Two coroners have repeated a call to restrict the sale of chainsaws following the deaths of two Tasmanians in separate tree-felling incidents.
Coroners Olivia McTaggart and Simon Cooper handed down their findings into the deaths of Colin George Williamson and Rowland Michael Chilton Howe on Wednesday.
In the case of 72-year-old Mr Williamson, who died on January 23, 2018, after being struck on the head by a branch while clearing trees with two other people at Forthside, Ms McTaggart said a number of mistakes caused his death.
“These mistakes included a scarf cut of insufficient depth and which was internally uneven and a back cut that was not level and which left no hingewood at all, therefore losing control of the direction of the fall,” Ms McTaggart said.
“Whilst Mr Williamson wore a safety helmet the helmet straps appear to have failed in the incident or, alternatively, the strap was not properly fastened.
“The helmet bore a stamp indicating that it was manufactured in 1994. Its age alone means it was not compliant with the applicable Australian Standard.
“If it had remained upon Mr Williamson’s head it may have prevented his head injury.”
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Ms McTaggart noted Mr Williamson had previously held a Tasmanian Forest Industries Training Board licence for chainsaw use and non-forest harvesting which had not been renewed after it expired in 2011.
Mr Howe, 27, died on April 7, 2019, after being crushed by a tree a day earlier on his family’s property at Nunamara.
He died of muscle tissue breakdown and hypothermia due to traumatic crush injuries to his back and legs.
Mr Cooper said he accepted deficient tree-felling techniques were the reason Mr Howe became trapped under the tree and noted he was wearing a safety helmet at the time of the incident.
“Sadly, tree-felling accidents involving chainsaws are frequently encountered by coroners,” Mr Cooper said.
“Such incidents have been prevalent in Australia and are over-represented in Tasmania, particularly within rural areas.”
Mr Cooper in 2017 made a number recommendations in relation to six deaths associated with chainsaw use and tree-felling over three years.
- all chainsaw operators must undertake approved chainsaw training prior to purchasing or using a chainsaw;
- all persons selling chainsaws must be accredited chainsaw operators;
- all chainsaw operators must undergo regular practical reassessment;
- all landowners be required to ensure that people permitted to use chainsaws on their land be appropriately qualified; and
- no person under the age of 16 years be permitted to own or use a chainsaw in any circumstances.
Both Ms McTaggart and Mr Cooper reiterated these recommendations in the context of the deaths of Mr Williamson and Mr Howe.
“I observe that, so far as I can determine, nothing has been done by any agency or entity take any steps or do anything, at all, to enhance the safety of chainsaw users in Tasmania,” Mr Cooper said.
“Therefore, I consider it both necessary and appropriate to recommend that the responsible agency considers regulatory reform directed at preventing deaths and injuries arising from the use of chainsaws by members of the community.
“Experience is not substitute for training. Proper training by accredited and qualified trainers is the only way to learn safe chainsaw use and tree-felling techniques.”
But a Department of Justice spokesperson said there were currently no plans to regulate the use of chainsaws by private operators on private land in Tasmania.
“WorkSafe Tasmania works with industry to ensure the safety of chainsaw operators in workplaces,” the spokesperson said.
“Safety information is included with chainsaws purchased from retailers and risks need to be managed by private operators.”