Safety watch: Operating forestry mulchers

The compact size of the forestry cutter allows for any type of removal job, Bobcat says, whether clearing every tree in an area or selectively thinning stands. Photo: Bobcat Co.The compact size of the forestry cutter allows for any type of removal job, Bobcat says, whether clearing every tree in an area or selectively thinning stands.
Photo: Bobcat Co.

Forestry mulching can be a profitable add-on service for landscapers, but it can also be a hazardous one if the proper safety precautions are not taken.

When using any mulching attachment, it’s important to make sure it matches the machine’s capabilities to ensure it can efficiently operate. The machine needs to have the necessary high-flow hydraulics and it needs to be able to handle the weight of the attachment.

Heavy lifting attachments require counterweights for better stability. Forestry cutter attachments should not be operated without a forestry guard package installed.

To ensure the safety of the operator in land clearing operations, the machine needs to be equipped with an impact-resistant or severe-duty door. Many operator’s manuals cite that flying debris or objects and falling objects can cause serious injury or death and advise installing a minimum of ½ inch thick Lexan polycarbonate cab windows and a falling object protection system (FOPS).

All shields and screens should be opened up regularly and the entire machine should be cleaned out periodically, as airborne debris can accumulate in the engine compartment and cause overheating and a potential fire hazard. Likewise, the windshields and side windows should be cleaned of all debris so as to not diminish visibility.

Before each operation, be sure to check all bolts, nuts, pins, etc. for their proper location and tightness.

It is the responsibility of the operator using the attachment to be acquainted with the safe operation listed in the operator’s manual. Before lifting or lowering the mulcher, make sure the area is clear of bystanders or objects. Bystanders should never be within 300 feet of the mulcher when it is in operation.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, in 2005 a foreman was walking about 200 feet behind an operating Fecon Bull Hog mulching machine when it kicked out piece of wood the size of a baseball bat. It struck the employee in the legs and he suffered a compound fracture to his right leg and a laceration to his left leg.

Eye protection and proper footwear should always be worn during operation.

It is important to check the visibility as often as possible as there can be uneven terrain with sudden depressions. Be cautious when operating on uneven ground surfaces as the machine could roll over resulting in a minor or serious injury.

Travel at a safe speed to avoid losing control of the attachment. Reduce your speed when driving over rough terrain, on a slope or turning to avoid overturning the vehicle.  Always wear your seat belt when operating this type of machinery.

When using a forestry disc mulcher, never raise the cutter more a few feet off the ground without extreme caution. Cutting tree branches with the mulcher in an elevated position could result in serious injury or death if the skid steer becomes unstable.

Do not operate the mulcher if you can see the disk. If you can see the disk, the back of the cutter is raised too high and should be lowered to avoid debris being thrown back at the operator and causing minor or serious injuries.

For forestry mulchers with a drum, be aware when mulching standing trees, there is a danger of the treetop falling back onto the operator’s cab. Do not engage or disengage the drum while the engine RPMs are above 750.

Do not operate the mulcher with the attachment over 18 inches above the ground. When operating on slopes, drive up and down, not across. Avoid steep hillside operation, which could cause the machine to overturn.

Before exiting the machine, lower the attachment to the ground, apply the brakes, turn off the machine’s engine and remove the key.

Below is a video on the safety and maintenance of Bobcat’s forestry cutter.

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