This blog post was previously posted on the website of our insurance partner, AmTrust.
Trees come in all colors, shapes, and sizes. Proper tree care keeps trees beautiful and prevents them from posing risks to people and property.
For the businesses that provide tree care services, the risks can be even greater. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 82% of injuries in the tree care industry were fatal in 2021, which is down from 91% in 2020, but are still some of the highest numbers of all professions.
Besides serious injuries and fatalities, accidents put a company at risk for costly lawsuits and damage to the company’s reputation. In this article, we will explore six effective ways to cut down on insurance claims and decrease risks by reducing falls; considering weather, equipment, and chemical risks; and reducing commercial auto accidents.
1. Reduce Falls
Falling is one of the main causes of injury for workers in all industries, but is especially prevalent in the tree care industry. The most common fall risk is climbers who fall to the ground or fall while in a large tree. Aerial lifts have helped to improve safety, but workers can still fall from the lift, or the lift can fall with them in it.
The Texas Department of Insurance provides an informative Safety Fact Sheet with lots of helpful tips for employers, supervisors, and employees to prevent falls.
Here are some measures they recommend for employers:
- Supply hard hats, climbing spurs, harnesses, saddles, and climbing lines.
- Gather input from employees on how to stay safe on job sites.
- Ensure employees can identify hazards and they know how to avoid them.
- Require employees to use fall protection and proper climbing techniques.
- Train employees on how to steer clear of drop zones.
- Comply with all necessary safety regulations.
- Monitor workers for safety practices and weather-related health concerns.
- Take extra precautions when working around power lines.
Proper fall prevention measures could save one (or more!) lives.
2. Reduce Risks in Cold Weather
While tree care work mostly takes place during the warmer months, tree care workers may also work in extremely cold temperatures. Severe weather can cause trees to fall onto roadways or powerlines, which means tree workers have to battle ice, slippery conditions, blinding snow, harsh winds, and freezing temperatures.
When the temperature drops below freezing, people can lose body heat quickly. As their bodies work overtime to maintain a healthy body temperature, it taxes their other bodily systems. As their bodies struggle to stay warm, they are at a greater risk of becoming ill or injured.
Here are some tips to help keep tree care workers safe and warm while out in the field on the coldest of days:
- Reduce the time they spend outside by using relief workers or rotating schedules.
- Provide warming tents or trailers where workers can get warm.
- Provide dry clothing for workers to change into.
- Provide cold-weather gear such as hats, boots, and gloves.
- Monitor employees for signs of hypothermia or frostbite.
- Make first aid kits with chemical heat packs and a thermometer accessible on job sites.
Be sure to keep the lines of communication between workers and supervisors open about the weather conditions and temperature.
3. Reduce Risks in Hot Weather
The summer sun also takes a toll on tree care workers. Those who work outside daily are at risk of heat exhaustion, sunburn, and dehydration.
When it’s extremely hot outside, tree care workers may experience symptoms of dizziness, confusion, nausea, muscle cramps, or headaches. These are signs of heat exhaustion which can lead to a life-threatening condition called heatstroke.
Some workers may be at risk of getting severe sunburns. With repeated exposure to the sun over time, they may develop skin cancer if they don’t take measures to protect their skin.
Dizziness and headaches can also be a sign of dehydration which can lead to serious health issues such as seizures, kidney failure, or shock. In extreme cases, it can lead to a coma or death.
Here are some other tips for reducing safety risks in extremely hot weather:
- Check the forecast and consider rescheduling work if it’s too hot.
- Train employees on how to recognize signs of heat exhaustion and dehydration.
- Allow workers to take breaks from the heat.
- Supply plenty of drinking water.
- Monitor workers who seem to be affected by the heat.
- Encourage workers to wear lighter-colored clothing which does not absorb the heat as much as dark clothing.
- Encourage tree workers to wear waterproof sunscreen with a high SPF rating.
A valuable tool is the OSHA-NIOSH Heat Safety Tool App, which gives the heat index for the location as well as precautionary recommendations.
4. Check Equipment Before Using It
There are two issues with equipment that involve safety risks with tree care workers: having the proper equipment and ensuring the equipment is in good working condition. If equipment malfunctions or isn’t working properly, workers are at risk of getting cuts from saws, suffering from ear or eye injuries, or falling.
The following reminders are good practice anytime before heading out for a job:
- Inspect belts and harnesses for cracks, cuts, and broken stitching.
- Be sure clips, buckles, and rivets are not broken or loose.
- Inspect ropes and lanyards for signs of wear, fraying, or sun damage.
- Be sure snap catches and carabiners close properly and they are the right size for the D-rings.
- Supply protection for the eyes and ears such as protective eyewear and ear plugs.
- Store saws, ropes, and harnesses in one location when not being used.
Tree care companies that use chippers should also be sure the chipper operators are out of the line of falling trees and debris.
5. Reduce Chemical Risks
Caring for trees sometimes requires handling toxic chemicals which can cause tree care workers to become seriously ill or cause burns or severe injuries to their skin. Tree care workers should be aware that even chemicals and pesticides with low toxicity levels can be dangerous if they are inhaled or ingested, or if it makes contact with their skin. Any contact with chemicals or pesticides can cause health issues.
To avoid chemical risks, be sure to:
- Choose products with the lowest toxicity levels when possible.
- Require workers to read the labels and follow the instructions exactly when using them.
- Require workers to wear Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) as noted on the label.
- Provide workers with Material Safety Data Sheets that outline necessary precautions.
- Prohibit workers from eating, drinking, or smoking when using pesticides and chemicals.
- Require workers to wash their hands thoroughly after using chemicals or pesticides even if they wear gloves.
- Require workers to place chemicals and pesticides in the bed of a truck rather than the cab.
- Encourage workers to wash their clothing separately when they’ve used chemicals or pesticides.
As an added precaution, be sure workers and supervisors have the phone number accessible for Poison Control: (800) 222-1222.
6. Reduce Commercial Auto Accidents
As tree workers must travel daily to job sites, they are also at risk of getting into an automobile accident. Commercial auto accidents can be costly for tree care companies for several reasons: a bad accident damages trucks and can put them out of service, drivers and passengers can be hurt and not be able to work, and then there’s also the emotional trauma of being in an accident.
Safe driving practices can help prevent auto insurance claims which in turn will help keep commercial auto premiums lower. The following auto safety tips serve as a reminder of how to keep drivers safe while driving to and from job sites:
- Check the driving records of all drivers.
- Keep an updated list of all approved drivers for the company.
- Establish clear policies and procedures for driving company vehicles and ask drivers to sign a form acknowledging them.
- Be sure all approved drivers understand what their responsibilities are if they get into an accident.
- Be proactive if a driver gets into an auto accident and work closely with the claims adjuster.
- Establish a plan for repairing and maintaining vehicles.
Lastly, take the time to assess accidents that have happened over the year to learn how to prevent future accidents.
NIP Group is a market-leading specialty insurance program manager that has been offering unique commercial insurance solutions and risk services for niche industries like tree care, landscaping, and greenhouse growers for more than 30 years. Working with more than 5,500 broker partners, we help clients gain control over their costs, secure customized coverage, and create safer work environments. Learn more about our wide range of brokerage, underwriting, and risk management services at NIPGroup.com.