Loggers work with heavy loads, often in bad weather and on steep slopes. One of the biggest dangers they face are "widow makers," the dead branches snagged in tree tops that can work loose during cutting.
Fatality rates rose this year nearly 25%, probably because a lot of inexperienced new workers were hired to meet greater demand from the housing industry, where building of new homes is up. The first year on the job is the most dangerous one.
Over the long term, though, logging has been getting safer thanks to mechanical felling, in which loggers sit in a protective cab while a steel arm holding a chain saw reaches out to cut the trunk. After 11 companies in West Virginia switched from manual chain saws to mechanical tree fellers, injury rates dropped 73%, according to a study by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).
In the past, "the biggest exposure for loggers was men on the ground hit by falling trees or chain saw kickback," said Neil Ward, vice president of the Forest Resources Association. "Now, manual chain saws are hardly ever used, only on, for example, steep slopes."
Hazards still remain when loads of logs are dropped. To improve safety, companies are encouraging workers to wear more visible clothing and to use a signal system to alert loggers of imminent dangers.