Northwest Forest Worker Safety

Who is the NW forestry workforce? 

Cedar block harvesterCedar block harvester - one of many varied jobs categorized as forest service work.

The iconic Northwest image of a lumberjack swinging his axe amid towering conifers has not reflected reality for over a century. Technology has made mechanized logging the norm, except on the steepest slopes, such as many in the Northwest. And the workforce today does not reflect the logging workforce even a generation ago. Experienced loggers are aging and the new workforce has a high turnover rate. A reliable Hispanic workforce is becoming more common in both forest restoration and logging, presenting new challenges with communications (critical to safety) and subcontractor management. As the workforce changes, safety and health efforts must change with it or workers will pay the price in injuries or their lives.

The Challenge 

  • Logging fatality rates exceed the national average by 30 times.
  • Research rates logging among the most exertive work.
  • Injury and death rates in logging and related industries have often been cyclical. For example, injuries among Oregon loggers increased 77% after the 1980-1981 recession as companies quickly rebuilt their workforces. 
  • Data in Oregon, Washington, and Idaho show that loggers who are least 45 years old represent around 50% of the workforce, a percentage that is growing. Other states and countries show similar trends.
  • Latino immigrant workers are increasingly finding employment as laborers in Pacific Northwest forests in logging and represent the majority of forest service workers.
    forest worker icon - 30 times as likely to dieForestry workers are 30 times more likely to die on the job.
  • Forest services (management, nurseries, and specialty forest product harvesting, among others) are an expanding industry, growing with the need to more actively mange our forests, such as to reduce fuel loads to prevent forest fire.
  • The forestry services industry also has a high rate of injuries and illness. From 2003 to 2008, there was an average of 8.86 injuries and illnesses per 100 workers in Oregon compared to an average of 5.3 per 100 workers for all of private industry. Common injuries include broken bones, open wounds, severe poison oak rashes, and dehydration. Although not as high as the fatality rate for loggers, the fatality rate among forest workers is higher than the rate for all industries.


PNASH Projects

Our forest and logging research priorities are developed on participation with stakeholders.
See the National Occupational Research Agenda for Agriculture, Forestry, and Fishing.

Other PNW Projects

  • GPS Tracking of Heavy Logging Equipment & Ground Workers. Researchers at University of Idaho’s (UI) Experimental Forest will test Global Positioning System (GPS) technology to reduce injury and fatality rates and increase communication and awareness among loggers.

  • Protecting the Logging Workforce: Development of Innovative Logging Techniques for a Safety Working Environment. This three year Oregon State University study will develop guidelines for innovative logging systems using cable-assisted falling machines, prebunching of turns, and enhanced visibility for grapple logging that can eliminate or reduce the need for high risk manual activities.

Recommended Safety Resources

Programs & Information Clearinghouses

Also consider contacting local associations; Membership-based programs offer excellent training and insurance information and support.

Additional Relevant Topics

Comprehensive Spanish Materials

Also see below for additional Spanish language materials.

Chain Shot in Mechanized Logging


Cutting/Chain Saws

Heat Related Illness


Noise Exposure 

Photo by Richard Fenske

Reforestation and Restoration Forestry


Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)


Danger Tree Identification

Additional Links

Northwest Organizations