Logging: Dangers to Limb and Life

Washington produced more timber than any other state in the country from 1905 through the 1930s. By 1910 in terms of wages, this translated to 63 percent of Washington’s employed as being in jobs related to the timber industry.[1] Considering the technology and operations of that time period, there was large margin for injury or even death. And watching the Steam Whistles, Sawdust and Salt Air film[2], it is a wonder how practices in the time of the filming were ever considered safe. The descriptions of the retired loggers recounting the old times in the background of the film returned frequently to stories of injury. Indeed, Andrew Mason Prouty studied the fatality rate of lumber industry workers from 1827 to 1981, and it was found that in the early 1900s, there was one work related fatality for every 150 loggers, which meant one-third of the eighteen year old loggers died before the age of 65 years due to work accidents. Injuries were even more common: nearly one out of every five loggers and one out of every eight millworkers were injured on the job. When workplace injury cases entered the courts, the workers often won. In response, the many of the lumber industry executives worked together in 1911 to draft a compulsory workman compensation law, which the state of Washington approved. It was the first of such laws in the United States.[3]

Visualizing the timber industry work related deaths in a small community through the years is sobering. Though the glare detracts from the photo, 0779_a1this “in memory” board at the Forks Timber Museum in Forks, Washington shows visually the work related deaths in the local timber industry through the different decades. The decline in the 1990s and after may be in part due to different technologies and practices, but also corresponds to changes in the political landscape, which reduced the available timber in the Olympic Peninsula which meant decreased timber related jobs in the Forks area,[4] and subsequently less active timber industry workforce members overall, and therefore less potential work related injuries and death potential in terms of numbers. Nonetheless, for a small community whose existence is so intertwined with timber, recognizing on that memorial board friends and family, and also the hazards of a relationship with timber, is important.


See the rest of the Logging in the Pacific Northwest project


[1] Chiang, C. and Reese, M. (Year unknown). Evergreen State: Exploring the History of Washington’s Forests. A Curriculum Project for Washington Schools. Center for the Study of the Pacific Northwest, University of Washington Department of History. (Page 9).

[2] U.S. Forest Service and Georgia-Pacific Corporation. (1991). Steam Whistles, Sawdust and Salt Air [Film]. United States: Northwest Interpretive Association.

[3] Chiang and Reese, Pages 11-12.

[4] Buttolph, L. & Kusel, J. (Year unknown.) Forest Community Research: Northwest Economic Adjustment Initiative Assessment – Forks, Clallam County, Washington. Sierra Institute. Retrieved September 18, 2014 from Sierra Institute: http://www.sierrainstitute.us/neai/WA_case_studies/Forks_WA.pdf. (Pages 2-5).