Some professions are more dangerous than others. For some, like the tree care industry, going to work involves workers risking their limbs and even their lives on a daily basis.
And, despite safety precautions, high-tech gear, education and training, accidents will happen.
Recently, the Tree Care Industry Association reviewed 126 occupational tree care accidents reported to the media, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration and industry colleagues in 2014. Of these 126 accidents reported last year, 81 were fatal. In 2013, 158 reported accidents were reviewed, and 79 were fatal. In 2012, 44 fatal accidents were documented.
This increase in fatal accidents between 2012, 2013 and 2014 is concerning, to say the least.
Sadly, many of these fatalities were preventable. According to the TCIA review, in eight of the reported 12 fatal electrocution incidents, plus one fatal electric shock/burn incident, the victims were using aluminum ladders and/or conductive tools.
In eight of the 25 reported fatal falls, the victims were not properly secured. In three reported palm trimming deaths, the climbers were secured to the trunk below the frond skirts, a technique known to be extremely risky.
“It seems clear to us that the practitioners most in need of improved knowledge and training are also the least inclined to seek out training opportunities,” Peter Gerstenberger, TCIA’s senior advisor for safety, standards and compliance, said in a prepared statement.
A major factor in these 126 reported accidents is when they occurred. According to the TCIA’s review, Monday and Friday continue to be, by far, the most dangerous days of the week for tree care pros, with Monday ranking No. 1.
“It is reasonable to assume that so-called ‘critical error’ behaviors — such as mind-not-on-task or eyes-not-on task — are more prevalent on [Mondays and Fridays],” Gerstenberger said.
Another factor, according to the review, is professional affiliation. Arborists working for companies that are not members of organizations like the TCIA experienced a disproportionate number of these reported accidents.
“Tree care companies with no professional affiliation, such as TCIA, may not have the resources or motives to incorporate safety training on the job site,” Gerstenberger said. “Furthermore, TCIA has found ignorance or lack of training to be a factor in many of these incidents.”
Examining further the fatal incidents and their most highly occurring causes, 15 victims were struck by a tree, 11 were struck by a tree limb, 11 fell from an aerial lift and six were struck by a motor vehicle. The median age of all incidents, not just fatal, was 42 years old.
Though statistics and reports such as this one can be hard to read and difficult to process, a harsh reality is presented — it is imperative that safety is never pushed aside, or made an afterthought.
Aside from being more careful on job sites, what can be done to bring down this number of fatalities?
One answer is more training and education. The Arborist Safety Training Institute, launched by the Tree Care Industry Association Foundation, provides local safety training to arborists. ASTI provides grants for safety training to minimize consequent deaths and injuries and promotes overall workforce safety that is critical for the tree care industry.
Also, a number of arborist manufacturers/retailers offer training seminars at their facilities throughout the country in which tree-centric subjects or equipment are explained and demonstrated, most in a one-day session in a field or classroom setting.
At this time next year, let’s hope the 2015 review shows fewer accidents than in years past.
Please, be safe out there.