What Is a Widowmaker in Forestry?

"Widowmakers" and Other Forest Hazards

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Loggers have always had to deal with daily exposure to situations that could seriously jeopardize their health and even cause death. There are many ways forestry workers and recreational users of a forest can quickly suffer from a tree-related accident.

The term "widowmaker" came to be as a morbid reminder for people working in the woods to avoid situations that can both cause death and profoundly affect the family.

The short definition of the term can be translated into the phrase "any loose overhead debris such as limbs or tree tops that may fall at any time. Widowmakers are extremely dangerous and present a tree faller with a continual source of danger. Limb or other loose material dropped or thrown from a tree toward the faller as the tree is felled."

Wildland firefighters, foresters, and woods workers have expanded this definition to include many situations in which a tree can cause harm leading to a fatality. 

Hazards That Qualify as a Widowmaker

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has expanded these hazards into conditions that should be avoided or eliminated before attempting to fell trees. Anyone that regularly visits the forest should understand how to evaluate the surrounding area to identify potential tree hazards.

Here are those important hazards you need to recognize in a forest:

  • Snags are stand-alone dead trees and subject to failure and falling at any moment. Snags are significantly dangerous when equipment vibrations, high winds, and fire undermine an already unsteady structure.
  • Throwback is usually seen when trees fall through other trees and on objects during felling a tree. Size up the direction a tree will fall before cutting. Never turn your back on a falling tree and plan an escape route if you are the feller.
  • Extreme Weather includes wind, rain, and ice. You increase your chances of harm as your exposure to these natural disturbances. Do your woods-work or play on a safer site or another day.
  • Tree Tension Release is usually not a problem during a casual visit to a forest. It often happens when harvesting trees in multi-layered canopies. One example of this is called a "spring pole" where a tree, segment of a tree, limb, or sapling under stress or tension is released due to the pressure or weight of another tree or object.
  •  Terrain effect can provide the physics to initiate a catalyst to cause a "ripple" of multiple hazards to occur. If the tree falls onto stumps, rocks, or uneven ground, a hazard may be created. Always be aware of your surroundings,
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Nix, Steve. "What Is a Widowmaker in Forestry?" ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, thoughtco.com/what-is-widow-maker-1341572. Nix, Steve. (2023, April 5). What Is a Widowmaker in Forestry? Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-widow-maker-1341572 Nix, Steve. "What Is a Widowmaker in Forestry?" ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-widow-maker-1341572 (accessed May 31, 2023).