Stump Grinding Operations: Untrained and Working Alone

“Hey, you! Why don’t you take this heavy, immensely powerful machine out to people’s yards and grind stumps alone all day? There’s not much to know other than how to work the controls. Just use common sense and don’t get your foot caught in the wheel!”

Too often we leave stump grinding to a trusted employee with good driving skills and mechanical aptitude but little or no training on the hazards of stump grinding and expect them to work alone without incident. If it seems like there is nothing wrong with this scenario, take another look. 

On April 9, 2018, a 66-year-old male worker suffered fatal injuries while assisting a landscaping company owner who was operating a stump grinder. The victim had tied a rope to the stump grinder near the grinding wheel in order to guide the machine. As the grinder was operating, the rope became slack and then caught around the grinding wheel, pulling the victim headfirst into the rotating disc. A neighbor who witnessed the incident called 9-1-1.The paramedics and fire department arrived at the incident scene within minutes. The victim was transported to a local hospital for treatment and died the next day from his injuries.

Tragic accidents during stump grinder operations are normally caused by failure to observe basic safety rules or precautions. Crews who underestimate the hazards of stump grinding may think that this “one person job” is not as complex or hazardous as removing the tree that created the stump. But that “one person” operating a stump grinder without supervision or training is at risk of a potentially horrific incident. TCIA’s Best Practices for Stump Grinding in Arboriculture clearly states: The stump grinder operator must be trained to full competency on the controls of the machine he/she is operating.

Stump grinder operator training doesn’t need to take years before someone can safely work the machine. Here are some quick tips to follow before heading out on grinding jobs unassisted:

Job-site safety inspection

Before doing anything, start with a job-site safety inspection – even if there is only one person on the site. The inspection must cover all the available information that relates to the specific tasks:

  • removal of obstacles and hazards
  • special precautions associated with the job
  • work procedures
  • equipment requirements

If you are working with a crew, this safety inspection should be used to conduct a job briefing with all crew members. If you are working alone, the inspection should guide your actions. It is a good idea to create a written record of the safety inspection, such as the Documented Job-Site Safety Inspection below!

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