Alabama has approximately 22.6 million forested acres, or more than 70 percent of the state’s total landmass. Interestingly, all but 6 percent of the state’s timberlands are owned by private entities. This abundance of timber has allowed Alabama to become one of the nation’s largest wood product producers. The economic impact the industry has on the state is remarkable with reports ranging from $15 billion to more than $20 billion generated annually. The prevalence of timber resources within the state has driven the demand for logging, saw mills, pulp and paper mills and countless other wood fiber by-product mills and plants. The timber industry is one of the state’s largest economic drivers with nearly 70,000 Alabamians directly employed by the industry and another 100,000 workers indirectly employed. Despite the positive impact the timber industry has on the state’s economy, the benefits come with certain dangers and hazards that all Alabamians need to be aware of.
For all of the positive impacts logging has on the state, there are certain hazards in the industry that no level of caution can completely eliminate. To understand the most basic dangers associated with logging, all you have to know is trees are heavy, awkward to move and difficult to contain. Logging requires heavy equipment to cut down trees sizeable enough to produce polls, lumber and even pulp. It then requires a piece of heavy equipment known as a skidder to pull the fallen trees to the loading deck through what is commonly rough terrain.
The logs are then loaded by another piece of heavy equipment onto a trailer, which will ultimately be pulled by an 18-wheeler to the appropriate mill. There, it will be unloaded by yet another piece of heavy equipment and ultimately be processed by even more large industrial equipment such as saws and presses. The entire process of taking the trees from the land until a finished product is produced requires a great amount of human interaction with both heavy logs and industrial equipment. Every tract of land logged, tree cut down and truck loaded presents a unique set of challenges and obstacles where one misstep can result in catastrophic injuries and even death.
When the average person thinks about logging accidents, the most contemplated scenario usually involves loaded log trucks sharing the roads with passenger vehicles. With more than 5,000 loads of wood moved each day in Alabama, there are perhaps more accidents than one might think. Accidents involving log trucks and passenger vehicles are all too common and the results of those accidents are often catastrophic. Many of these accidents are completely preventable yet occur due to carelessness. We commonly see accidents that occur after logging crews fail to take the proper precautions to mark log truck entrances onto a public road, fail to properly secure a load or overload a trailer.
Not only do we see carelessness specific to logging practices, but we also encounter violations generic to all motor carriers. All too often, log trucks are not in compliance with Department of Transportation (DOT) safety standards that apply to log trucks just as they do all commercial carriers. Driver fatigue is also a common factor often seen in log truck accidents. When investigating a log truck accident, it’s always important to look not only for negligent driving behaviors, but DOT violations, violations of common industry practices and equipment maintenance failures. More times than not, log truck accidents can be attributed to careless practices.
For the thousands of Alabamians directly involved in the logging industry, accidents can occur in any number of ways. As mentioned earlier, logging requires close interaction between people, heavy machinery and downed trees. For those in the logging industry, one misstep or oversight could be the last due to the sheer size and power of the equipment and trees being harvested. Many of the accidents that happen in the field are caused by equipment failures.
Lawyers in our firm’s Personal Injury/Product Liability Section have handled a number of products liability cases throughout the years involving unreasonably dangerous cutters, skidders and other heavy logging equipment. Many logging accidents can be directly attributed to unsafe practices in the field. All too often, logging crews will operate in a manner that places workers around moving machinery and unsecured logs. Logging crews also encounter natural hazards or obstacles that lend themselves to unsafe practices on a routine basis.
Logging is an inherently dangerous industry which makes it imperative that every possible safety precaution is taken. This goes for logging equipment manufacturers and timber companies all the way down to the men on the ground operating the machinery. A concerted effort by all involved is required to reduce the risk of logging accidents.
The final step in the timber industry, milling or transforming the raw wood into an end product, is also risky business. The same general hazards are present at this stage as well. The milling process requires human interaction with industrial equipment that is designed to break down heavy, rough pieces of wood. Any time workers are required to work near equipment capable of such tasks, there is an opportunity for injuries. Common accidents inside timber mills and plants are not dissimilar from other industrial facilities. As one might expect, crush hazards, pinch hazards and hazards caused by large saws are common for persons working at timber mills.
However, other hazards that are not as predictable must also be anticipated and dealt with. Lawyers at Beasley Allen have handled cases in the past dealing with over-pressurization and explosions at timber plants and mills. Depending on the end product, each plant or mill has unique machinery that presents unique hazards. Any time a severe injury occurs inside a timber plant or mill, a careful investigation should be done to analyze the machinery involved. Unless a lawyer is experienced in the handling of products and construction litigation, a product liability claim can easily be overlooked.
We must remember that the timber industry is vital to Alabama’s economic well-being. The industry employs thousands and will continue to be a driving force for the state’s rural counties. But as long as there is logging equipment and log trucks running in our state, the potential for devastating accidents resulting in serious injuries and deaths will remain as well. The industry has a legal and moral obligation to take all reasonable steps necessary to protect both workers and the public. If you need more information on this subject, contact Evan Allen, a lawyer in our firm’s Personal Injury/Product Liability Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Evan.Allen@beasleyallen.com.
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