TFTC #9 Mechanical Advantage... Working Smarter?

Brandon Nance Feb 8th 2019

We have all heard the saying “Work smarter, not harder.” While there is truth to this, sometimes, depending on one's interpretation the meaning will vary. Finding a solution that requires less energy or time — and provides the same or an even better result — would certainly be fitting for this statement. And letting somebody else do the work instead of you is not working smarter, it is merely displacing it onto someone else.

I think most people agree with what the “Work smarter, not harder” concept is, but not too long ago I heard a different take on it. Mark Chisholm, who is one of the most solid, professional, and humble arborist/people I have ever had the privilege of knowing, posted on social media “Work smarter and harder.” As simple of a comment as it was, admittedly it caused me to do a bit of thinking. I believe the intention is to keep working smarter, but don’t stop working. Yes, finding easier more efficient ways to perform tasks is great, but not at the expense of hard work. Chisholm later made a comment which I think sums it up well, “I'm suggesting work smarter and keep working hard for your entire life no matter how smart you get.”

After thinking on Mark’s comment, I re-evaluated my original thoughts on “Work smarter, not harder” and how I apply it in relation to our industry, work, or life in general. No one is going to argue that machines, pulleys, and countless other products create opportunities to increase speed and productivity. If a solution is available, use it! But are we, at the sake of seeming to work smarter, setting ourselves up for harder work in the end or a lesser outcome than if we had not implemented the “smarter” solution?

So, what exactly does either one of these sayings have to do with Mechanical Advantage? Pulling a tree over with a machine certainly classifies as a mechanical advantage. But, are we jeopardizing the outcome and safety on the site to use what we view as the “smarter” solution? I will be the first one to admit that I have used machinery for this exact purpose and I am sure that just about everyone has. But is it truly the “smartest” solution? I certainly questioned my solution after snapping a ¾" rigging line trying one of my “smarter” solutions while working on storm cleanup at a family member’s property. Had it worked, it would undoubtedly have been the fastest solution. But ultimately, I caused gear to fail and prolonged the entire operation.

Are you able to determine the amount of load and stress that is being applied to the tree, ropes, pulleys, connectors, or the machine itself when using machinery? It could very well be the fastest solution but is it ultimately the smartest? It is quite easy for machines to introduce forces that cause the tree or equipment to fail. Are we increasing the likelihood of a barber chair, breaking out the top, breaking the tag line, or something else? When equipment fails, especially during the exercise, we lose control over the situation. When this happens, things turn south quickly, and there is little to nothing we can do.

One could argue — and many will — that using machinery for this purpose is acceptable. That is a different topic and conversation and one that would likely be long-lasting. The question is whether or not what we think the smartest solution is (which in our minds means working less hard), is indeed the safest solution. An intelligent solution goes hand in hand with the safest solution, at least that is where I have landed in my thinking.

Using just a few pieces of gear can be more than enough to create a mechanical advantage. The most significant benefit, besides the apparent increase in pulling or lifting power, is the ability to control the forces. In theory, if we have a 2:1 mechanical advantage, we should be able to lift or pull two times the force we put into the system. This is not perfect as friction is likely even if in very minimal amounts, but it is easy to see what advantage we create for ourselves. Using a haul system to lift a chainsaw to the climber is an excellent example of mechanical advantage and how the simple addition of a pulley can make life easier for the ground team and climber.

When we step up to a 5:1 for tree pulling, we are gaining even greater pulling or lifting power. But we must remember if we need that extra mechanical advantage, we are using it because of the weight we need to direct or move. This is where the “Work smarter, not harder” thought process can break down if we are not aware and careful. If we use the power of a truck for example to pull the tree after the proper cuts have been made, our ability to know the forces we are placing on the tree and gear are at best an educated guess. What if we missed a critical issue during our inspection of the tree and now we hook the tag line to an 8,000-pound truck and proceed to pull causing a failure of the tree. Like I said before, this is not a discussion on whether this is a suitable technique or not. This is about having confidence in our smarter solution being the safest solution.

My change of perspective with “Working smarter” can be applied to other aspects of the job site. At the end of the day with one cut left to finish the job, are we deciding to make the cut because tomorrow morning will be easier (working smarter) because we will not have to do it? Or are we justifying to ourselves making the cut because we think it is smarter, ignoring our gut feeling telling us to wait? Everyone has likely made a cut and realized after the dust has settled that a smaller piece would have been the smarter and safest solution. What if the cut taking a larger piece breaks the rigging point, or the section doesn’t fall the way we thought? Now our smarter solution has caused more work. And with any scenario, and this is the most important, have we put everyone on the job at risk? That is the worst-case scenario, but let’s be honest, the injuries and deaths in this industry are not moving in the right direction.

Working smarter is not just about finding an easier, more efficient solution, it must also include safety. Safety = smarter. And we all know hard work is part of this industry so if we equate safety with working smarter than we can be confident we are setting ourselves and coworkers up for success. I have already adopted Chisholm’s saying of “Work smarter and harder.” It’s applicable not only on the job site but life in general.

We will dig deeper into the gear and setups that create a mechanical advantage in the next installment. Finding solutions to make our job easier should be something we strive for, but not at the risk of safety.

“Work smarter (and safer) and harder.”

Climb safe. Cut safe.