Pressure Project 1: Woodchipper

Team: Ransom Roberson, Karsten Dees, Ethan Mattice

This article discusses a recent accident where a teen was pulled into and brutally killed by a wood chipper.

This instance of a violent and gruesome death illustrates a difficult problem of balancing human intelligence (and common sense) and machine safety assumptions. The teen was pulled into the wood chipper when he went to kick a jammed piece of wood into the intake of the chipper. This resulted in his clothing being snagged and him being pulled in along with the wood. This was the first (and last) day of work for the contracting teen. Based on this, we can infer that the teen was likely inexperienced with wood chippers and wood chipper related work.

woodchipper sketch.png

Woodchipper Diagram

Our problem solution started out by analyzing exactly where the problem could be located. We used a set of circle diagrams with underlying ideas to draw connections to each of our thoughts. We had two main schools of thought: There was a problem with the person operating the machinery, and there was a problem with the safety standards of the machine itself.

From these diagrams we drew pictures of the machine and person using it and debated where the problem could have occurred, during this time we revisited the article to find more clues as to what happened.

After a few iterations we were able to determine that the most likely cause is unsafe machine standards and a secondary cause was not enough training for operators. It is from these conclusions we were able to design our solutions.


Our proposal to prevent further wood chipper related deaths include a two pronged approach. We understand that humans are fallible by nature. We propose to close this gap as much as possible by working with standards institutions such as OSHA to require training on heavy machinery. Although most of us will consider “don’t put your limbs near the mouth of a wood chipper” to be common knowledge, there are some that would benefit from this education and lives could be saved.

Furthermore, we look to technologically improve the wood chipper industry using technology similar to a product known as SafeSaw. The blades of the wood chipper would be able to detect the difference of Human / Animal matter from the trees that it is supposed to be destroying. Upon detecting a non-tree entity the blades would retract instantly to protect against further incidents from occurring.

We also spoke briefly about the possibility of a voice activated kill switch that is sensitive to screaming, or commands such as “Stop,” or “help”. We decided that this may not be as beneficial as the smart blade upgrade.

Woodchipper solution.png

Stakeholders Problem/Solution Diagram

Contractor who hired the kid

–       Problem: did not properly train kid for his first day

–       Solution:

o   Provide training to subcontractors

o   Validate quality of labor


Wood Chipper Company

–       Problem: wood chipper is now seen as wildly unsafe

–       Solution:

o   Edit chipper design to include blades that detect human flesh and voice activated kill switch

o   Produce literature on proper wood chipper safety use to reduce company liability


Insurance (contractor)

–       Problem: Does the contractor have mal-practice insurance?

–       Solution:

o   Acquire insurance



–       Problem: How can this accident be prevented in the future?

–       Solution:

o   New Policies

o   Standard check-ins to validate contractor’s license

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