Electrocution and Falls are the Top Causes of Death in this Work Group.
Ever watched a tree trimming crew clearing the right-of-way under power lines or a catastrophe response crew that clears debris caused by hurricanes and tornados? I tip my hat to these workers. Talk about a profession with multiple high risk hazards. Failure to follow safe work practices and industry protocols can easily result in death or permanent disability in the blink of an eye.
Tree trimmers work from heights on a routine basis, particularly if they are clearing around power lines or topping tall trees. They frequently work from aerial lifts, though a smaller residential job may be completed from the ground using pruning sticks or pole saws.
Ground crew works to clear fallen limbs and branches and feed them into a wood chipper. These workers frequently suffer strain/sprain injuries from lifting, tugging, dragging, and tossing limbs from their resting sites into wood chippers. Hand, wrist, and shoulder/rotator cuff injuries are common with these repetitive motions. The work is physically demanding and requires a substantial amount of twisting and bending, both of which are contributors to low back injuries and hernias.
POWER LINES, POWER LINES, POWER LINES!
Electrocutions and falls are the top two causes of death in this work group. Job assessments are critical in assuring the safety of a tree trimmer. Look UP! This simply cannot be stressed enough. Power companies should be contacted prior to work with a request to de-energize or insulate the lines with insulating blankets or hoses designed for this purpose. Whether or not that request is honored, workers should always assume a line is energized. This will keep a healthy respect for high voltage in place. An overly cautious approach is never a mistake, particularly when working near power lines.
Electricity is unforgiving. Fatalities occur in mere seconds. Non-fatal cases may include severe burns, blown out elbows, and other life-altering permanent disabilities. There is zero margin for error and no room for noncompliance with safe work protocols in this industry.
Falls are among the top 10 cited OSHA violations year after year and this industry reports a high number of fall-related injuries. Those injuries range from contusion to fatality and include every degree of injury in between – lacerations, broken bones, loss of limb, brain injury, and paraplegia included.
Fall arrest systems are critical to worker safety in this industry. Workers should be issued full body harnesses and understand how to adjust harnesses for proper fit. Each worker should understand how to inspect harnesses, lanyards, D-rings, and slings. This equipment should be properly stored and inspected regularly to assure its integrity. Any damaged or defective fall protection system should be removed from service immediately.
Catastrophe response workers should be aware of unstable conditions as they work to clear piles of brush and debris. These piles may shift and collapse, and create a significant slip/trip hazard. Waders or other protective footwear may be needed in hurricane or tornado-ravaged areas, as debris piles may hide additional hazards from the workers’ vantage point.
Safe work practices for this industry include anchoring to the tree, and exercising extreme caution when working on slopes. They must know the location of their personal safety lines in order to avoid coming into contact with saws. Trimmed branches should be dropped to the ground upon cutting and not allowed to remain to rest in the treetop. They must know how to notch a limb properly in order to direct its fall and reduce the likelihood of a struck-by injury due to a limb snapping back under pressure. This, of course, is a mere snapshot of all the thought and preparation involved in safely trimming trees or clearing storm debris.
A healthy respect for chainsaws goes a long way in this industry. For the sake of brevity, cuts, lacerations, and loss of limb will not be explored in this article. Suffice it to say that chainsaw injuries are ugly, serious, and unforgiving in their own right.
WHICH BRINGS US TO PPE.
Elimination of the hazard is always preferred (de-energize the power line). If the hazard cannot be eliminated, an engineering solution (insulated blankets that provide barrier protection) should be considered. Short of either of these preferred solutions, administrative and PPE controls must be considered. Administrative controls include JSAs and safe work practices, both of which are critical in this industry. Workers should understand the importance of assessing every job site for hazards prior to commencing work. Daily job briefings should be held with all crew members to assure each person is aware of the hazards present on site and the controls in place.
PPE is mandatory for this industry. Workers should be equipped with leather lineman gloves, protective sleeves designed for electrical work, chaps, and Class E hard hats. Use non-conductive tools whenever they are available. Eye protection (with side shields) should be worn to prevent injury from wood chips and sawdust. Hearing protection should be worn when operating chainsaws or heavy machinery. Face shields may be appropriate for some jobs. Safety boots with steel-toe protection, slip-resistant soles, and a defined heel should be worn to protect feet from falling limbs, saws, and other equipment. Loose-fitting clothing that can be caught in saws, chippers, and other equipment should never be worn while trimming trees.
Safety training and awareness is a high priority for all tree trimming businesses. Weather conditions seriously impact the ability to perform this job safely. High winds, rain, and lightning are all reasons to delay a job. Public roadways, parking, and pedestrian traffic (sidewalks) must be protected around the job site to prevent injury to others and damage to property. Trucks should be equipped with fire extinguishers, cones, and triangles. Flaggers may be required at some sites to maintain traffic control, and should wear high visibility vests at all times.
Keep first aid kits on all vehicles and make sure your crews have at least one person trained in CPR and first aid. Have an emergency plan that identifies the local hospital or emergency responder before work commences, and post these emergency numbers in a visible location so all crew members have the information available if needed.
The stakes are high when something goes wrong in this industry with multiple risk exposures and lots of moving parts. Be safe!
Does your company have formal safety policies in place? Are you responsible for workforce safety or risk management? Email us or give us a call at (816) 349-0850 to see how we can help design a safety and risk management plan that meets your unique needs.