There’s nothing more important than safety on the job site.
The fact is, tree care workers in the field risk their lives every day climbing up, climbing down and using dangerous equipment. And, despite safety precautions, high-tech gear, education and training, accidents will and do happen.
Case in point: The Tree Care Industry Association recently reviewed the 147 occupational tree care accidents reported to the media, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) and industry colleagues in 2015.
Of these 147 accidents reported last year, 92 were fatal.
It’s incumbent on everyone in this industry to get that number of accidents down, both fatal and nonfatal.
The risks and hazards of tree care will never be completely eliminated, as there’s an inherent danger working in the arboriculture industry. But these risks and hazards certainly can be better managed through safe work practices and techniques, along with the use of required personal protective equipment (PPE).
In addition, the outcomes of accidents and injuries can be improved through preparation and better knowledge and training of first aid and emergency medical care at the moment of an incident.
In an effort to help raise safety awareness for tree care professionals, we’ve gathered some must-have first-aid tips and information that can be used in the field:
Start with the first-aid kit
The first step toward proper emergency preparedness is making sure your company’s work trucks, vehicles and offices include properly stocked first-aid kits.
First-aid kits are just as essential to tree care work and operations as the PPE that’s worn by those working in the field – the latter helps keep you from getting hurt; the former helps you if you’re hurt. First-aid kits stocked with the correct materials are essential to provide first aid for the types of serious, nonfatal injuries that often occur to tree workers on the ground or high up in a tree.
OSHA provides references for lists of basic supplies for a first-aid kit (for example, adhesive tape, bandages, gauze dressings), but goes further to explain that the supplies should reflect the types of injuries that may occur on the specific job. This means that first-aid kits must include standard supplies, but also some specifically for tree work. First-aid kits come in many shapes and sizes and can be purchased from the Red Cross, or they can be made by hand to include industry-specific items.
The Red Cross recommends that, along with including essential items, kits are to be checked regularly for expired items and that any used or out-of-date contents are replaced at once. The following is a list of materials that the Red Cross recommends for basic first-aid kits:
- 2 absorbent compress dressings (5 inches by 9 inches)
- 25 adhesive bandages (assorted sizes)
- 1 adhesive cloth tape (10 yards by 1 inch)
- 5 antibiotic ointment packets (approx. 1 gram)
- 5 antiseptic wipe packets
- 2 packets of aspirin (81 milligrams each)
- 1 blanket (space blanket)
- 1 breathing barrier (with one-way valve)
- 1 instant cold compress
- 2 pair of nonlatex gloves (Red Cross recommends large-size gloves)
- 2 hydrocortisone ointment packets (approx. 1 gram each)
- 1 roller bandage (3 inches wide)
- 1 roller bandage (4 inches wide)
- 5 sterile gauze pads (3 inches by 3 inches)
- 5 sterile gauze pads (4 inches by 4 inches)
- Plastic oral thermometer (nonmercury)
- 2 triangular bandages
- First-aid instruction booklet
In addition to the essential items listed above, tree care workers also should consider making the following industry- specific additions to first-aid kits:
Blood stoppers/compression bandages: Band-Aids and small gauze pads in a basic first-aid kit are not going to be very helpful when confronted with a large chain saw-induced laceration on a chipper or stump grinder incident. Compact, lightweight compression bandages can not only be in the first-aid kit, but are small enough to slide into the pocket of a pair of chaps or chain saw pants. Examples include the Cederroth blood stopper, the Israeli bandage and the H bandage. All allow for a great deal of compression to be put on a bleeding wound to stem the flow.
Folding c-collars: These specialty items can be very useful in a neck or cervical damage injury. Training is needed for proper application, but the availability of folding adjustable cervical collars means that an accident victim’s c-spine can be protected even when injured aloft.
Tie strap: Make sure every first-aid kit has a plastic tie strap locking it. These plastic straps, also known as cable ties, can be purchased at any hardware store. The purpose of the straps is to alert the company owner or safety officer that a first-aid kit has been opened during the day, or during the week. The strap can be cut easily with a knife or hand pruner when the need to open the kit arises.
Other items: The Mayo Clinic recommends the following emergency items that also can be included in a first-aid kit:
- Emergency phone numbers
- A copy of medical consent forms for employees
- A copy of medical history forms for employees
- Small, waterproof flashlight or headlamp and extra batteries
- Waterproof matches
- Small notepad and waterproof writing instrument
- Cellphone with solar charger
- Insect repellent
Along with the Red Cross and OSHA, the American National Standards Institute is a resource to check with regarding first-aid regulations, requirements and recommendations.
Accidents can and will happen, but first-aid awareness and information is available literally at your fingertips, for free.
The official American Red Cross First Aid app puts expert advice for everyday emergencies in your hand, on your smart phone. The spam-free, ad-free app (available in the Apple App Store or the Google Play store) has features that include:
- Spanish language toggle to switch translation directly inside the app
- Step-by-step instructions to guide you through everyday first-aid scenarios
- Fully integrated with 911 so you can call EMS from the app, at any time
- Videos and animations to help in learning proper first-aid protocol
- Safety tips for everything under the sun – from severe winter weather to hurricanes, earthquakes and tornadoes help to prepare for emergencies and many kinds of natural disasters
- Preloaded content, which means you have instant access to all safety information at any time, even without reception or an Internet connection.
- Interactive quizzes to educate users on proper training techniques
Aerial rescues in the tree care industry involve potential life-and-death decisions that need to be made quickly and correctly. Therefore, comprehensive training is absolutely required.
A rundown of some of the key steps involved in aerial rescues is helpful in promoting a greater understanding and appreciation of the factors involved, and hopefully can inspire tree care professionals to sign up for a comprehensive, hands-on aerial rescue training class.
One veteran instructor of such courses is Norm Hall, a certified arborist who has been working in the tree care industry since 1969. Hall is the tree care operations supervisor for Kinnucan Tree Experts & Landscape Co. in Lake Bluff, Illinois. He provides aerial rescue trainings to company employees, as well as to tree care professionals across the state through the Illinois Arborist Association. In all cases, he follows the aerial rescue flowchart that is included in ANSI Z133 Safety Standard.
The first lesson, even when you see someone in distress up in a tree, is to fight the urge to rush in to help. “The biggest thing is site assessment,” says Hall. Most critically that means checking for the presence of energized lines and contacting the system owner or operator. Calling 911 to get emergency medical services (EMS) activated – and staying on the line until they have all the necessary information – is the next step; in some cases, 911 can assist in contacting utilities regarding the presence of energized lines.
“The next step is to respond to the patient,” Hall explains.
“If the patient doesn’t respond, try to determine why they are a patient and what happened. If they do respond, document what they are saying, what happened, what hurts, whether they are allergic to any medication.” The reason why it’s important to document these answers quickly is because of the possibility that the patient could become unconscious during the rescue procedure and/or prior to EMS personnel arriving on scene.
If there are no energized lines present – or if electrical hazards can be avoided, eliminated or controlled – the next step is to decide whether a rescue can be “performed without undue risk to the rescuer(s) or others.” (If the answer is no, the guidance is to secure the area and await the arrival of EMS.)
Hall explains that there are two techniques used in aerial rescues; he primarily teaches the more popular “double friction hitch” method, in which both the rescuer and the victim descend on their own climbing systems. Once up in the tree, the rescuer must ascertain whether the patient is breathing and responsive. In cases where no cervical spine injury is suspected (if there is any injury where moving the patient could create more serious harm, the rescuer should simply stay with the patient until EMS arrives), a plan can be made to bring the patient down.
That process starts with an assessment to make sure the patient’s climbing system is OK to come down on, Hall adds. In the event that the system has been compromised, new equipment needs to be available. “Most tree care companies carry an aerial rescue bag, which contains a clean and dry rope, a tree climbing harness, a lanyard, a throw line, tree climbing spikes,” says Hall. (Other techniques that are also taught include “D-ring” rescues, in which the patient is brought down on the rescuer’s climbing system, and “pulley” rescues, in which the patient is lowered from a pre-installed pulley.) If the patient’s system is in good working order, the preference is for them to descend on that because it is more expedient, Hall explains.
Again, the techniques described here are meant only as a general overview and are no substitute for taking an aerial rescue course, such as those offered through the International Society of Arboriculture, TCIA and other organizations. In addition, this description relates generally to climbing rescues; for tree care workers who are not climbers, aerial rescue classes can offer instruction in how to perform bucket rescues. And for both climbers and nonclimbers of any experience level, a comprehensive course can provide the detailed instruction and hands-on practice that can make the difference in the event of a real-life aerial emergency.
The right fit for first-aid training
Whether it’s to meet the requirements of OSHA, to keep up with the continuing education requirements of professional tree care organizations, or simply to improve on-the-job safety for your employees, first-aid training is an ongoing part of working in the tree care industry. Fortunately, there are many options when it comes to training.
Some of the largest providers of first-aid and CPR training are national organizations like the American Red Cross, the American Heart Association and the National Safety Council. These groups offer a variety of training formats, including courses covering various topics; classes that are both private as well as open to the public; and the option of taking classes either onsite or at the organization’s facilities. A quick online search will show which classes are available in your area. In addition to these national groups, many independent and local companies specialize in providing first-aid and CPR training to businesses.
Online trainings also are available, but these likely will not meet the requirements for OSHA workplace certification – it’s important to confirm that whatever training program you select will meet OSHA standards.
One key factor to consider when searching out first-aid training for your company is convenience. Whit’s Turn Tree Care, for example, elects to bring a private trainer in to its facility rather than transporting employees to an off-site training. “That’s the only way we’ve ever done it,” explains company owner Whit Curtis. As part of one recent training, an instructor visited the company’s shop in Paso Robles, California, to teach a comprehensive first-aid and CPR class for the entire crew.
All Whit’s Turn needed to provide was the space.
“They brought the dummies to practice on and the defibrillator and the equipment for a PowerPoint presentation,” says Curtis. He says that, while a standard first-aid curriculum – including topics such as infant CPR – was used, the instructor made a point to devote extra attention to the types of injuries most likely for those out on a tree care job.
Carroll Tree Service in Owings Mills, Maryland, has found a way to make first-aid training even more personalized: Steve G. Sprague, the company’s vice president of safety and administration, went through the process of becoming a certified National Safety Council CPR/first-aid instructor.
“In the past, [we took] a day off and took all the guys to a training at the local National Safety Council office,” said Sprague.
“But then you have the dual expense of having to pay those fees and also the loss of production for the day.”
While that may be the most logical option for a smaller company, he thought there might be a better approach for a company the size of Carroll Tree Service, which has 35 to 40 production personnel in the field. Sprague says that, once he earned the TCIA Certified Treecare Safety Professional (CTSP) designation, “it just made sense to do more and more training in-house.” That included first-aid training, and, he says, the process of becoming certified as a National Safety Council instructor was relatively easy.
The company also needed to make a one-time investment in the training dummies and other materials needed for first-aid and CPR trainings.
Having a first-aid trainer on staff is convenient, but doesn’t eliminate all the scheduling challenges, says Sprague. You need to either have or rent a space large enough to conduct the trainings, for example. But there is increased flexibility over when first-aid trainings are conducted (if a storm hits on the day of a training, it can be rescheduled without added expense, for example). And there’s an advantage in being able to expand on the set training curriculum.
“It’s nice to be able to speak about the situations that we might encounter, such as severe lacerations or emergency situations in remote locations,” he notes.