As a worker stepped away from his snowmobile, he fell in a deep tree well of a small balsam. The tree well had over 6 feet of snow depth. The fallen worker’s head was below the level of his co-worker’s feet on top of the snow.
The co-worker was able to help the worker by carefully digging enough snow away from the worker and then using the snowmobile, which was on packed ground, as a base of support for pulling the worker out. No injuries occurred.
Tree wells form when the branches of the tree shelter the area surrounding the tree trunk from snowfall. Thus a pocket of air or loose snow can form in the vicinity of the trunk. The risk of encountering a tree well is greatest during and immediately following a heavy snowstorm.
Low hanging branches further contribute to forming a tree well, as they efficiently shelter the area surrounding the trunk. It is a potential risk with trees in deep snow no matter the diameter of the tree. Wells can also occur near rocks, along streams and in heavy regen with snow press.
When a person falls into a tree-well, it’s incredibly difficult to climb back out. The loose snow can prevent the person from breathing and result in suffocation by snow.
Two experiments conducted in the U.S. and Canada found that 90 per cent of volunteers who were placed temporarily in tree wells were unable to rescue themselves. It was also noted that most people will not call out for help right away as they either feel that they should be able to dig themselves out or are embarrassed to ask for help. However, the more the person struggles the more entrapped in the snow they become as more snow falls into the hole, re-burying them.
Calling for assistance should be your first course of action.
Here are some suggestions for avoiding and dealing with entrapment if you fall in a deep tree well:
As a co-worker:
This winter has seen a high volume of snow. Always be alert and watch your footing around the base of a tree or large rocks. Slow down when approaching these dangerous zones and make sure that your footing is on ground that will hold you. If you feel yourself starting to sink down, try to back away to avoid sliding into the well.
For your safety, you should assume all trees have a hazardous tree well. Fortunately, the risk of falling into a tree well is completely avoidable.
For more information:
Safety & Project Manager
Pro-Tech Forest Resources Ltd.