Health and Safety Tips for Arborists
In the great outdoors things, can get pretty dangerous, whether it’s bad weather, hazardous environments or dangerous equipment, working outdoors is much more likely to put your life on the line than most indoor jobs.
As outdoor jobs go being an arborist or tree surgeon is pretty dangerous, that’s why making sure you have the right equipment and gear for the job is so crucial to staying safe and preventing injury.
To help you stay safe and get your work done to the best standard we have compiled a list of our top 5 tips for the outdoor workspace.
Personal protective equipment (PPE) and Appropriate protective clothing is essential for arborists. PPE includes helmets, harnesses, safety footwear, eye protection and protective clothing. The main concern for arborists in terms of PPE is protecting the wearer from two distinct hazards; the chainsaw and risk of a fall from height. Both these factors make arborist work potentially highly dangerous, but with the right training and the right gear, these potential dangers can be seriously reduced.
Indisputably the part of the body that’s most important to protect is the head especially in the line of work of an arborist. A solid build, high-quality helmet will not only protect from falling debris but will also protect the head in the event of a fall. Because of this HSE recommend a helmet with a four-point chinstrap conforming to EN12492 for an arborist working at height.
Another important feature of a good helmet some sort of eye protection, whether it be a mesh visor or roll down glasses. These protect the wearer’s eyes from debris as well as things like flying wood chips resulting from chainsaw work.
When working with loud machinery or in a loud environment Ear defenders are used in many occupations. In the case of arborists and other tree professionals, they might be working with or near chainsaws and wood chippers, this is why most arborists are equipped with SNR 30 or greater ear protection.
Good quality gloves are also advisable and the user should select the right type of glove to protect from the relevant hazard, be this cuts, bruising, thorns or chemicals. For example Anti-vibration gloves as the name suggests help absorb vibrations from heavy equipment such as mowers or hedge trimmers, something that otherwise can cause damage and discomfort over long periods of time.
2.Working at Height
The dangers of working from height are something that arborists and tree surgeons face on a daily basis, they know them better than most. In fact it may surprise you to learn that falling from height is the number one cause of workplace deaths and injuries according to HSE.
16% of tree work accidents reported are due to falls and 6% from uncontrolled swings resulting in collision with branches or the tree trunk.
There are several responsibilities and duties employers have to adhere to if their employees are working at height and this covers all tree work. There are additional hazards associated with tree surgery, such as falling branches, but we’ll cover that in the next section. The Work at Height Regulations 2005 cover all employer duties in detail and these include proper emergency and rescue planning, risk assessment, appropriate supervision, and work being undertaken by appropriately trained people. Another stipulation is that all employees use the appropriate equipment, something we’ve covered on a previous blog.
One of the stipulations of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 is to assess risk using ‘hierarchy of control measures’. This is a system in which the employer attempts to mitigate danger by only adopting a riskier process in the hierarchy if the current option is untenable. The hierarchy is as follows:
- Avoid working at height if possible (for example, use a polesaw from the ground)
- Prevent falls using existing architecture or safe workplaces
- Provide appropriate equipment to prevent falls (for example a mobile platform)
- Mitigate distance and consequence of a fall (through the correct use of ropes, harnesses, PPE, etc)
- Minimise consequences of a fall through training and instruction
For more details on hierarchy control measures when planning to work at height, check out the HSE guidance.
3. Aerial Tree Work
Often part of an arborist’s job involves getting high up into the canopy of a tree, this makes the working at height part of their job particularly dangerous. Trees can often be unstable, with weak or rotting branches.
Even by following the hierarchy of control measures tree surgeon and arborists face no option than to ascend the tree and work at these heights. Doing so requires proper training, use of appropriate equipment and a full assessment of the risks involved. Every tree is different and must be judged for potential dangers on a case by case basis.
A key part of staying safe up in at heights is to make sure that the tasks to be done up in the tree are planned correctly and carefully from the ground beforehand.
The climber must be aware of all the tasks involved before they begin ascending the tree. He or she must also be in contact with a member of the ground staff at all times.
4. Working with Chainsaws
Tree surgeons and arborists will not only be working at height but they will also be using chainsaws, which, whilst often being essential to the job, are also extremely dangerous if used without the proper training. This danger is increased by the fact that they are being operated at height. A full breakdown of injuries and fatalities from 2002-2011, in both forestry work and arboriculture work, can be found on the HSE website.
It’s important and in fact a legal requirement for chainsaw operators to receive the right training operating a chainsaw and to wear the appropriate protective clothing, including the PPE we mentioned in the PPE section such as protective helmets, boots, trousers, gloves and glasses.
Staff must also be fit to operate the machinery. Conditions affecting mobility (arthritis), alertness (diabetes, drug/alcohol dependency), physical strength (heart conditions), vision, dexterity, grip or balance should be stated and assessed for risk. All chainsaw operators must inform their employer if they are taking prescribed medicine, which may affect any of these functions.
It is the responsibility of employers to conduct risk assessments of all operations involving chainsaws and communicate with all staff using chainsaws on site to understand any concerns or issues they might have. New workers must also be supervised and properly inducted before operating a chainsaw.
For a detailed look at all the risks involved in chainsaw work, and how to minimise them, check out the HSE’s information sheet.
Visibility is a really important in the workplace. Workers must be able to see what they are doing and most importantly see each other.
Natural light is preferable but where this is not practicable, artificial lighting is essential to maintain safe working conditions. If the lighting source is unstable, then there must be another means of providing lighting that has its own independent power. The appropriate PPE in form of high visibility clothing must be issued for working on roads, railways, poor light or adverse weather conditions.