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J Agromedicine. 2019 Apr;24(2):157-166. doi: 10.1080/1059924X.2019.1567424. Epub 2019 Jan 22.

The Dangerous Middle: Situational Awareness and Worker Perception of Beetle Kill.

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a Department of Sociology, Anthropology, and Social Work , Kansas State University , Manhattan , USA.
b National Farm Medicine Center, National Children's Center for Rural and Agricultural Health and Safety , Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation , Marshfield , USA.
c Department of Anthropology , University of Wyoming , Laramie , USA.


Forest workers, including loggers, foresters, and wildland firefighters, are regularly exposed to some of the most fatal occupational environments in the United States. These hazardous work environments may become even more complex and dynamic when subject to bark beetle outbreaks that have resulted in significant tree mortality. The impacts of tree death from bark beetles are significant, with the cumulative 17-year (2000-2016) footprint for bark beetle caused tree mortality estimated at 54 million acres. However, how workers think about and act in these environments is understudied. This study, therefore, approaches the issue of beetle kill and forest worker safety by examining the perspectives or workers themselves. Its contribution is to leverage ethnographic research to provide insights that can generate new research questions, better inform outreach, and ultimately improve worker safety outcomes. The resulting insights show that beetle kill was understood by workers as a hazard that increased the complexity and dynamism of the work environment, making situational awareness both more necessary and more difficult to maintain. While much research about situational awareness focuses on hazardous situations, it is suggested that building adequate situational awareness should also include broader considerations of organizational communication, as well as training and experience considered over the course of entire careers.


Beetle kill; forestry; situational awareness; wildland fire; worker safety

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