A Northern California man employed by a local tree trimming company was killed Friday morning while operating an industrial wood chipper.
Martin Lara, 50, was part of a crew clearing brush on Thursday on a hillside in Nevada City, California, which is 50 miles northeast of Sacramento, said Sergeant Paul Schmidt, chief deputy coroner for Nevada County.
Lara, who was from the nearby town of Applegate, was operating a mobile wood chipper and other members of the crew were using ropes to tie up bundles of brush to bring to the chipper, Schmidt said.
Somehow, a rope wound around Lara’s neck and the tension had the effect of beheading him, authorities said.
“No part of him went into the chipper at all,” Schmidt said, contrary to published reports. “The tension of the rope cut off his head almost like a guillotine.” Reuters, 13 Jan 2012.
A co-worker was able to hit the safety switch on the machine, but it was too late to save Lara. It is not clear if the machine was operated properly.
Last year, the California Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation program (FACE) created a video about wood chipper machine safety and accident prevention after the death of Antonio Barajas, a tree trimmer who was pulled into a wood chipper. They also released results of their investigations into several deaths involving wood chippers.
- On Monday, November 15, 2010, at approximately 1:30 p.m., a 33-year-old Hispanic groundsman died when he was dragged or struck by a rope that was pulled into a wood chipper.
- On July 15, 2000, at approximately 1:30 p.m., a 33-year-old male tree trimmer died when drawn entirely into a brush chipper.
- On April 8, 2008, at approximately 2:30 p.m., a 46-year-old Hispanic male tree trimmer died when he was pulled into a wood chipper.
- On Tuesday, December 14, 2010, at approximately 3:00 p.m., a 49-year-old Hispanic avocado and lemon grove caretaker died when he was pulled into a wood chipper.
After investigating, FACE recommended the following operating procedures:
- Ensure that wood chippers are equipped with safety devices to prevent injury from moving chipper blades.
- Receive training in safe operating practices.
- Ensure that wood chippers are never operated alone.
- Ensure that all employees stand to the side of the feed table when feeding trimmings into the brush chipper.
- Ensure that employees are thoroughly trained and tested on the operation of wood chippers.
- Ensure that all employees use a long limb, branch, or a push stick to feed small trimmings into the brush chippers.
It is not clear whether these guidelines were followed by Bushwackers, Lara’s employer.