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June 30, 2014
OSHA targets tree trimming and clearing operations

A new Regional Emphasis Program aims to reduce workplace fatalities that occur during tree trimming and clearing operations.

“Tree trimming and clearing can be hazardous work that results in worker fatalities. These hazards exist whether the work is performed as part of landscaping/horticultural service or site clearing by construction workers,” said MaryAnn Garrahan, OSHA’s regional administrator in Philadelphia. “It is vital that employers take the necessary steps to protect workers engaged in these activities.”

In 2012, 243 workers nationwide died while engaging in tree trimming and clearing activities. In OSHA’s Philadelphia region, which includes Delaware, Pennsylvania, Maryland, the District of Columbia, Virginia, and West Virginia, there were 47 fatalities related to tree trimming and clearing in fiscal years 2009 through 2013, with 79 percent involving an employer with 10 or fewer employees.

The four leading causes of tree trimming and clearing fatalities are struck-by incidents, caught-in incidents, falls from elevation, and electric shock. Fatal accidents have occurred from workers being struck by falling trees and limbs; workers struck by motorized equipment; workers falling from trees, lifts, and ladders; workers caught in chippers; and electric shock while working near overhead power lines.

Under the Regional Emphasis Program, in addition to inspections of employers in this industry, OSHA will be engaged in outreach and compliance activities. Area offices around the region have sent notification letters to 2,110 stakeholders, including employers, employee labor groups, and tree care trade associations.

Safe tree care tips

OSHA has issued a Hazard Bulletin targeting tree care work. Some of the safe practices it recommends include the following:

  • Assess the work site for fall and falling object hazards.
  • Have a qualified arborist survey the worksite and identify the types of trees involved and possible hazards related to tree structure.
  • Determine if rigging is necessary, and, if so, that workers can use it safely. This helps prevent sections of the tree from falling while performing tree care work.
  • Determine if workers will need to climb or use aerial lifts. In doing so, ensure that all equipment used is in safe working condition and that workers who climb trees are properly trained in climbing techniques and safe work practices.
  • Identify and provide properly fitting PPE to protect workers from fall and falling object hazards.
  • Only use climbing equipment approved by the manufacturer for tree care work, including climbing lines, safety lines, and personal fall protection equipment.
  • Ensure that all workers at a tree care operation are trained in hazard recognition for falls from elevation and falling object hazards and the use of PPE.
  • If workers cannot remain at least 10 feet from electric lines to perform tree care operations, contact the utility company to de-energize and ground the lines.
  • Establish a visual or audible communication system between overhead workers and workers on the ground before starting rigging operations. The system must effectively communicate when employers who are beneath overhead tree workers should stand clear of the drop zone, and when it safe to approach a drop zone.
  • Provide traffic and pedestrian traffic control around the jobsite prior to the start of work.
  • Have emergency procedures in place prior to the start of operations. Determine if the worksite has cell phone coverage, and verify that every worker knows the address of the worksite in case they need to call emergency responders. Establish a retreat path so that ground workers can escape from falling trees.
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