A 14-year-old was asked by the owner of a tree service to climb a tree and block off a 16-foot portion. The teenager was not qualified to be an arborist and lacked proper training. The tree was more than 50 feet tall, and the block fell faster than anticipated. The harness severed, and the teenager, who was not wearing a secondary safety harness, fell to his death. The owner was cited for failing to perform OSHA’s general duty clause to keep a workplace free of hazards that could cause serious injury or death and for failing to provide protective equipment. The owner faced considered criminal negligence charges.
The bottom line: Crew members should be properly trained and have the right protection for tree climbing. The owner should never have allowed an untrained teen to operate a chainsaw. His negligence jeopardized the rest of the team’s safety as well.
Total Landscape Care asked professional arborist Tom Shotzbarger to review corrective procedures in this example. Here’s what he told us:
- A qualified arborist should inspect the site to identify hazardous conditions that need to be considered and addressed before work begins. This should be done especially after inclement weather since moist ground and high winds can alter the stability of trees.
- Ensure that workers are trained to use proper rigging and wear personal protective equipment (PPE). Minimum requirements include: hard hat, eye protection, hearing protection and cut-resistant leg protection while operating a chainsaw during ground operations.
- The drop zone and work zone should be marked off to help prevent dangerous falling objects from striking people or structures underneath. All crew members should know and use both audible and visual communications so that the location of each crew member is known to the others at all times.
- Workers need to know about safety issues and have rigorous training before climbing trees.
- When felling trees, workers on the ground should stand outside the striking distance of the tree, farther away than 1.5 times the height of the tree.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Tom Shotzbarger holds several certifications, including ISA Board Certified Master Arborist, Certified Tree Expert, and Pennsylvania Certified Horticulturist.