Steep ground working

What you need to know

This page covers the safe working practices to be followed when harvesting and extracting trees on steep or difficult ground.

The ability to work safely on steep or difficult ground is dependent upon a number of factors other than the gradient of the slope. These are discussed below. For example, ground conditions can change quickly in bad weather and decisions on how to work safely may need to be modified to take into account changes in environmental conditions.

What you need to do

You must follow safe work practices and methods when harvesting and extracting trees on steep or difficult ground.

Planning the work

When planning how the work should be done on a specific site, you should consider:

  • The soil condition
  • Moisture content
  • Depth
  • Underlying material
  • The terrain eg slope measurements, soil/ground condition, ground roughness, erodable soils, boulders
  • Size and type of tree
  • Type of tree/brash quality
  • Cutting specification
  • Weather conditions
  • Water on site, possibility of flash floods
  • Siltation
  • Pollution
  • Visibility
  • Alternative work areas
  • Recovery arrangements, including dealing with oil spills
  • The possibilities of modifying the site by constructing tracks or ramps.


All operators must receive appropriate training in:

  • How to operate the machine
  • How to do the tasks required
  • Use of personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • How to keep the machine in good working order.

Risk assessment

Your risk assessment will be similar to any conventional harvesting site. The increase in slope will mean that you need to plan carefully how the work will be done, including:

  • Choosing which machine to use
  • Deciding who should use the machines
  • Deciding how to supervise the work and take account of changing conditions.
  • To work safely on steep ground, you need to think about the entire harvesting operation - not just the forwarder or harvester. Everyone involved in the work needs to be in regular contact with each other. Record how you plan to do this in your risk assessment and site safety rules.
  • Every operation will be different and you will need to assess the specific site and the weather conditions.
  • Everyone operating machinery on steep ground must receive the appropriate training and be competent to do this type of work.

Managing the work

The forestry work manager (FWM) is responsible for deciding how the forestry operation will be done on site. Managers, contractors and operators must meet before the work starts to discuss the limits of any machinery they use.

Schedule regular reviews of how the work is being done and review again when circumstances change on site.

Operators should not change the planned system of work without agreement from the FWM. The FWM may need to visit the site more often for steep ground working, to supervise and monitor the work.

Keep records of pre-commencement meetings with the risk assessments, which should include details of the agreed frequency of site visits.

Keep records of site visits and review the risk assessment regularly.

Site safety rules should identify the person on site responsible for communications and give instructions on how the work should be done. They should also include details of any lone working arrangements and emergency procedures.

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