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.