Gorilla Tree Service was cited for seven safety violations and fined $23,200 for its failure to prevent the tree-trimming accident that caused the death of a Napa resident and young father of two last summer.
Jeremy Booth, 24, had been working with the Napa-based company for about six months when he and another employee started removing limbs from a liquidambar tree in the 100 block of Karen Drive for the City of Napa on Aug. 15, according to Cal/OSHA.
The other employee was trimming trees from an aerial bucket about 35 feet from ground level, lowering the limbs to Booth using a rope. Booth would then untie the limbs from the rope and feed them into the brush chipper.
While cutting a branch, the other employee noticed that the rope was entering the chipper drum infeed and started yelling to Booth to watch out for the rope. Booth looked up at his colleague, then bent down to try to get out of the way, but the rope wrapped around his neck, pulled him down toward the chipper drum and toward the feed wheel, Cal/OSHA reported.
Although the safety control bar was somehow activated, the 40-inch chipper disc continued operating, rotating at about 1,140 revolutions per minute.
Booth sustained multiple injuries including a deep cut on the neck and a so-called hangman’s fracture with spinal cord injury.
Cal/OSHA concluded that “the accident happened due to the failure to ensure ropes that present an entanglement hazard were prevented for entering the point of operation.”
Gorilla Tree Service was fined $16,200 for failing to prevent the entanglement hazard and $4,500 for failing to guard moving parts of the chipper’s belt and pulley drive as required, according to Cal/OSHA.
Gorilla Tree Service was fined $500 each for five other violations including failing to certify that workers had been properly trained in tree work, failing to provide workers with first aid and CPR training, failed to brief workers on hazards of the job assignment and appropriate work procedures, and failing to equip, maintain and operate the wood chipper in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations.
“Tree work is a high-risk industry, and safety requirements are in place to protect workers from known hazards,” Cal/OSHA Chief Juliann Sum said in a press release on Monday. “Employers must ensure that workers are effectively trained to use brush chippers and other dangerous machinery safely.”
Marshall Neil, the owner of Gorilla Tree Service, didn’t comment on the Cal/OSHA investigation or penalties on Tuesday. Of the incident, he said: “It’s a sad thing. It’s terrible.”
Although he sustained fatal injuries, Booth’s organs were donated to other patients in need. Family and friends took solace in the fact that his death would help others.
Editor's Note: This article has been modified from its original form to remove the specific address at which the accident occurred and to remove certain graphic details of the incident that were included in the official report.