From rockslide control and wildfire mitigation to livestock handling and aerial tram maintenance, Colorado’s labor market has more than its share of occupational hazards. We talked to eight people whose careers might make you love your nine-to-five desk job just a little bit more.
If A Tree Falls...
Name Craig Muzzy
Title Owner/operator, Crosscut Logging
On the job 34 years
Typical logging wages $18 to $20 per hour
Craig muzzy’s face was shattered. His left eye socket was broken, both sides of his jaw had snapped, and his sinus cavity had been crushed. His sacroiliac joint—between the hip and the base of the spine—was separated. It was a battering worthy of 10 days in the Denver Health trauma center in 2005, and it all started as a routine day of logging.
Muzzy was operating a “skidder”—a heavy tractorlike vehicle that pulls felled timber from the forest to the hauling trucks—on a steep slope eight miles east of Mancos. As he turned the skidder to head downhill, a small tree got caught in the underside of the machine and cut off the brake line. With no way to slow down or stop, Muzzy bailed out and hit a tire, which propelled him into the skidder’s blade. It was two-and-a-half months before he returned to a logging site—on crutches. “These things can happen quickly,” Muzzy says. “It’s steep ground and rough terrain, and there’s ice and rain. And loggers can get hit by lightning.”
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, logging is the second-most dangerous occupation in America (behind commercial fishing), with 102 fatal work injuries per 100,000 loggers in 2011. Muzzy’s company, inherited from his dad, has just three employees who log 600 to 800 trees (mostly aspen) per day in southwestern Colorado. The trucking is the riskiest part, Muzzy says. The drivers secure their loads of stacked logs with cables. “Putting the cables on and taking them off is probably one of the most dangerous things in logging,” Muzzy says. “A log will roll off that load, and it’s hard to get out of the way.”
Muzzy knew several loggers who were killed on the job. Nevertheless, he says that mechanical harvesting has drastically reduced the injury rate and workers’ compensation claims over the past 20 years. Timber companies used to pay $75 in workers’ comp insurance for every $100 they paid in wages. Today, that number is closer to $10 on the hundred. “Still,” Muzzy says, “you’re working with large machinery and wood. If something rolls or falls on you, it’s going to hurt.”