Pretty much every tree care industry member, regardless of their current position, has realized at some point in their career just how dangerous a work environment they work in. Sadly, many have lost friends, acquaintances or peers to these dangers. The ANSI Standards for tree care operations are intended to help mitigate, if not eliminate, many of the day-to-day hazards of tree care, but far too often on most worksites even the most basic requirements of ANSI are consistently ignored.
One of the most basic requirements of ANSI is the explanation of personal protective equipment (PPE), and in what work situations it is required. PPE is exactly what it says, equipment and/or clothing meant to provide a person with protection. Having said that, the best PPE available worn properly and used correctly will not prevent an “idjit” using poor techniques or bad judgment from getting injured or killed. Training and expansion of the mental toolbox is the best PPE available, but a hard hat/helmet and the rest provide additional safety for all tree care personnel, from beginners to experts.
While the PPE of yesteryear was often bulky, hot, uncomfortable and sometimes ineffective, manufacturers and modern materials have, in many cases, made modern PPE as comfortable and user friendly as possible. As is often the case with tree gear or equipment, you get what you pay for, and those users looking for a good deal may often end up being more uncomfortable and overheated than those who choose a more expensive option. However, regardless of budget, two things must be kept in mind: PPE is required by law in most tree care situations, and not wearing it may mean going home with fewer pieces/parts than you started with, or not going home at all.
As the table shows, it’s pretty simple how the required PPE can be broken down into four general areas: head, eye, leg/lower body and hearing/ear. Obviously, at least in tree care, leg/lower body refers to chain saw-resistant chaps or pants, so don’t try to sport those nifty capris while running a chain saw, regardless of how good your butt looks in them. Speaking of which, general clothing and footwear are not covered in a great deal of detail under ANSI, but understandably should be appropriate to the abrasive, ankle-twisting nature of most tree worksites. States, provinces and municipalities can choose to exceed these standards, so be sure you’re familiar with your local regulations and requirements.
Care and feeding
Any personal protective equipment is going to require some maintenance to keep performing properly, so daily inspection and maintenance should be a part of appropriate use. Helmets and/or hard hats need to be inspected regularly for cracks or breakdown of the plastic from sun exposure.
An excellent way to quickly check the material integrity of a hard hat or helmet is to push the edges together (not while it’s being worn, of course) and then let it go. The helmet should quickly return to its original shape. If it lags a bit, or worse stays bent inward, it’s time to get a new one. The suspension system, the heart of impact safety for a helmet, should be inspected regularly, and it should not be altered. Any helmet or hard hat that takes an impact should be discarded.
Keeping glasses or goggles in some form of soft container will prevent scratches and nicks that make them difficult to see out of, and this way users will always know where they are located.
Any form of chain saw-protective clothing should be washed periodically to remove oils, dirt and dust that can lessen the effectiveness of their chain saw-resistant fibers. Check the label for the correct laundry settings.
Work togs and toes
As mentioned previously, the standards are not very specific on clothing and footwear for the tree care industry, but hopefully for most tree workers a certain amount of horse sense prevails. The environment in which tree work takes place is often not that friendly to bare skin and ill-protected feet, with heavy, abrasive items often moving or rolling at high speed, or needing to be picked up and moved around. Boots that are intended for a worksite instead of the club are a good way to keep those “dogs” protected, and hardened toe caps can be a good way to prevent the dreaded “crush” injury, especially as there are now many available with nonmetallic compounds.
The type of clothing the tree crew wears can mean the difference between being viewed as professionals as opposed to felons. More modern, breathable, high-visibility options can make the day more comfortable and safe. In addition, companies with specific tree work clothing, such as Arborwear, can offer togs that are not only comfortable and durable, but also quite stylish.
Although some tree workers may argue the point, a ball cap does not meet the requirements for head protection, and as anyone who has experienced or seen a tree work head injury would say, that is not a journey one wishes to take.
Modern head protection is filled with a variety of options for tree care personnel, and this variety can help each individual find an option that is comfortable and specific to their noggin and their work. These options run the gamut from basic construction/forestry type hard hats to mountaineering-style helmets with vents and integrated eye/ear protection. Regardless of choice, make sure the hard hat/helmet meets the standards for tree work, no matter how hip that skater or bike helmet might look, is it really up to an impact from above?
The majority of helmets come with built-in chinstrap systems that can be helpful while in the tree or on the ground; most hard hats have some sort of chinstrap add-on available. As mentioned in maintenance, the suspension system of both hard hats and helmets is what absorbs the impact, so cutting straps for comfort, or storing smokes or chew up there, is going to reduce its effectiveness.
Those crews doing full-on line clearance work, or those working near electrical conductors, will need hard hats or helmets that are Class E. All users should remember that those nifty vents in their “lids” will allow the electricity to go right to the brain housing group.
The national standard for eye protection is termed Z87.1. Glasses or goggles that meet the standard will usually have this number printed on them or on their box/instructions. Most modern safety glasses are impregnated with antifogging and anti-scratch surfaces, both important features when high up in a pine on an August afternoon. There are also a number of lens wipes and gels that can help keep the glasses functional. Built-in mesh screens on hard hats or helmets don’t qualify under the standards as eye protection, they are meant as face protection, so operators using these types of face screens must also wear glasses or goggles. For those who require prescription glasses, or with extreme sweating capabilities, if you cannot find an acceptable set of safety glasses, some helmet/hard hat systems come with plastic shields that qualify as eye protection.
Britches and stitches
As can be seen in the PPE requirements table, the standards only require chaps or chain saw pants when operating a chain saw on the ground, though this can vary by state or province. However, personal experience has shown that wearing leg/lower body protection aloft is highly recommended as a form of “cheap insurance.” While professionally manufactured chaps certainly meet the requirements, tree workers will often find that pants or bib-style overalls are more comfortable, flexible and user friendly in the tangled strap-snagging environment of a pin oak takedown.
What’s that you say?
While the standard requires hearing protection after noise reaches or exceeds an eight-hour average of 85 decibels, an easier way to protect the hearing is to put muffs on or plugs in whenever loud stuff (chain saws, chippers, grinders) is running. Many hard hat and helmet systems have muffs built into them for easy use, and there are a variety of plugs available with strings and attachment options. Those who use plugs should keep in mind that regardless of type, they need some care and feeding also; shoving dirty, greasy, dust-covered objects into ones ears repeatedly is liable to lead to a good crop of ear taters, if not an infection.
The ANSI standards mean that not wearing required PPE can lead to a fine or worksite shutdown, but a more important reason to wear the required PPE is to keep all those pieces/parts where they are meant to be, for yourself, for co-workers, and for the ones you love.