Issue 14, August 29, 2018

Safety While Pruning Trees--Not for the Faint of Heart

We are nearing the end of the summer season, as our plants wind down, it is time to start looking at what plants need to be trimmed or completely removed. Maintaining trees is important for economics as well as aesthetics. Trees increase a home value, provide shade and also beautify a landscape. When it comes to trimming trees, it isn't easy. Simply put, just because you have a truck, ladder and chainsaw, doesn't mean that you are a tree trimmer. There are several precautions that should be taken before climbing a ladder.

  1. Equipment- checking your equipment before you leave the shop is essential. Chains and pruners should be sharpened and cleaned. This is especially important if you were working on a diseases plant. Check the fuel, spark plugs and tension on chain. One chainsaw or pruner doesn't mean that it is enough for every job, so make sure that you have the correct size or length appropriate for what you are cutting. Having something too small will cause for pinching of a blade, and cause early wear and tear of equipment. Having adjustable pruners with adjustable arms or even ratcheting hand grips is more ergonomic for the body causing less pressure and pain in the body.
  2. Personal Protective Equipment- hard hats, chaps, glasses, ear plugs and gloves. The hard hat should fit to the head or be able to be adjusted to fit and have no cracks or dents. Chainsaw chaps should not have rips or tears and cover the top portion of the thigh. Safety glasses should be appropriate for shielding against wood debris, and hearing protection for the decibels of the chainsaw or other equipment. Gloves are also needed that provide protection to the hand, but also allow for enough dexterity to manipulate switches, buttons, and levers. Leather gloves allow for protection but also breathability.
  3. Insects and other wildlife- We don't always think about the insects/wildlife that are taking up residence in a tree. Be sure to make sure that if you are taking a tree down to inspect for bees or wasps' nests. Bees or wasps can swarm and sting when provoked. Many times you can call a local bee keeper to collect the hive ahead time or collect it after the tree is down. Also squirrels and raccoons can bite when disturbed.  If the area that you are working in is sensitive site for bats, then avoid taking trees during hibernation, or during nesting seasons. If an employee is allergic to stings, a precaution would be to carry an epi pen in case of a bite.
  4. Falling/ getting struck by a branch- One of the most common ways a person is hurt when taking down a tree is being struck by a branch or a limb. Many times it is cutting a branch and it doesn't go the direction planned or it takes out another branch then striking someone. Falling either occurs from falling off a tree, ladder or even a roof while trying to reach for a branch. Caution needs to be taken when utilizing any of these.  A safety harness should be incorporated when climbing.
  5. Electrocution- Power lines are probably the number one reason why trees need to be trimmed. When a person is up in a tree trimming, a branch could fall on a line or someone might accidently touch a line. Be sure to talk with the power companies before you decide to take a tree down near a power line. Once a tree has been taken down, be sure to inspect the area if a replacement tree is to be planted to make sure it is in the right place.  
  6. Recoil or Equipment injury- many times a chainsaw, if cutting through something too hard, a blade can get stuck and the chain saw can kickback. This kickback isn't planned and can cause an operator to lose control. Injuries resulting in this are amputations, cuts or even muscle injury. Be sure to utilize the right size of equipment for the job and make sure that all machinery is in proper working order before you make the first cut.
  7. Poisonous plants- poison ivy, poison oak and poison sumac are all plants found in Illinois that have leaves and stems that produce a surface oil called urushiol. For some, this oil causes an allergic reaction resulting in contact dermatitis. These plants can cause severe blistering, infection, and some people may have other allergic reactions. The plants can be very difficult to identify, especially if the leaves have fallen off or if they are way up into the tree.

A worksite surveys should be conducted before each new job. The National Institute of Occupational and Safety Health (NIOSH) recommendations for safety during tree work include 1) wearing appropriate personal protective equipment; 2) always working in teams in visual contact with each other; 3) checking the condition of tree branches before cutting them, climbing on them, or tying off safety equipment; 4) inspecting equipment before each shift and removing damaged equipment from service until repaired; 5) maintaining minimum distances from power lines as specified by OSHA  6) prohibiting the use of conductive tools and equipment near power lines. If you are a certified arborist be sure to keep up with trainings as new methods and safety procedures are developed. Tree trimming can be very valuable to the health of the tree as well as the landowner.

(Maria Turner)

Maria Turner

Return to table of contents