There are few professions where proper safety training matters more than it does in tree care. The potential for injury is immense when those performing the job don’t understand the hazards involved or the right techniques for the task. One company dedicated to helping tree care professionals is ACRT, Inc.

Company background

ACRT was formed in the mid-1980s, and at the time focused primarily on offering six-week training programs through the federal government’s JTPA (Job Training Partner-ship Act) initiative.

Since then, employee-owned ACRT (based in Akron, Ohio) has expanded its mission to become a nationwide “utility vegetation management consulting firm” that uses its expertise in tree care to help utilities create plans to efficiently manage vegetation. Its crews do not trim trees or apply herbicides, which the company says allows it to offer unbiased advice on the best management approaches.

ACRT has retained its training heritage, and, today, ACRT Urban Forestry Training bills itself as “the largest licensed arboriculture vocational training organization in North America.” Its contract training program can be tailored to nearly anyone working in tree care.

ACRT’s training manager is Keith Norton, who has a wide range of tree care, line clearing and electrical hazard experience. PHOTOS: ACRT

ACRT’s training manager is Keith Norton, who has a wide range of tree care, line clearing and electrical hazard experience.

PHOTOS: ACRT

Specific programs

There are four standard training programs available: Basic Arborist, Advanced Arborist, Line Clearance and Electrical Hazard.

“Customized programs are also available,” says Lois Tennant, ACRT’s training coordinator. Just a few of the many topics covered in the various curriculum include chain saw safety; pruning; rigging, basic and advanced; International Society of Arboriculture (ISA)-certification preparation; and cabling and bracing. The advanced class includes training with cranes on takedowns.

“A lot of people are interested in aerial rescue,” says Tennant. “They need those skills for some of the ISA programs. Lately, aerial rescue with bucket certification has been very popular, but our biggest and most popular workshop is always line clearance. Some people say, ‘I don’t do line clearance work.’ But, I ask them, ‘Do you come within 10 feet of energized wires?’ Or, ‘Do you do storm damage work?’ And they’ll say, ‘Yes.’ So, I tell them, ‘That’s why you need line clearance training and certification.'”

Talking training

Those seeking training from ACRT Urban Forestry Training can opt for a program at their site or (four times per year) at ACRT’s Akron headquarters. Tennant says the choice of location usually depends on the number of employees who need training. If a company or municipality has just one or two employees who need training, sending them to Akron might make more sense; for larger groups, an on-site training might be best.

ACRT’s training manager is Keith Norton, who has a wide range of tree care, line clearing and electrical hazard experience. “We keep him pretty busy,” says Tennant of Norton’s travel schedule providing contract training around the country and even overseas.

The arborist trainings, as well as the line clearance trainings, take place over five full days and consist of 20 hours of classroom training and 20 hands-on hours in the field. “If it’s a city, they usually pick a location such as a park. If it’s a private company, they typically choose a site they’re working on,” says Tennant.

Those who sign up for ACRT Urban Forestry Training at their own site must provide the necessary equipment for the training; ACRT provides the equipment for trainings that take place at its Akron facility. The latter option provides attendees an additional benefit beyond the training: the chance to try out a variety of different tools and equipment. “We have saddles, for example, from all different companies. When you come here you get to try out a lot of different equipment to see what you prefer,” says Tennant.

The process

Trainings are typically limited to 12 participants. “Twelve people is what one instructor can comfortably train, so we hold to that number,” Tennant explains.

When a company or municipality contacts ACRT, the first step is to figure out which training program is right for them. Tennant says, “The Basic Arborist training is typically for someone who wants to get into the business – it teaches you how to climb, how to do proper pruning, how to take down trees. Most of the people who come to that training are people who want to start their own tree care company, and they want to start it right.”

The majority of those who enroll in the line clearance training already have some tree care training, says Tennant, but the specialized line clearance training—and certification that’s awarded at the end—are required to meet Occupational Safety & Health Administration mandates in that field. Those who complete the electrical hazard training also receive a certification. Those who take part in the basic and advanced arborist classes receive a certificate of completion.

“It helps to show that they’re for real; that they’re not just another guy with a pickup and a chain saw,” says Tennant.

Those who are certified arborists through ISA also receive CEUs for their training. Most importantly, though, those who complete the training gain the skills to help keep them safe.

Each workshop includes a manual that students keep to refer to if questions arise back on the job. Some companies and municipalities who sign up for ACRT Urban Forestry Training are repeat customers.

“Some have us out every year, some have us every two or three years,” says Tennant. This allows new employees to learn the basics, or experienced employees to learn new skills—and it’s never too late to learn more. “

A lot of people have been doing line clearance for years, but they might have started out learning from their father or a friend. They wonder why they can’t be ‘grandfathered in,’ but, for the most part, those who were reluctant to take the training in the beginning always end up glad that they took it,” says Tennant. “They realize there was so much they didn’t know.”

In addition, depending on the relationship dynamics, it can sometimes be difficult for a father to train a son or a boss to train an employee, so an independent third-party trainer may have more success in getting the messages across, points out Tennant. “There are always new techniques out there, so the person doing the training always has to be up-to-date,” she adds.

While tree care tools are discussed at ACRT trainings, the emphasis is placed on safe techniques rather than the latest equipment.

While tree care tools are discussed at ACRT trainings, the emphasis is placed on safe techniques rather than the latest equipment.

Tools of the trade

While there are also always new tools available in the industry, Tennant says ACRT focuses on safe techniques rather than the latest equipment. “The instructor will discuss the different tools out there, but to us, safety is more important,” she explains. “We don’t sell any equipment, and unlike some training companies, we’re not sponsored by equipment manufacturers, so we have no reason to promote particular brands.”

Not surprisingly, ACRT’s busiest time of the year for training workshops is during the winter, when many tree care companies are at their slowest and can devote time to training. Tennant recommends calling before fall to schedule an on-site training workshop.

In addition, ACRT Urban Forestry Training also offers training to Job Corps students in Vermont and offers assistance with job placement for those students who successfully complete the training.

In all of its programs, the mission of ACRT Urban Forestry Training is to help build a safer, better educated tree care workforce.

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in April 2009 and has been updated for accuracy.

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