Let’s Talk Chipper Safety

Let’s talk about chipper safety. Of course, there is the obvious hazard – getting chipped to death. But there are numerous other ways to get yourself hurt. Let’s count some of them.

  • More people are hurt falling off the chipper than going through the chipper. Add grip tape anywhere you might step on the chipper, especially at the attachment to the truck tongue.
  • Tree Worker’s Hip-Hop.

Keep your area clean.

Keep your area neat.

There will be no slipping or tripping,

 While chipping on the street.

Don’t let debris build up underfoot. Don’t put anything closer to the hopper than the back tires of the chipper, i.e., cones, trash cans, rakes, etc. I was doing a spin move one time to avoid getting hooked on a branch and got tangled in a cone and crashed into the asphalt. The best lessons are painful and/or expensive.

  •  Don’t chip while ropes are out. You can’t imagine the velocity a rope has when going into a chipper. Climbers have been slammed into the chipper while still attached to their saddle. Workers have been decapitated by the rope. We don’t chip while ropes are out.
  • Don’t get caught between the chipper and the truck while attaching or detaching the equipment. The driver cannot see you. Keep your hands clear, too.
  • Wear your damn PPE (personal protective equipment)!

I drive by jobs all the time where some kid is chipping naked, i.e., no safety glasses, no hard hat and no gloves. I have seen guys get their faces sliced open like a razor by whipping sucker branches … err … epicormic sprouts. If that had been their eye …

I saw a guy get knocked out by a twisted oak limb. It was his chipper, and he felt he didn’t need a hard hat.

Wear hearing protection, i.e., earplugs, headphones – earplugs and headphones.

Chipping is the loudest thing you will ever do on a tree job. Loud noise for an extended period makes you dumber by the hour – proven fact. We all need all the smarts we can get to survive tree work unscathed.

  • Turn the machine off while doing anything inside it, such as removing stuck brush and logs. Do not put your foot on the hopper of a running chipper – never, ever, ever! There is a horrific picture online of a guy on an ER table chipped up to his belly button with his intestines hanging out. “Mercifully, he died.” That phrase is not something you want on your tombstone.

Make sure all moving parts come to a stop and are prevented from moving, and take steps to prevent accidental restarting, while you perform your maintenance. If you do have to unbolt the access covers, put everything back before you start the motor to check it. Bolts vibrate off and can fall into the spinning drum and come flying out like bullets.

  •  If you change your own knives, clean all surfaces and torque the bolts. I rented a chipper and had one of the knives fly off the drum. It tore a hole in the chute and buried itself through the chip pile and a foot into the dirt. If that had been into the chip truck, it would have gone through the engine block. But it didn’t end there.

The whole chipper started bucking three feet off the ground because it was unbalanced. Try shutting that off while not getting smashed. I did it, but damn!

Be safe. Be aware. Wear your PPE!

Eric Carter is a California-licensed tree trimmer and owner of Eric Carter Construction & Tree Service in Green Valley Lake, California.

He was inspired by Donald Blair, president of Blair’s Arborist Equipment LLC, in Hagerstown, Maryland, a TCIA member since 1982, long-time owner of his own tree care company, former Z133 committee vice chair, a recognized safety expert and an industry historian.

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