There is nothing like a walk through trees in a woodland or garden to invigorate the senses. People feel better around one of nature’s greatest creations. However, managing trees is a particularly hazardous profession. It has been reported by the HSE, that, during the last 9 years, 26 arborists have been killed during tree work and nearly 1,400 have suffered an injury. The main cause of accidents involve chainsaws, falling trees and falls from heights. An Arborist or “Tree surgeon” (a less formal term) is a professional who specializes in the cultivation, study and management of trees, shrubs and vines. They don’t usually manage forests and their work is different from a forester or logger (although there are some similarities). Arborists generally focus on the health and safety of plants and trees. The work of all arborists is not the same, some don’t climb trees, they just provide consultancy or office support work. Others plant, transplant, prune, provide structural support and aid in preventing or diagnosing and treating diseases in trees. As many arborists climb trees, experience of working safely around trees is essential. Tree surgery involves working at heights, with dangerous machines and ropes. Tree surgeons need to undergo thorough training and gain recognized qualifications before they can work as an arboriculturist. The HSE gives guidance on legal obligations and how to avoid accidents in this business.
Tree work involves many high risk activities and accidents which occur usually involve working at height, working with chainsaws, working on the ground, lone working and aerial tree work. Employers have a legal duty to ensure their employees (and those self-employed) working for them are full trained. They also have a duty to make the working area safe so there is no danger to the client or the public. According to the HSE, 16% of all tree related accidents involve falls from heights. The Work at Height Regulations 2005 place a responsibility on employers to ensure work at height is properly planned and organized and a risk assessment has been carried out. There should be planning for emergencies and rescue. The work should always be done by competent people and the equipment used should be regularly inspected and maintained. If it is not necessary to work at height, one should use extending equipment from the ground. Access equipment and ropes should be used to prevent falls. There should be, if practically possible, fall protection systems in place to provide some protection from falls. All workers should wear appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE).
Working on the ground can be just as hazardous, especially if a chainsaw is continually used. Chainsaw PPE includes mesh eye protection, special boots, hardhat, hearing protection, high-vis, gloves and leg protection. Before starting work, there must be a clear communication system between the chainsaw operators, other operators and the machine operators. An emergency stop signal must be understood and obeyed by everyone. By law, chainsaw operators must have received adequate training relevant to the work they undertake. There must be the ability to work safely on steep or dangerous ground. Ground conditions can change drastically with the weather. Changes in environmental conditions must be taken into account and the work plan modified if necessary. Another hazardous area is aerial tree work. This includes climbing trees, passing up tools and equipment, working with ropes and extending equipment from the ground. Guidance areas for aerial work include planning the job with the climber and being aware of the tasks involved, watching climbers and anticipating their needs, controlling working ropes and keeping preventing access from the public.