Spring is the time for trees to start budding, flowers to bloom, and grasses to grow lush and green once again. This season of rebirth is welcomed after a cold, gray winter not only by homeowners but also by those who work in the landscaping industry; it’s time for their busy, prosperous season to start.
The landscaping industry includes a wide variety of services, from gardening and masonry work to lawn care and installing irrigation systems. Some of these job types include far fewer risks than others. For instance, individuals responsible for planting flowers or gardens or those who do landscape design experience a low rate of accidents and injuries. Others, like tree care workers or arborists, face year-round risks that can put them in dangerous situations. These potentially hazardous circumstances can lead to severe injuries or even fatalities.
The tree care sector of the landscaping industry is commonly associated with precarious work conditions, with typical job requirements involving using tall ladders and working high amongst the top branches. Additionally, these workers often utilize hazardous equipment like chainsaws to complete their daily duties. According to the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), tree workers have 15 times the fatality rate and three times the nonfatal injury rate compared to all other industries.
What Are the Most Common Injuries for Tree Care Workers?
The TCIA reports that the month of May is when the highest number of fatal incidents to tree care workers occurs. While some tree care services are available year-round, some work is more seasonal and takes place in the spring, summer, and fall. There’s no doubt the duties involved with tree care can be physically demanding, requiring workers to climb, bend, lift, carry, kneel, shovel, and more.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics states that tree trimmers and pruners experience one of the highest rates of fatalities of all occupations. Here are a few of the most common injuries tree care workers suffer, and some prevention tips to ensure tree care business owners can keep employees safe while on the job.
- Fall Injuries
Falls are the most common fatal type of accident for tree care workers. They can also result in broken bones, concussions, and other injuries. Falls can happen for various reasons, including the following:
- Falling from the tree
- Off a ladder
- While climbing
Tree workers often must work from heights and climb high into the branches, and the most common type of fall is falling from the tree itself. However, they can also fall from ladders used to reach higher points or from the climbing system failing.
To help reduce potential injuries due to falls, workers should be well-trained in the types of fall hazards they are exposed to, as well as understand the correct procedures for utilizing, inspecting, and maintaining the fall protection systems they need to use regularly. They should also be supplied with the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) such as harnesses, gloves, non-slip boots, belts, slings, and climbing equipment like harnesses, belts, slings, and carabiners.
- Injuries From Contact with Objects
Contact with objects is the second most common injury tree care workers experience, according to TCIA. Fatal injuries can occur from falling tree limbs or even being struck by the tree itself as it goes down. Workers may also be injured by other objects, like equipment falling from heights.
These incidents can be reduced when workers understand the importance of being aware of their surroundings, as well as the location of other workers; they should never turn their backs on a tree when it is being cut or felled. Branches should be lowered safely to the ground immediately after they are cut rather than allowing them to free fall.
Additionally, workers should understand the basics of chainsaw safety. Using a chainsaw is strenuous work that can take a toll on the individual, making it easy to drop to the ground as they become fatigued.
- Environmental Injuries
Tree care workers are outside in all types of weather, from the hot sun to the bitter cold. Working in hot weather can lead to heat stress or heat exhaustion, dehydration, and other injuries and illnesses. The cold can cause hypothermia or frostbite. Additionally, they may be exposed to plants like poison ivy, poison oak, and sumac that can cause allergic reactions such as rashes.
Regardless of whether workers are outside on a summer or a winter day, they should be required to take frequent breaks to decrease their exposure to the elements. They should understand what type of clothing can best protect them, like light-colored, breathable fabrics in the summer and cold weather gear like hats, gloves, and heavy coats in the winter.
Precautions should be taken when employees are working amongst foliage and could come into contact with poison ivy, oak, or sumac. They should understand how to identify these plans so they can avoid them as much as possible, and learn what treatments to apply if they are exposed to them.
Working in trees near power lines is often a requirement for tree care workers. Working close to a power line can put them at high risk of contact with the line which can lead to electric shock or electrocution. This contact is most often indirect, when a worker hits the line with a conducive tool like a metal pruner. Or, sometimes a branch the worker just cut and is holding in their hand could touch the power line. Workers may also physically touch the power line themselves inadvertently, especially if the wind picks up and pushes them towards it.
Tree care workers should take extra caution around power lines. OSHA recommends that workers should always assume lines are energized, and they should follow the proper minimum distances to avoid contact.
- Transportation Accidents
Any occupation that utilizes vehicles as part of daily job duties is at risk for transportation accidents. Tree care workers are not only at risk driving to and from job sites, but automobile accidents and injuries can also occur when employees are working at trees located roadside.
A proper work zone must be set up at any jobsite near the road, including cones, signs, and barricades. Flaggers should be used to direct traffic through the area to help workers avoid getting hit.
Ensuring the Safety of Tree Care Workers
It’s essential that tree care workers take all the precautions noted above to ensure their safety while on the job. Keeping this information top of mind will help reduce the number of accidents, injuries, and fatalities in this important sector of the landscaping industry.
AmTrust Financial Services, Inc., a multinational insurance holding company headquartered in New York, offers specialty property and casualty insurance products, including workers’ compensation, business owner’s (BOP), general liability and extended service and warranty coverage. For more information about AmTrust, visit www.amtrustfinancial.com.