Staying safe as a Tree Professional
Training is essential to doing a job well and to a high standard. For some jobs training allows an individual and their company to stay up-to-date with new technologies and methods, for others it provides something a whole more important; a better understanding of working safely.
The work of a tree professional is one of the jobs that training is hugely important to ensure the job is done safely. The risks and potential for severe injury match few other professions. When those involved are not correctly trained, serious accidents are bound to happen.
It doesn’t stop at the initial training either. Even those that have achieved the highest level of training for their position can be at a high risk of injury.
Proper tree care comes with many precautions, but it’s a reality that sometimes those best practices are forgotten. Changing lived-in, potentially unsafe behavior can be a challenge—but it’s absolutely one worth addressing.
The key issue here is routine.
We all have routine in our lives, in fact a lot of our lives is routine.
For a lot of us routine looks a lot like waking up at a certain time, making your coffee a particular way, getting dressed in a set order, taking your usual route to work.
When it’s time to get to work routine is there too, you perform your tasks similarly day in and day out, and you most likely don’t give the way you do things much thought. Do you?
A big problem for safety is your autopilot.
Routine is great for getting yourself dressed and yourself ready for the day in a rehearsed way that takes little thought. However the trouble begins when your autopilot kicks in when your full concentration is needed.
Have you ever drove home and had no memory of your journey? Or walked to a friends house seeming unaware of the people and objects around you?
This is the product of your autopilot, and frankly it’s REALLY dangerous! It’s clear that your autopilot is nowhere near good enough to be handling a chainsaw, and trust me if you have been in the job for any longer than a year, your autopilot has had that chainsaw firmly in it’s hands. Unfortunately, safety and the robotic repetition of daily tasks aren’t always necessarily compatible.
You can read more about the dangers of going on autopilot here.
Proper training and retraining can break the cycle of autopiloting on important tasks. It only engages when we become complacent or too confident in our abilities, you need to be told that you are not invincible and things can go very wrong sometimes even for those that seem to know it all. It makes us more aware.
Training is NOT about telling you how to do your day job.
Training is about instilling a working knowledge of the best practices and the things that’s going to keep them safe in their jobs.
Unfortunately unsafe behavior is not just a switch that can be flipped, practice and a drive to fix what’s wrong is required.
Steps to better safety
The first step is if you or your team haven’t been on a training course in the past 12 months get it booked! As well as the obvious benefits, it can also be a bit of a team building exercise.
Second, if you want something that will keep you much more safe in almost instantly, print out a picture of your family and put it somewhere you will see it often when working. It could be in your helmet, in the work van, etc., it’s an effective, visual reminder that you have to work safely all the time.
The proven way of changing behavior is repetition, breaking these bad habits are no different. After all most of the unsafe habits you have are been ‘acquired’ by repetition, it’a how you carry out a given task every time. When you’re doing something unsafely it takes a little repetition of doing it the right, safe way to truly change the behavior. If you’re doing it the right way without thinking then you’re well on your way to being a much safer individual.
It’s important to use repetition through positive reinforcement!
For example, many arborisits sometimes us a chainsaw one-handed, this is for a number of reasons, but most often just because it’s faster and easier to make a one-handed cut from a particular angle or position rather than moving to make a safer two-handed cut.
But as you know one-handed cuts are often accident waiting to happen, if it kicks back it can be fatal to the operator. If you are scorned for using this technique the result is an unhappy worker and an unhappy supervisor. Through valuable feedback and positive reinforcement the result is hopefully a worker making safer actions.
Remember repetition is key: Use that picture of your family to understand the importance of finding an alternative to the unsafe procedure; deploy new, safer techniques to accomplish it.
Keep up the Positivity
As with repetition through positive reinforcement, you want these newly learned skills to be repeated in a way that doesn’t feel like a big, annoying upheaval of the way you currently do your work. They should feel like an enhancement, and that’s not possible with barking out all the ways trainees are performing actions incorrectly while training.
Overall, changing long-standing behavior in any worker is going to be a challenge. It takes overcoming habit with sound reasoning, positive encouragement and a sharp focus on the true benefit of doing things the right way: going home safe and healthy at the end of each workday.
This article was inspired by the advice of Kevin Myers, CTSP is an ISA-certified arborist, ISA-certified Utility Specialist, Arborist Training Instructor with ACRT, Inc., and recipient of the 2016 UAA Silver Shield Award. As well as the research done by Ira Hyman Ph.D. a Professor of Psychology at Western Washington University.