A grieving mother who lost her son in a tree care accident in the late 1960s launched a campaign that helped form the American National Standards Institute Z133.

More commonly known as “the ANSI,” or even “the Z” in tree-climbing circles and conversations, what today is known as the Z133-2012 is a federal standard that stipulates general work, operations and safety standards for the tree care industry. It is designed to provide a guiding framework for tree folk and their work. Although it does not carry the weight of a regulation, its standards have been adopted by many municipal, state, provincial and federal organizations in their regulation of the tree care industry.

After going through the drafting process in 1971, the Z133 was approved in 1972 as an American National Standard. Since then, it’s been under continual revision and review, reflecting changes in the industry’s gear, equipment and techniques. The most recent version was approved in 2012.

The Z133 Committee is made up of tree industry professionals; as fellow tree folk, they are open to suggestions that will increase safety. Therefore, all industry members may play a role in this self-regulation for the safety of themselves and their fellow workers.

Big picture

The ANSI Z133 is not intended to be a “playbook” for carrying out tree care operations; folks looking within it for step-by-step instructions will be sorely disappointed. What it does have is a variety of guidelines for common work activities, including general information on such subjects as traffic control, personal protective equipment (PPE), electrical hazards, rigging, climbing and removals, along with a number of appendices designed to help users better follow the guidelines. Users also will see references to other standards that could be pertinent for tree care, such the ANSI Z89.1 for helmets/hardhats or the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for traffic-control situations.

Every tree care company should have at least one copy of the Z133 available and make its guidelines part of their daily operations. In addition, every tree person who wishes to be a responsible professional should be familiar with the ANSI Z133 and make it part of their personal work practices and habits.

After all, how can a company or culture be safe without its members choosing to act and work safely?

The ANSI Z133 provides fairly specific guidelines on required personal protective equipment for tree care operations.PHOTOS: MICHAEL (HOUSE) TAIN

Pieces and parts

Probably the easiest part of the standard to apply is the section on PPE, but, unfortunately, this section quite often is ignored. PPE is the first line of defense against workplace injuries and accidents; given the cost of injuries, PPE certainly could be viewed as extremely cheap insurance. Safe work practices and techniques go a long way toward preventing injuries and accidents, and some attention to the ANSI personal protective equipment section can be valuable financially, physically and emotionally.

Head – Helmets or hard hats are required during tree care operations, and Class E helmets/hard hats must be used when working near electrical conductors. Users should keep in mind that a skateboarding, cycling or snowboarding helmet might not meet the standards, regardless of how cool it looks.

Ears – While the standard speaks of a “time-weighted average” of 85 decibels over eight hours, the reality is that most tree care worksites are noisy, ear-destroying locations. Hearing protection should be in use whenever a litany of chippers and grinders is operating. Plugs or muffs typically will provide adequate protection and can be worn in tandem, but users should keep in mind the care and maintenance of whatever ear protection they employ.

Eyes – More than a few things around a tree care worksite will “put your eye out,” so eye protection is a must. Users should keep in mind the required protection necessary to protect the eyes and avoid picking one brand simply on the basis of fashion or its “cool factor.”

Legs and down below – The standard continues to require chain saw-resistant leg/lower body protection when operating a saw on the ground, but not when aloft. Personal experience has shown that a chain saw injury to the lower body while climbing can be more likely and much more difficult to deal with medically. In addition, individual states, provinces and municipalities may require leg/lower body chain saw protection at all times. Regardless, tree crew members would be well-advised to exceed the standard in this case and wear leg/lower body protection at all times when operating a chain saw.

The ANSI Z133 provides basic information on face notches and their use.

Electric Issues

Electrical hazards are part of tree care in urban, suburban and even rural environments on a regular basis, and certainly become a part of every tree crew’s focus during storms. The electrical hazard section in the Z133 provides a basic introduction to some of the unique characteristics of electricity and the ways it can leave a mark on tree folk. Of particular importance is the section and table(s) on minimum approach distances – tree folk should remember that non-line-clearance-qualified personnel should maintain a 10-foot distance from energized conductors.

Driving to and fro

While a lot of tree folk may not put much thought into how much driving/vehicle operation is a part of their daily operations, safety research has shown that many industry accidents involve driving and/or operating worksite vehicles. The Z133 guidelines are fairly basic and may seem “common sense,” but their implementation into everyday work practice, if not already in place, will help make the crew and company safer.

Equipment and others

The Z133 provides some basic guidelines on rigging.PHOTO: COURTNEY KEELY

Cranes – The use of cranes in tree care is a topic worthy of, and requiring, much more space than available here or in the Z133, but the standards do include some valuable basic information. Of particular importance is the information on attachment to the crane for climbers, and the exceptions regarding when a climber may remain attached to the crane while a load is suspended. Both situations differ significantly from crane use in other industries/applications.

Climbing – The most current Z133 does not specifically address particular climbing techniques or methods, but it does contain basic information on equipment strength requirements. It also provides some guidelines for certain activities, such as inspection of equipment and lines before use, termination guidelines for connecting links in split-bridge systems, and snap hook use.

Rigging – The rigging section emphasizes the importance of understanding load ratings and the use of working load limits, along with requiring some form of communication system to make the rigging operation not only safer, but more efficient.

Tree removal – The Z133 does speak in this section to the need to keep non-involved workers out of the possible impact zone, two times the height of the tree, and provides guidelines on exceptions that may arise due to worksite requirements or hazards. The standard gives some basic requirements for felling notches and requires their use in any wood greater than 5 inches in diameter.

Brush removal/chipping – This section not only addresses personal protective equipment needs while chipping, but also speaks to the dangers of chipping while wearing entanglement hazards, such as gauntlet-style gloves, climbing harnesses and lanyards. It also contains some excellent guidance on body and brush positioning during chipping operations.

The ANSI Z133 is an excellent resource for every member of the tree care industry, and they can help to shape and guide it. However, the Z133 is only helpful if individual members take it to heart and implement it daily in their personal work practices.

It won’t save lives or prevent heartbreak sitting dusty and unread on a shelf in the break room.

Read more on changing the safety culture of your team.