Safety First: PPE

Safety & PPE

Personal protective equipment, or PPE, should be part of every climber or branch manager’s daily outfit, so normal and natural that the respective tree crew member feels nearly naked without it. Sadly, this is not always the case. Equally sad is the reflection in the tree care industry accidents, injuries and death statistics of this all-too-common lack of PPE.

A company, crew or individual can be fined for not wearing the required PPE on a worksite, which is a pretty strong incentive to put the gear on. But the primary reason for wearing PPE is to protect oneself, so that at the end of the day you go home with all the pieces and parts that were there at the start of the day.

Even the latest, greatest and most advanced PPE is not going to protect workers who make bad decisions, use poor judgment, or use generally insane work practices, but wearing the required PPE will lessen the odds of a serious injury in the event of the unexpected.

There’s a large amount of economical PPE available that could be considered hot or uncomfortable while still meeting the basic requirements. While this is better than no PPE at all, discriminating people should be aware that just as the tree industry has grown and modernized, so has the PPE available, leaving crews with many options that are cooler, more comfortable, less foggy and more stylish. Regardless of whether the crews are rocking old-school or new PPE, the point is protection not just over the course of a workday, but over the course of a tree climber’s career.

In general, clothing and footwear are not covered in a great deal of detail under ANSI Safety Standards, but understandably tree care professionals should be making choices that are suitable for a dirty, skin-shredding and tripping hazard environment. States, provinces and municipalities can choose to exceed these standards, so tree companies should also be familiar with their local regulations and requirements.

Operators, crew leaders and company owners should think of required PPE as not only required by law or regulations, but also an inexpensive way to prevent injury and loss of work time.

Head: Helmets or hard hats are required during tree care operations, and Class E helmets/hard hats must be used when working near electrical conductors. Users should keep in mind that a skateboarding, cycling or snowboarding helmet might not meet the standards, regardless of how cool it looks.

Ears: While the standard speaks of a “time-weighted average” of 85 decibels over eight hours, the reality is that most tree care worksites are noisy, ear-destroying locations. Hearing protection should be in use whenever a litany of chippers and grinders is operating. Plugs or muffs typically will provide adequate protection and can be worn in tandem, but users should keep in mind the care and maintenance of whatever ear protection they employ.

Eyes: More than a few things around a tree care worksite can cause severe damages to the eyes, so eye protection is a must. Users should keep in mind the required protection necessary to protect the eyes and avoid picking one brand simply based on fashion.

Legs and down below: The standard continues to require chain saw-resistant leg/lower body protection when operating a saw on the ground, but not when aloft — a chain saw injury to the lower body while climbing can be more likely and much more difficult to deal with medically. In addition, individual states, provinces and municipalities may require leg/lower body chain saw protection always. Regardless, tree crew members would be well-advised to exceed the standard in this case and wear leg/lower body protection always when operating a chain saw. While professionally manufactured chaps certainly meet the requirements, tree workers will often find that pants or bib-style overalls are more comfortable, flexible and user friendly in the tangled, strap-snagging environment that is most tree work sites.

All PPE needs to be cleaned and cared for, otherwise it won’t perform as required. Daily inspection and maintenance should be a part of appropriate PPE use.

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Safety First: Audits

Safety & Audits

Safe practices in maintaining the electrical grid can’t be overvalued. The truth of power transmission is that it’s inherently risky work. We ensure the functionality of enormous systems, with high voltages traversing significant distances, including ancillary services that make this possible.

For utilities, much of the day-to-day work involving line maintenance can fall to an ecosystem of trusted outside contractors. The overall strategy of a vegetation management program, for instance, may originate in-house, but execution falls to a contractor whom the utility trusts to perform safely. It’s in everyone’s best interest that safety best practices be followed by all a utility’s contractors, and it’s the responsibility of the utility for making sure this happens. But how can you ensure that teams across a service area are working safely?

Too often, taking a closer look at safety practices and procedures is prompted by an accidental injury or even death. Beyond the incomprehensible human cost, the utility and the contractor are suddenly under significant pressure: Occupational Safety and Health Administration penalties, higher insurance rates, worker’s compensation claims and the severing of contracts.

Third-party safety audits ensure the best possible practices and precautions are being followed on a regular, formal basis.

A comprehensive safety audit provides an objective assessment of a crew or contractor’s safety practices, predominantly in accordance with OSHA 29CFR 1910.269 and the ANSI Z133 Safety Standard. Staying up to date on all relevant standards for new rules and regulations is critical. The Z133 standard, for instance, contains revisions that may tie back to a specific incident in the field.

Consider this example: A small tree care company undergoes rapid growth after contracting with a bigger utility. Lacking a dedicated training department, some crew foremen are responsible for safety training. What happens if those foremen are only knowledgeable about outdated versions?

Next, a safety audit determines if a crew is following those standards in the field. The audit will take note of the following:

  • If a written pre-job briefing has been provided;
  • That the proper personal protective equipment is being worn;
  • Properly functioning equipment (and much more)

One of the most important benefits of a safety audit isn’t always top of mind: a total documentation of safety procedures. If it isn’t documented, that training doesn’t count for much.

From the utility’s perspective, documentation is critical. Ultimately, it’s the utility that is granting permission for a given contractor to perform service on their rights-of-way, and being able to reference documentation that certifies the contractor is up to the utility’s standards is an important part of the utility/ contractor relationship.

A safety audit accounts for certifying documentation — proof that crews have been through the appropriate safety training. It can include something as simple as a written quiz that must be taken by individuals after watching a safety video. No matter the case, it must be documented. A safety audit provides this documentation. If there’s room for improvement, the audit provides clear identification of the specific need. And if a crew is performing its duties with an exceptional focus on safety, the audit will reflect that just the same, allowing for greater confidence. In the event of an incident, safety audit documentation also provides assurance that your organization had done everything in its power to promote safety. If OSHA comes knocking, such documentation is critical to potentially avoiding significant fines.

As far as choosing an audit partner, make sure that your auditor is well-versed in relevant OSHA and ANSI standards. Participation in industry standards committees, and length of industry experience is also a plus, are other good indicators. And be sure that your auditor provides you with the proper documentation as part of a service agreement.

Overall, a safety audit will benefit utility companies and contractors. Doing everything possible to ensure crews are safely upholding the utility’s commitment to its customers is enormously important — lives depend on it.

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Ways To Celebrate Arbor Day as a Tree Care Pro

Celebrate Arbor Day

Spring has sprung, which means it’s that time of year: Arbor Day.

Nationally observed on the last Friday in April (April 28 this year), many states also hold statewide Arbor Days to coincide with the best planting weather in their specific region.

Arbor Day has grown exponentially since its humble beginnings in 1872. For example, last year, through partnerships with the U.S. Forest Service and the National Association of State Foresters, the 50 millionth Arbor Day Foundation tree was planted.


The Arbor Day Foundation boasts many programs, initiatives and resources all geared at increasing the world’s tree cover. The foundation is a 501 nonprofit conservation and education organization that was founded in Nebraska in 1972 by John Rosenow. It’s the world’s largest membership organization dedicated to tree planting.

Tree care pros have the privilege of serving as tree ambassadors to the public. From tree trimming to identifying diseases, tree care pros are the group of people homeowners, business owners and local governments turn to when they need help.

That’s why on April 28, Tree Services urges industry professionals to get involved in their local communities to share the legacy of the holiday just for trees.

History of Arbor Day

The first Arbor Day was April 10, 1872, in Nebraska. Julius Sterling Morton, a Nebraska journalist and politician who served as President Grover Cleveland’s secretary of agriculture, was a proponent of the benefits of wide-scale tree planting. While serving as a member of Nebraska’s state board of agriculture, he proposed that a day be dedicated to planting and promoting the importance of trees. On the very first Arbor Day, more than a million trees were planted.

Birdsey Northrop of Connecticut was responsible for globalizing Arbor Day when he visited Japan in 1883 and delivered his Arbor Day and Village Improvement message. In that same year, the American Forestry Association made Northrop the chairman of the committee to campaign for Arbor Day nationwide. He also brought his enthusiasm for Arbor Day to Australia, Canada and Europe.

In 1970, President Nixon made it official at the federal level by declaring the last Friday in April as National Arbor Day.

The Tree City USA program began in 1976, with 42 communities in 15 states honored. Today, more than 3,000 cities and towns are honored as Tree City USA communities.

Also, in 2008, the Tree Campus USA program launched as 29 colleges and universities were recognized for following best tree care practices on campus. Today, more than 250 campuses are recognized.

Photo: Danielle Lanning and Yelena Tischenko

Photo: Danielle Lanning and Yelena Tischenko

Did you know?

According to the National Wildlife Foundation, there are about 60 to 200 million spaces along our city streets where trees could be planted. This translates to the potential to absorb 33 million more tons of CO2 every year and save $4 billion in energy costs.

They said it

Planting trees does matter and can be a great way to create long-lasting memories for your family. Case in point: In February 2016, a woman named Paula Stahl posted the following message on the Arbor Day Foundation’s Facebook page:

“When I was 10 [years] old, we moved to a new home on my [grandfather’s] farm. Grandpa ordered spruce trees from [the Arbor Day Foundation], and he and I planted them together along our property line. They were small, about a foot tall. That was 46 years ago. Today, I can look out my window at them towering there. They provide a windbreak, shade, and are the home for many birds and critters. Thank you, Arbor Day Foundation. My own son is returning home from the Air Force this week …. he will inherit this place next. I think I will commemorate the occasion by ordering some more trees from you for us to plant together. He can look out on them 50 years from now… And smile!”

Celebrate as a tree care specialist

The first Arbor Day celebration was held 144 years ago, and while planting a tree is still the traditional way to commemorate the day, you and your employees can do even more to help spread the tree love in your community.

Consider working with a local school or scout troop to plant a tree on the school grounds or at a local park. provides information on educational programs you can lead, including suggestions to start off by presenting the U.S. flag, reading the Arbor Day Proclamation, describing the history of Arbor Day and inviting the children to prepare and read poems or a play about trees. You could even raffle off a nursery gift card or seedlings so participants get the chance to plant a tree in their own yards.

Here are other creative ideas from to celebrate the importance of trees with the community:

  • Organize a scavenger hunt and look for the oldest and largest trees in town, or find trees of different species.
  • Work with kids to produce a skit about trees and perform it for family and friends.
  • Have your team select a local park to clean up on Arbor Day, and host a picnic.
  • Donate books about trees to the local library.
  • Hold an Arbor Day picnic at your place of business; raffle off trees to clients.
  • The week of Arbor Day, hold classes about pruning, planting and tree selection and identification for the public.
  • Help neighborhood organizations host an Arbor Day block party.
  • Go on a hike with your employees and/or clients and identify trees as you walk.
  • Work with the town council to honor citizens in your community who are good environmental stewards.

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Safety First: Chippers

Safety & Chippers

There are plenty of technical safety procedures to follow when operating a chipper, but sometimes it’s the basics that are most overlooked, says Joe Deriscavage, Northeast outside territory manager for Bandit Industries and a Tree Care Industry Association-certified chipper trainer.

“You really need to start at the beginning with the correct PPE,” he emphasizes. “Many times, I see crews not wearing helmets, hearing protection, eye protection, or gloves.” He also sees people wearing things that they shouldn’t, like loose-fitting clothing, long hair that’s not tied back and jewelry.

A lot of chipper safety is common sense, which unfortunately “is highly uncommon,” says Deriscavage, noting that ANSI Z133 spells out a lot of the general safety practices that should be followed, but too few people take the time to read it. It’s up to the foreman or crew leader to be the safety expert on the job, Deriscavage says. “They’re responsible – the crew is working for them. They need to be the promoter of safety.”

That means monitoring crew members to be sure they have proper PPE and that they’re following key safety guidance, such as not putting their hands in certain areas where there are moving parts of the chipper and making sure the wheels are stopped when not chipping.

While new employees in the tree care industry obviously need to learn how to operate a chipper safely, Deriscavage says it’s sometimes more experienced tree care pros who are most at risk. He cites research done by Dr. Ball at South Dakota State University, showing that the age group most likely to be injured while running a chipper isn’t 18 to 24, as you might expect, or even 25 to 34.

Instead, the group that had the most accidents was the 45- to 54-year-olds. “It’s often the company owner, who says ‘I’ve always done it this way.’ They get complacent,” Deriscavage explains. That’s easy to do when you’re around a chipper all day long and it seems easy to operate. He says it helps to bring some perspective to the matter, citing the fact that commercial tree chippers typically have a feed rate of about 100 linear feet per minute.

In one research project Deriscavage cites, it took only about 1.2 seconds for a crash test dummy fed into the chipper to end up in the chip truck. “That example… really hits home with people,” he says. “I’ll snap my fingers and say 1.2 seconds; that gets their attention.”

The accidents that occur when operating a chipper often aren’t the type of serious injuries and fatalities that make the news, but rather more minor incidents that are painful and costly for the tree care company. Maybe somebody didn’t wear their eye protection and got a piece of material in their eye, or wasn’t wearing gloves or a helmet and got hit by a branch, says Deriscavage. “These all count as incidents. Somebody might say, ‘Oh, it just needed a few stitches.’ But next time, it could be worse.”

Each brand and model of chipper has specific safety equipment and directions. But there are some general rules to follow. “All manufacturers want you to feed from the curb side whenever possible; we want you to feed from an angle, and basically walk in a circle,” Deriscavage explains.

“You feed the material into the rollers and the machine takes it over, and then you walk in a radius around where you’re clear from all materials, because you have to keep an eye on your work zone.” He uses the analogy of “having your head on a swivel,” always knowing what’s going on around you, being in communication with any climber who is up in a tree, watching that you don’t interfere with pedestrian or automobile traffic and having a safe zone to work in.

It’s important to search out a high- quality chipper operator training program for more detailed information on chipper safety; check with your dealer and/or professional tree care organization for opportunities in your area.

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