Article

Tailgate Safety Series

The Tailgate Safety Series is available for viewing and use by both volunteers and other trail users. Relevant topics should be reviewed at beginning of the workday or hike to ensure a safe experience.

Safety topics: Chainsaws, driving, general hiking, hazardous materials, heat disorders, hike leaders, hydration, hypothermia, insects/snakes/animals, lyme disease prevention, thunderstorms, and potentially violent personal encounters. You can also navigate to a specific topic by clicking "Safety Topics on this Page" below.

Safety Topics on this Page Navigation

CHAINSAWS

Chainsaw safety is every saw operator’s job. It is also the job of everyone assisting the sawyer.

  • Always wear proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) when handling or working around chainsaws—this applies to both the sawyer and those working in the vicinity of the sawyer
    • Eye Protection (approved goggles, safety glasses, or mesh face shields)
    • Chainsaw Chaps (proper size and length) * Required for sawyer only
    • Gloves
    • Long Sleeve Shirt (no loose sleeves)
    • Protective Boots (no loose boot laces)
    • Hard Hat
    • Hearing Protection (ear plugs or shooter’s muffs)
    • First Aid Kit (on site)
  • Take the time to inspect the chainsaw before operating the saw
    • Check the chain and bar (sharpness of chain, bar seated correctly)
    • Check for missing or loose screws and bolts all around the saw
    • Check the casing of the saw for cracked or missing plastic
  • Make sure you’re aware of your surroundings while operating the saw
    • Look for people working in your area—establish a zone where others may not enter
    • Look for snags or other hazards (power lines, dead tops, etc.) before cutting
    • Always work with a trained swamper or spotter for safety communication
    • Be attentive to your footing—terrain that is slippery, rocky, steep, or cluttered with branches is dangerous
  • Always make sure you are comfortable doing the task at hand
    • Proper training for personnel running saws and assisting the sawyer
    • Identify an escape route before falling any tree
    • Do not attempt to fall a tree that is beyond your ability or comfort zone—notify your supervisor if you need assistance—mitigate the safety hazard if leaving the tree uncut until later (flag off area, post trailhead notices, etc.)
References: www.wildfirelessons.net/6minutesforsafety

DRIVING

Driving is one of the most hazardous tasks that we perform. Because of the fact that we perform the task so frequently in the course of our daily lives we tend to take it for granted. How tragic would it be to complete a trail work assignment after safely using a variety of tools in an outdoor environment, only to incur a driving-related injury on the way home? Vehicle operators need to keep a “Safety First” frame of mind, even after the day’s project is completed. Strive to develop or improve upon defensive driving techniques.

  • A good starting point is attitude. A positive attitude toward improving your defensive driving skills will assist you in developing good defensive driving habits. It is important to remember that a bad habit is as easy to develop as a good habit. Are you training yourself to do the right things the right way, like fastening your seat belt, checking your mirrors, securing tools and equipment properly, and maintaining safe following distances?
  • Incorporate driving safety into the work planning process. If trail workers will have a substantial drive home, the final work day of a project (or even a single-day project that has been physically tasking) should allow for early release in order to minimize fatigue and enhance safe driving practices.
  • Inattentiveness is a major contributing factor in motor vehicle accidents. Driving is a common component in our lives, but it requires 100% of our attention. There are many forms of inattentive driving; fatigue, daydreaming, eating, drinking, reading, writing, and talking. Here are some techniques for maintaining your attention while driving:
    • Drive only when you are well rested and alert, and take a 10 to 15 minute break after every two hours of driving
    • Practice situational awareness when driving; be aware of what is happening in front, behind, and on both sides of your vehicle
    • Never drive if taking medications that make you drowsy
    • Avoid using cell phones, GPS units, computers or other similar devices while driving—have a passenger operate them, or pull over and park
    • By constantly moving your vision—checking mirrors and distant road conditions—you can avoid highway hypnosis and daydreaming
    • Avoid eating or drinking while driving—perform these activities during frequent breaks
    • Do not attempt to read maps or write directions while driving
    • Avoid becoming impatient or agitated while driving, it only magnifies inattentive driving behaviors
  • Remember that safe driving starts with a safe vehicle. Something as simple as underinflated tires can have serious consequences. Get in the habit of doing a pre-operation inspection of your vehicle before driving.
References: www.wildfirelessons.net/6minutesforsafety

GENERAL HIKING

Trail workers, casual day hikers, and multi-day trippers alike should all take into account these universal safety guidelines before hitting the trail:

  • Always let others know where you will be hiking, your anticipated travel route (point-to-point or round trip), and your anticipated return time
  • Check the weather forecast prior to your hike, dress/pack appropriately for current and anticipated condition
  • Consider hiking with a companion, especially when longer hikes are planned or when weather conditions may be extreme (hot/cold)
  • Carry a cell phone for possible emergency needs
  • Stock your day-pack with some essentials, even if your trip plan doesn’t anticipate their need—extra water, snacks, dry socks, lightweight wind breaker/rain suit, flashlight, small first aid kit, space blanket, and any prescription medications you may require
  • Take rest breaks as needed
  • Keep hydrated, even in colder temperatures—remember to drink before you feel thirsty
  • Be attuned to your own body and heed what it is telling you—become familiar with the early warnings signs of dehydration, hypothermia, and heat disorders
  • When appropriate, use insect/tick repellent and check yourself periodically throughout the day for ticks
  • Dress in Blaze Orange (hat/vest) whenever using the trail during hunting seasons
References:

HAZARDOUS MATERIALS

Trail workers and users may encounter hazardous materials in the field. Hazmat encounters require special precautions and must be handled by trained professionals. Trail crews and hikers should be aware of their surroundings and able to recognize the signs of a possible hazmat encounter, and act accordingly to report the situation.

  • Hazardous materials in the field include, but are not limited to:
    • Clandestine Drug Waste—waste as a result of “meth” labs, etc., which may look like common household trash at first glance. Drug lab waste may be identified by the presence of plastic or glass jugs, 5-gallon buckets, lab equipment (tubes and beakers), lye or drain cleaner containers, coffee filters, cold medicine packages, shredded lithium batteries, etc.
    • Midnight Dumping—may be recognized by the presence of barrels or other containers, discoloration of the land, plants or water, and/or dead vegetation or animals
    • Transportation Accidents—truck, rail, or pipeline accidents may result in spillage or release of hazardous materials which pose serious danger
  • In all instances, self-protection is your primary responsibility
  • Respond to all encounters by implementing the Three R’s:
    • Recognize: Watch for tell-tale clues of hazardous waste situations, noting any labels or hazmat symbols that may assist professional responders. Be personally aware that containers may be mislabeled, or that hazardous materials may exist in unlabeled containers
    • Retreat: Move upwind, upgrade, or upstream as you exit the area. This will minimize your risk of exposure to solid, liquid, or gaseous hazardous materials which may be present
    • Report: Notify your supervisor, and/or report your observations to 911 or other local emergency response authorities. Warn others in the area of the potential hazard and keep the area safeguarded until professional responders arrive
References:

HEAT DISORDERS

Heat becomes a problem when humidity and air temperature combine with hard work to raise body temperature beyond safe limits. Sweat is the body’s main defense against heat disorders. Drinking water often is crucial to staying healthy in such environments. There are three forms of heat related illness: heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.

  • Heat Cramps is the mildest of the heat illnesses.
    • Heat cramps can progress to heat exhaustion and eventually heat stroke
    • Heat cramps are involuntary muscle contractions, typically in the large muscle groups, caused by failure to replace fluids or electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium
    • Cramps can be relieved with stretching and by replacing fluids and electrolytes
    • Heat cramps can be prevented by maintaining an adequate intake of water, electrolyte replacement drinks, and by eating fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Heat Exhaustion is more serious than heat cramps.
    • Heat exhaustion is characterized by weakness; extreme fatigue; nausea; headaches; and wet, clammy skin
    • Heat exhaustion results when the body produces more heat than it can dissipate
    • Inadequate fluid intake is a major contributing factor
    • Treat heat exhaustion by resting in a cool/shaded environment, by removing clothing so that one’s sweat can evaporate, and by replacing fluids and electrolytes
  • Heat Stroke is a medical emergency—brain damage and death may result if treatment is delayed.
    • Heat stroke is a failure of the body’s heat controls. Sweating stops and the body temperature rises
    • Although classic teaching describes a heat stroke patient as “hot and dry,” recent studies have shown that over 50% of heat stroke patients are sweating heavily. Therefore, the hallmark symptom of heat stroke is altered mental status
    • Heat stroke is characterized by hot, often dry skin; body temperature above 105.8 degrees Fahrenheit; mental confusion; loss of consciousness, convulsions, or even coma
    • Begin rapid cooling with ice or cold water, fanning the victim to promote evaporation
    • For rapid cooling, partially submerge the victim’s body in cool water, and treat for shock if necessary
    • Provide oxygen if it is available
    • Whereas heat cramps and heat exhaustion may be treated locally, heat stroke patients should be medivaced/transported to a hospital ASAP
You can prevent the serious consequences of heat disorders by improving your level of fitness and becoming acclimated to the heat. Maintaining aerobic fitness is one of the best ways to protect against heat stress. The fit trail worker has a well-developed circulatory system and increased blood volume. Both are important to regulate body temperature. Fit workers start to sweat sooner, so they work with a lower heart rate and body temperature. They adjust to the heat twice as fast as the unfit worker.

References:

HIKE LEADERS

Most trail chapters offer sponsored hikes at various times and locations, and when doing so, it is important to identify a qualified hike leader. The hike leader is responsible for various aspects of the hike—all of which help ensure the safety and enjoyment of the participants.

  • Hike leaders, in concert with chapter leadership, should address a number of pre-hike issues and decisions prior to advertising the hike:
    • Which trail segment will be hiked, and what are the current trail conditions? A pre-hike scouting mission may be in order if a particular segment has not been recently assessed for current conditions
    • Does the proposed trail segment offer special challenges (steep terrain, long distances, anticipated time commitment, etc.) which may exclude some participants? Be sure to inform the public of what to expect
    • Where will the meeting place and time be for hike participants?
    • Are vehicle shuttles or carpools required?
  • At the start of the hike, hike leaders should introduce themselves, and facilitate introductions among the participating hikers
  • Make last minute assessments of the hikers, ensuring that all participants are properly equipped to meet the anticipated conditions of the day (proper footwear, drinking water, rain gear, etc.)
  • Utilize the “Tailgate Safety Series” materials to initiate pre-hike safety messages which are appropriate for current conditions (hydration, hypothermia, etc.). Continue to rely on these materials throughout the hike if conditions change (approaching thunderstorms, etc.)
  • If the group is large, or the possibility exists for hikers to become spread out along the trail, the hike leader should plan in advance to work with a “sweep” hiker of known experience and ability
  • Make it known to the group that this is a group activity requiring cooperation—hikers must stay behind the leader and ahead of the sweep
  • The hike leader should set a pace to keep all hikers within a reasonable distance of one another
  • Stop at prudent intervals to allow for rest, water stops, snacks, and so on
  • The hike leader should stop at appropriate areas and allow hikers and the sweep to rejoin the group, especially at trail intersections, confusing areas, whenever trail hazards are encountered, or at areas of group interest (scenic vistas or places where informational talks are taking place)

HYDRATION

  • Maintaining body fluids is essential for sweating—you must hydrate before, during, and after work
  • Before beginning trail work you should drink one or two cups of water, juice, or a sport drink. Avoid excess caffeine, it hastens fluid loss in the urine
  • When engaged in arduous trail work, or when working in hot environments, drink at least one quart of fluid per hour
  • Providing a portion of fluid replacement with a carbohydrate/electrolyte sport beverage will help retain fluids and maintain energy and electrolyte levels—however, be sure to alternate sports drinks with plain water
  • Continue drinking after work to replace fluid losses—thirst always underestimates fluid needs, so drink more than you think is necessary
  • Rehydration is enhanced when fluids contain sodium and potassium, or when foods with these electrolytes are consumed along with the fluid
  • Make potassium-rich foods like bananas and citrus fruits a regular part of your diet, and drink lots of lemonade, orange juice, or tomato juice
  • Limit the amount of caffeine drinks such as coffee and colas because caffeine increases fluid loss. Avoid alcoholic drinks—they also cause dehydration
  • You can assess your hydration by observing the volume, color, and concentration of your urine. Low volumes of dark, concentrated urine, or painful urination, indicate a serious need for rehydration. Other signs of dehydration include rapid heart rate, weakness, excessive fatigue, and dizziness
  • Rapid loss of several pounds of body weight is a certain sign of dehydration. Rehydrate before returning to work. Continuing to work in a dehydrated state can lead to serious consequences, including heat stroke, muscle breakdown, and kidney failure
References:

HYPOTHERMIA

Hypothermia occurs when your core body temperature falls below normal. It can easily happen in cold winds or wetness. Hypothermia can also occur in moderately cool temperatures, particularly if coupled with dehydration. People tend to forget to drink on cool, wet days and can get hypothermic even when the temperature stays well above freezing.

  • Symptoms of hypothermia include:
    • Slurred speech
    • Loss of coordination
    • Confusion
    • Apathy
    • Irrational behavior
  • Your body automatically begins to shiver to warm itself. As your energy is used up to keep warm, you may reach a point where your body will be unable to warm itself. If left untreated, your body will gradually shut down and death becomes a possibility
  • Avoid hypothermia with the following precautions:
    • Guard against dehydration
    • Avoid fatigue
    • Avoid cold winds
    • Take precautions to stay out of wet clothes
    • Be aware of hypothermia symptoms and take action upon their onset
  • If you recognize hypothermia, take the following steps:
    • Move the victim to shelter/out of the wind
    • Remove wet clothes and replace them with warm, dry garments
    • If the victim is alert, give them warm liquids to drink
References: www.wildfirelessons.net/6minutesforsafety

INSECTS, SNAKES, and ANIMALS

Hikers and trail workers may encounter a variety of creatures which pose safety hazards ranging from minor inconveniences to potentially life-threatening situations. Common sense and a general awareness of your surroundings are your best defenses.

  • INSECTS
    • Avoid sitting on rotten logs or stumps. Spiders and ants often use them for homes
    • Wearing long-sleeved shirts, socks, and long pants will help guard against many stinging insects
    • “Bee” aware that not all stinging insects nest in trees. Some bees and other stinging insects nest underground and will become disturbed by earth-moving activities
    • Many stinging insects become more aggressive in the Fall
    • Insect repellents containing DEET or Picaridin may help protect against biting or stinging insects
    • If you know you are allergic to insect bites and stings, take the proper medication with you on the trail, and seek proper medical attention immediately if you are stung or bitten
  • SNAKES
    • Wearing sturdy leather gloves and boots at least 10 inches high are good precautions when hiking or working in snake country
    • Do not put your hands or feet into areas you cannot see, such as brush piles or rock crevices
    • If you must roll a rock or log, roll it toward you to keep it between you and any potential hazard
    • All snake bites, whether venomous or not, should receive immediate medical attention
    • Rattlesnakes and Copperheads have “hemotoxin” venom, which attacks red blood cells and tissue of bite victims. Keep the victim as calm and quiet as possible, keep the wound site inactive and positioned below the level of the heart, and transport the victim to a hospital immediately
  • OTHER ANIMALS
    • You may be sharing the trail with black bears. Make noise as you hike to give bears a chance to be forewarned of your approach and move away before a surprise confrontation occurs. If you encounter a bear, back away slowly. Do not turn your back to the bear or run, as this may trigger an aggressive response from the bear. Sows and cubs must be avoided at all times. Commercially available bear repellent (aerosol pepper spray) may be effective as a last resort
    • Do not handle or approach wildlife. Young animals that appear to be abandoned should be left where they are. Resist the temptation to “rescue” young animals
    • Some wildlife such as foxes, skunks, raccoons, and other mammals commonly contract diseases or illness such as rabies or mange, and may lose their natural fear of humans. Avoid any animal that is encountered, especially those which appear ill, agitated, or disoriented. Report such wildlife sightings to the appropriate local officials, such as Conservation or Wildlife Enforcement Officers
References:
  • OSHA Quick Card- Rodents, Snakes and Insects
  • Safety Tips for Hiking the Trails of New Hampshire

LYME DISEASE PREVENTION

The best defense against Lyme disease is to invest time and effort to protect yourself from tick bites. While it may be impossible to avoid contact with ticks altogether, these guidelines will decrease your chances of being bitten by a tick.

  • Ticks prefer areas with brush and tall grass—avoiding these habitats will reduce your exposure to tick concentrations
  • The months of May, June, and July are the most active for ticks that transmit Lyme disease—take extra precautions then
  • Stay to the center of the trail whenever possible, minimizing your contact with grass, brush, and leaf litter
  • Use insect repellent with 20% - 30% DEET on exposed skin and clothing to prevent tick bites
  • Wearing long pants, long sleeves, and long socks will help keep ticks off your skin
  • Wear light colored clothing to spot ticks more easily
  • Tuck in shirts, and tuck pants legs into socks or boot tops to help keep ticks on outside of clothing
  • If you will be in tick-infested habitat for extended periods, you may consider taping shut the area where your pants and socks meet for added protection
  • Perform periodic “tick checks,” and inspect yourself thoroughly at the end of your outing
  • Remove imbedded ticks with fine-tipped tweezers—monitor yourself for symptoms of Lyme disease (bulls-eye rash, fatigue, fever, soreness, etc.)—consult your physician if you suspect the onset of Lyme disease
References: Center for Disease Control— WEB ACESS: http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/dvbid/LYME/Prevention/ld_Prevention_Avoid.htm

THUNDERSTORMS

Thunderstorms cause significant hazards for hikers and trail crews, including lightning strikes and wind downbursts which can topple trees. Trail workers and users should keep appraised of weather forecasts throughout the day, and become familiar with signs of a developing storm. Large buildups of Cumulonimbus clouds (“cotton ball” clouds, especially those with dark coloration, and flattened or “anvil” shaped tops) are signs of a potential thunderstorm. A sudden reversal in wind direction, a noticeable rise in wind speed, and a sharp drop in temperature may note the mature stage of a storm. Heavy rain, hail and lightning can occur in the mature stage of a thunderstorm. During a storm, use the following guidelines:

  • Do not lie down
  • The best position is sitting on a day-pack (only those without metal frames or components) or crouching with feet close together
  • Avoid sitting directly on the ground, if possible; but, if necessary, keep feet and buttocks close together
  • Avoid grouping together—keep a minimum of 15 feet between people when possible
  • Cell phones or hand held radios (with short rubber antennas) are safe to use. Do not use phones or radios with elevated antennas
  • Wide, open spaces are better places to shelter than trees or near clumps of trees. Ridge tops or other high places should be avoided
  • If you feel the hair on your arms or head “stand up,” there is a high probability of a lightning strike in the vicinity. Crouch or sit on a day-pack (without metal frame)
  • Put down all tools, and distance yourself from them if possible
  • Take shelter in vehicles whenever possible
References:

POTENTIALLY VIOLENT PERSONAL ENCOUNTERS

Although it is unlikely to happen, trail workers and users should be vigilant to the possibility of encountering a potentially violent person while in the field. Irate or aggressive recreationists, people under the influence of alcohol or drugs, people suffering from mental or emotional challenges, or even people engaged in criminal activity (i.e.: illegal dumping on public lands, clandestine drug labs, marijuana cultivation, etc.) may all potentially react to your presence with violent behavior.

  • Use the “buddy system” whenever possible. Working or hiking in groups of two or more is a smart safety practice in any situation
  • Ensure that someone knows where you will be working/hiking before you hit the trail, and what time you are expected to return
  • Act in a polite and non-threatening manner as you encounter unknown individuals
  • Do not try to reason with people who seem overly distraught, angry, or irrational in their speech or body language
  • Leave the area as soon as possible
  • Report the encounter to your supervisor and/or local law enforcement authorities
References:

North Country National Scenic Trail

Last updated: September 29, 2021