Tree Trimming Training

A tree-trimming accident leads to a fatality—and a reconsideration of safety training for outdoor work. Today’s Advisor reports on the accident and reiterates OSHA’s safety recommendations for tree-trimming activities.

In November 2013, a 42-year-old employee of a real estate company was struck and killed by a large section of a 60-foot (ft)-tall eucalyptus tree he was helping to remove from the employer’s property. The California Occupational Safety and Health Administration (Cal/OSHA) investigated the incident and found that neither he nor any of the other construction laborers employed by the company had the experience or training to safely cut down a tree of that size, leading to nearly $92,000 in fines for his employer.

The company was cited with 13 violations, eight of which were classified as serious. According to Cal/OSHA, the company failed to employ a qualified tree worker, which is required by law to direct all work related to tree trimming, tree repair, or removal of trees exceeding 15 ft in height. In addition, workers were not trained to use the aerial lift that elevated them to cut the tree, and were not provided with eye protection or a fall protection harness while working on the lift.

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“Workers at construction sites are frequently exposed to serious hazards, and safety training is essential to prevent serious injuries and fatalities. This incident is a vivid reminder of what can go wrong when employers don’t have proper safety procedures in place,” said Christine Baker, director of California’s Department of Industrial Relations.

California has a specific standard for tree work, maintenance, or removal, which applies to work performed and equipment used in tree and ornamental palm maintenance and removal. At the federal level, a number of OSHA standards address the hazards associated with tree trimming and removal. Some of these include the standards for logging operations; electrical safety; electric power generation, transmission, and distribution; fall protection; personal protective equipment (PPE); and hand and portable power tools.

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Here are OSHA’s guidelines for workers to protect themselves when they’re engaged in tree-trimming and removal activities:

  • Assume all power lines are energized until proved otherwise, and contact the utility company to discuss deenergizing and grounding or shielding of power lines before beginning tree work near power lines.
  • All tree trimming or removal work within 10 feet of a power line must be done by trained and experienced line-clearance tree trimmers. A second tree trimmer within normal voice communication range is also required.
  • Line-clearance tree trimmers must be aware of and maintain proper minimum approach distances when working around energized power lines.
  • To safely fell a tree, determine the felling direction, provide a retreat path so the worker can reach safety while the tree is falling, and determine the proper hinge size to safely guide the tree in its fall.
  • Make sure chain saws and other equipment are in good working condition and that workers are trained to use equipment safely.
  • If possible, avoid felling trees into other trees or objects.
  • Do not trim trees in dangerous weather conditions.
  • Provide workers with the personal protective equipment (PPE) necessary to protect them from hazards, including gloves, safety glasses, hard hats, and anything else necessary for the conditions workers will be exposed to.

Why It Matters

  • Certain jobs are inherently dangerous.
  • Much outdoor work falls into this category.
  • Don’t wait for a fatality to ensure that your outdoor workers are trained to work safely.