When climbing a tree to trim branches, workers are at the mercy of the tree and their fall protection equipment. In a nutshell, both must be equipped for the job.
However, falls remain one of the leading causes of injury and death among tree trimmers. Often, these injuries and deaths occur because fall protection is damaged, used improperly, or not used at all. Falls also occur when either damaged equipment or the tree itself breaks under the weight of the worker.
But you and your employees can minimize these injury risks with some pre-planning.
What your employees need to know
Before tree trimming work begins, a Qualified Tree Worker (QTW) assesses any tree scheduled for trimming or other work. Weak branches and/or a dead or decaying trunk increase the chance the tree will break, which could then throw the worker to the ground. No one may climb a tree unless the QTW has determined the tree is safe.
And, just like a QTW examines the tree, your employees need to thoroughly inspect fall protection equipment.
Each day, before work begins, look for rips, frays, tears, broken buckles or clips, worn or damaged spurs and gaffs. Since your workers also use the ropes, saddle, and other fall protection equipment to climb and descend the tree, and rest against while working, there’s additional risk of damage. For example, wear and tear increases as the ropes slide up and down the tree. There’s also the chance a saw could come in contact with a rope or lanyard.
Also, fall prevention equipment must be strong enough to support the weight of the worker and the equipment he/she is using.
What your employees need to do—and not do—to stay safe
If an inspection reveals any damage to fall protection equipment, remove it from service. Replacement gear should be on hand just in case something breaks.
Other fall prevention steps include:
- Don’t work in trees during bad weather.
- Don’t climb with anything in your hands. Hoist tools with a rope system or use a tool belt.
- Tie off in at least two places if using a chainsaw.
- Only stand on strong limbs that fully support the workers weight. Look for any cut or broken off branches that may still be in the tree. Leaning against or trying to climb on these could result in a fall.
- Use aerial lifts for trees that are not safe to climb.
At your safety meeting
Discuss your fall protection plan with your employees. Review the manufacturer’s instructions for your fall protection equipment and make those instructions available to employees whenever needed. Demonstrate the type of damage your employees need to look for, how to report the damage, and the process for taking equipment out of service.
Other steps to cover include:
- Proper use of fall protection while working in a tree.
- How to inspect fall protection.
- How to raise and lower tools to the work area in the tree (either by hoisting mechanism or tool belt).
- Review your communication process between workers aloft and those on the ground.
Tree work is dangerous, especially for those who climb the tree to trim branches. While the risk of falling is always there, pre-work inspections, equipment inspections, and use of proper protective gear help you and your employees minimize the risk of a catastrophic accident.