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OSHA visits Ax Men

by Daily Astorian
Loggers Trucker - Aug 2008


In eleven years as a logger, Stump Branch Logging owner Melvin Lardy of Banks has never seen an Occupational Health and Safety Administration inspector.

So, when one suddenly showed up after the airing of "Ax Men," the History Channel's television series featuring Stump Branch and three other Northwest Oregon logging companies, he was a little suspicious.

Since the series first aired in March, OSHA inspectors have also paid visits to the logging operations of Astoria's J.M. Browning Logging and Phil Logging of Vernonia-two other companies featured on the national reality TV show. So far, inspectors have steered clear of a fourth company, Gustafson Logging of Astoria.

Oregon OSHA spokeswoman Melanie Mesaros says her agency's recent interest in the celebrity logging companies isn't connected to their television debuts.

"They say it's not, but I highly doubt it," said Lardy, whose company was cited and stuck with a couple hundred dollars in fines. "I've been doing this for eleven years now and I've never seen an OSHA guy in my life."

The loggers' version of " Deadliest Catch, " "Ax Men " documents every dramatic twist and turn of logging the treacherous slopes of Oregon's Coast Range-including some practices that might not be quite up to code.

The logging world has had mixed reactions. Some say it's improving the public perception of the logging industry through education. Others say the show's sensationalism and the featured loggers' brash behavior has brought the business to a new low.

Jay Browning, owner of J.M. Browning Logging, said there were violations documented in the "Ax Men" show, but "if you had an OSHA investigatioron your siute every day-I don't care who you are-you're going to get cited."

To ensure safe logging operations in Oregon, OSHA keeps an eye out to make sure loggers keep their distance from falling trees and rigging equipment and keep up with first-aid training and emergency evacuation plans. The agency schedules regular inspections of businesses where workers have been injured.

Lardy said loggers are bound to so many regulations he's not surprised the inspector found a violation at his logging site.

"There's a huge book of logging codes with every OSHA rule," he said. "It's probably eight inches thick."

The inspector for J.M. Browning Logging found the company to be in compliance with work safety regulations, and Browning said he was " a great guy."

But, still, said Browning, the timing of the inspection-especially as it corresponded with inspections at other "Ax Men" company loggin sites-was "awfully strange."

"We haven't seen or or heard from them for the longest time," Browning said. "You can't tell me it has nothing to do with the show. "

OSHA's Mesaros confirmed thsi year was the first time her agency inspected a Stump Branch logging operation, and the last inspection it did of J.M. Browning wsas in 1999.

Browning said two of his loggers have suffwered serious accidents since the company started growing in 2003.

&quoat;We've had two amputations, but still no investigations, "he said. "Then a TV show comes up and I'm on a job site, and here's our OSHA investigator."

Three weeks after the logging site visit, the agency was inspecting Browning's trucking company.

Browing said he suspected other loggers had called in complaints based on what they'd seen on TV, and that triggered the inspections.

"A lot of loggers and timber companies are very unhappy with the show, "he said. "I've gotten wome4 nasty mail."

But Mesarors denied Browning's theory. An OSHA inspection can be triggered by complaint, a freferral from government workers, or the agency's schedule for reviewing high-risk businesses where workers have been injured in the past.

"If we did see something on TV, we could do immediate referrls," said Mesaros. "But in these cases, it wasn't the result of something we saw on the show. It was just part of our business as usual."

Pihl Logging was on the schedule list for inspection, sh said, likely because of a past injury. Browing and Stump Branch were inspected through a different avenue called the "emphasis program." This allows inspectors to use their own judgement in choosing to take a closer look at a logging job.

"Logging is something we're focusing on because we know it's a high-risk industry," said Mesaros. "We give our investigatiors more authoity to stop anjd go see what's going on at a work site 3egen if they don't necessarily see a anything that looks like a violation."

Browning said he's disappointed with how the show turned out. The end product emphasized the dangersof logging and ignored the responsibility and stewardship requrired to survive in the business, he said. He s still considering whether to sign on to a second season.

"We've gotten a ton of phone calls and comlaints from this," he said. "In magazines in the Midwest, they're openly blasting us guys. When someone says somehting negative, I can't let it roll off of me. I take it personally."

Mesaros said she can't release the results of the recent Stump Branch and Pihl inspections.

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Pihl has been inspedted three times in ;the past ten years and was cited in 2006 and 1998; J.M. Browning was not cited in its 1999 inspection but did receive citations in 1992 and 1996.

OSHA violations can cost anywhere from $100 to $7000 aouece, The agency commonly cites logging companies for fallers not keeping theproper distance from falling trees, workers standing too close to the rigging equouipment, a lack of first-aid training and supplies and the absence of a posted medical evacutation plan.

"If there's a serious accident, they need to be able to tell Life Flight eactly where they're at," said Mesaros. "We want to make sure the companies that are opperating out there are diiping things safe for the workers.

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