying to save time or get something done faster than it needed to get done.

A work crew with nine rocket scientists and one idiot is ten times more likely to fuck everything up than if you just shot the idiot.

There's you some math.
 

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