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Mar 12, 2018

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Tree Trimmer Safety

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As I get ready to head to the beach for Spring Break (I will already be there when this episode drops!) I was thinking about some of the seasonal work we need doing at our homes as well as at our businesses. And that got me thinking about tree trimmers. And it hit me - when it comes to workplace safety, it is easy to overlook the folks that do some of this work, either at our homes or when we hire these companies to help us maintain our facilities.

Each year thousands of trees are uprooted by powerful winds from hurricanes, thunderstorms, etc. And usually taking power lines and transformers with them. I wanted to get a quick topic out about the safety needed for workers that come out and take care of these trees and help us improve our personal property as well as our businesses.

Tree trimming is serious business. There are numerous SERIOUS safety hazards involved. Everything from falls to electrical hazards, these workers must be well-trained, well-equipped and focused to do this job safely.

One of the more common hazards deals with power lines. Either downed lines from a storm or tree that fell or just trimming tress near power lines. The safest approach is ALWAYS ASSUME THAT POWER LINES ARE ENERGIZED! 

If clearing trees, contact the utility company to discuss de-energizing and grounding or shielding of power lines. This takes time, yes, but just search online for stories involving tree trimmers being shock or electrocuted on the job! Oh, and it often involves ground workers; yep, this can happen when a ladder or the boom of cherry picker unknowingly comes into contact with an energized lines and the operator is insulated in the basket, doesn’t realize it and a ground worker walks up and grabs the metal door of the truck, reaches for a tool or something like that and becomes part of that circuit. It happens more than you think! These can all be avoided.

One way to avoid disaster is to always perform a hazard assessment of the job in general as well as the work area prior to the start of work. So for electrical hazards, ask will you get closer than, say, 10 feet to your average power line? What about the stability of the ground for outriggers on the cherry picker? Is there traffic nearby or will you need to be in the roadway? What about clearance for your work, especially when removing or cutting down a tree?

Let me say, to “fell a tree” means more than just cutting it down. Felling means to cut the tree in such a way that it falls in the desired direction and results in the least damage to the tree. To safely fell a tree, you must eliminate or minimize exposure to potential hazards found at the tree and in the surrounding area. This means BEFORE YOU BEGIN WORKING!

Part of being prepared for your work means having the right equipment. Always use proper personal protective equipment as recommended by the manufacturer’s operating manual, including eye, face, head, hand, and foot protection for tools and machinery. Chippers, shredders, chainsaws, etc. all have very specific safety requirements. And don’t forget TRAINING!

Your employees NEED to be trained on all the tools they will be using. Don’t rely on the old “I have been using chainsaws for years” certification. Just look online for any number of manufacturer videos or literature on chainsaw safety. Or any other power tool. The Power Tool Institute has some good videos a well, so search for them too. By the way, I have an OSHA publication that covers the hazards of wood shippers as well. So be sure to hit that link!

Broken or hanging branches, attached vines, or a dead tree that is leaning can be of concern. All of these hazards can cause injuries. So making sure employees are trained to spot these overhead hazards and stage work accordingly should also be covered. I have an OSHA publication that covers falls and falling objects hazards for tree care workers. Just hit the link in these show notes or on the website for this episode.

What about working outdoors in general? There is extreme cold and heat concerns. This should all be a part of your employee training. How to spot poisonous plants, what about insect bites and stings? How about encounters with snakes or other wild animals? Basically, if it is a realistic hazard of the job, have a plan to educate workers on the hazards and to manage them! If you are not sure what to cover in any training. Just break the job down into stages:

  1. Getting ready for a job: utilities location/de-energization, insulating, etc., shop safety, vehicle safety, storing/transporting fuels, oils, etc. PPE inspections, things like that.
  2. Arriving on the job: staging, sizing up the scene (especially after a storm or downed tree event), nearest emergency room, 911 coverage (for rural areas)
  3. Working: Process safety. As an example:
  • If the tree is broken and under pressure, make sure you know which way the pressure is going. If not sure, make small cuts to release some of the pressure before cutting up the section.
  • Be careful of young trees that other trees have fallen against. They act like spring poles and can propel back. (Many professional loggers have been hurt in this manner.)
  • A tree may have not fallen completely to the ground and be lodged against another tree. Extreme care must be taken to safely bring the trees to the ground.
  • If possible, avoid felling into other trees or objects. Don’t turn your back on the tree as it falls, and hide behind a standing tree if possible.
  • As trees fall through other trees or objects, branches and objects may get thrown back towards workers.
  • Look at other standards for guidance. You may not consider yourselves loggers, but the logging standard has some really good best practices on which to base your operations. Share facts about logging in general to drive a point: like more people are killed while felling trees than during any other logging activity.

These accidents CAN be avoided! So when getting ready for the spring season and all the storms it brings, downed trees and power lines; remember safety starts well before the work begins! I hope I gave you some things to look for, some topics to research and begin training your workers on as well as started you all thinking about this work in general. If you hire these workers to help you maintain your facilities, be sure to ask for certifications for aerial lift training, if that applies, ask for a pre-job plan to include where they will stage their equipment, provide them a list of PPE they will need to wear while at your site. This can really start a conversation about safety and give you an idea on how proactive that contractor is and whether they are ready for this type of work.

If you are a tree trimmer, either worker or company owner, this is a good time to start looking at safety as both an employee benefit as well as customer service. It is the right thing to do, it is good for business, it just makes sense.

Share your tips for safety during these types of activities by sending me an email to or by visiting

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