Managing Risk to Lower Insurance Cost

Managing Risk to Lower Insurance Cost

By now you know that everyone at ArboRisk is a full on risk management nerd. And for good reason, by helping our clients practice risk management, we ensure they are doing everything they can to operate safely and efficiently to send every employee home safe each night. 

But one of the greatest side effects of proper risk management is lowering the cost of your insurance coverage. This is achieved up front during the insurance quoting process and over the long term with a reduction of injuries and accidents.  

I want to address three categories of risk management that can help you lower your insurance cost and to encourage you to think about your business through the lens of an insurance company the next time you’re getting an insurance quote. Similar to showing a bank your business plan for a loan, you have the opportunity to show an insurance company why you’d be a good risk for them and why they should give you lower rates.

Employee Management

We’re all aware that employee management is the key to running a successful business. Employee management starts with having a sound hiring and onboarding process. This shows an insurance company you are dedicated to hiring and retaining the best employees.  

Employee management doesn’t end with the onboarding process. Insurance companies also want to see a tree service that has systems for continuing to monitor their employees. Performing background checks, drug tests (DOT and post-accident), motor vehicle record checks, and continuing education audits are all examples of ways you can manage your employees after they are hired.  

Company culture is the last area I want to discuss regarding employees. Why would an insurance company care about your company’s culture? Simple. Turnover. The most successful tree services have the strongest company cultures. A strong culture reduces turnover by keeping employees committed to your team and ultimately leads to less accidents for an insurance company to cover. 

When looking to improve your employee management, ask yourself these questions. 

1) Do you have a formal application and interview process?

2) Do you utilize a skill proficiency/competency checklist?

3) In what ways are you monitoring your employees?

4) How loyal are your employees to your company? 

Safety & Training

While one can argue that safety and training fall under the employee management section, in the tree care industry it is just too important to hide within another section. Job site safety and employee training is obviously one of the most important pieces to a successful risk management program and therefore the first place you should look at to help minimize your insurance costs.

In the simplest form, there are three risk management items you need to have for safety and training within your company; a written safety program, documentation of safety training meetings and a written injury reporting procedure.

These core documents should be sent to your insurance company as proof of how you are managing safety and training at your company as the ultimate way to get the best rates…you guessed it: Having great documentation and great loss history!

In addition to the written policies mentioned above, obtaining industry credentials (think ISA Certified Arborist or TCIA Accreditation) is another way to show the insurance companies that you are committed to bettering your business and therefore lowering the risk of injuries and accidents. In fact, many insurance companies are requiring this before they even quote the coverage. If your company has done the leg work to obtain industry credentials, make sure the insurance company knows it and what that credential entails. 

Ask yourself these safety and training questions:

1) Do I have written programs for safety, training and injury reporting?

2) Can I easily prove the safety training that my team members receive? 

3) Is there a regular schedule to the training within the company?

4) How do the industry credentials that my company and team have lower the chances of an accident?

Fleet Management

Second to your workers’ compensation premium, your business auto insurance is probably the next most expensive policy. Throughout the tree care industry, auto claims are on the rise, both in numbers and dollars paid out, which is why you’ve likely seen an increase in your auto insurance renewal pricing. Implementing risk management procedures with your fleet can put you back in control of the increasing premiums. 

Risk management within the fleet requires looking at both your drivers and your vehicles. A simple tactic that you can employ for your drivers is to create a driving test. This ensures they are qualified to drive the vehicles you need them to safely before tossing them the keys to take the truck to the jobsite. 

For the vehicles, I’d encourage you to look into a fleet management software either directly through your insurance company or through a third party. This will not only give you a way to track maintenance of each vehicle, it will also give you valuable data on how and where the vehicles are being driven. The data that you can obtain from the software will help you and your insurance agent negotiate for lower business auto insurance costs. 

Here are some questions to ask yourself in regards to your company’s fleet management program:

1) How are the driving records of my employees? Are they reviewed? How often?

2) Do employees need to pass company standardized driving tests?

3) Do I have detailed fleet maintenance records? 

4) Do we monitor our fleet when the vehicles leave the shop? 

Lastly, I feel it’s important for you to understand that insurance companies need roughly 40% of your insurance premiums just to cover their operating expenses. That means that if you have over 60% of your premium paid out in claims, you’re likely not a profitable client for the insurance company. Helping the insurance company see what risk management tactics you are taking to limit your claims will be the proof they need to issue lower insurance premiums to you. 

If you’re looking to implement a risk management mindset within your company, reach out to an Arborisk team member today to learn about our services including our Thrive program which gives you access to tree care industry consultants that can help you develop specific programs and procedures that you need to become extraordinary.

Written by: Malcolm Jeffris

and Jim Skiera

What is Risk Management?

What is Risk Management?

If you’ve been following ArboRisk for any amount of time, you know that we believe in using a “risk management approach” to ensure our clients survive an unexpected event. But what does that really mean? 

Technically, a risk management approach focuses on identifying, analyzing and controlling exposures that could have a negative impact on the business. That means a tree service must be intentional and honest when looking at their business to first gain an understanding of what could go wrong and then be open minded enough to find ways to minimize the impact of those exposures on their business. 

To us here at ArboRisk, the risk management approach starts with having the simple attitude of; always seeking to improve

All too often in the tree care industry, we hear or see the “that won’t happen to me” or “we already do everything we can” attitudes from business owners. These viewpoints block all attempts at proper risk management by closing the business owner’s mind to helpful exposure reducing ideas. Unfortunately, those attitudes are not the only dangerous mindsets we see. We have presented on 7 Deadly Sins of Work Comp at numerous national and local tree care conferences to help tree services avoid common pitfalls and implement a risk management approach. 

Once the tree care company embraces an open mind, then and only then can they identify and assess the risks that their company faces and make a plan on what to do with those risks. It’s also very important to remember that purchasing insurance doesn’t mean you are practicing risk management. While insurance coverage is important it is only one part of risk management. For more on that concept, please read this article (Why Insurance is NOT Risk Management).

If you’re looking to institute a risk management approach within your business, reach out to an ArboRisk team member today. 

Written by: Eric Petersen

Electrical Hazards Awareness

Electrical Hazards Awareness

One of the best characteristics about a tree care professional is how they get excited to talk about and work on trees. Unfortunately, many times that excitement and desire to do tree work brings arborists in close proximity to electrical wires. 

Make no mistake, electricity is a serious and widespread hazard to arborists every day. Even a simple telephone line can be energized with enough voltage to kill. Because of our exposure to electrical hazards, ANSI Z133 states that “The employer shall train each employee….” on the topic.  (4.1.2 – 4.1.4(f)).

Training your team on the following tips is a great start to preventing electrical accidents within your company. However, we strongly recommend that you engage in a full electrical hazard training with every member of your field team at least once per year. 

Job Hazard Analysis (JHA) and Job Briefing – Properly setting up and inspecting the jobsite and surrounding area is the first step in preventing an electrical accident. Formally, this is done when performing a Job Hazard Analysis and again during the Job Briefing before work begins. When you arrive at the job site, be sure everyone on your team checks for electrical wires and guy wires. If it is after a storm, look for electrical lines mixed up with a fallen tree or lines down on the property. When planning and performing your work, you must follow the Minimum Approach Distance (MAD) chart for working near the electrical lines. The MAD charts can be found in the ANSI Z133, section 4.

Work Positioning – When working in the tree or bucket in close proximity to electrical wires, the arborist should always face the electrical lines. Ground workers must also set up the jobsite to avoid any guy wires. Simply place cones to create a visual barrier so a team member does not trip over or walk into a guy wire. REMEMBER THAT LESS THAN ONE AMP CAN KILL A PERSON, so no matter what wire (house service wire, cable and telephone lines, secondary and primary wires) runs through the jobsite, all workers must respect that wire. Being aware of work positioning when working near electrical lines will help prevent:

Contact – Obviously, avoiding direct contact with wires is paramount, but indirect contact can be just as dangerous. Indirect contact occurs when something the arborist touches is energized:  for example, a branch that is contacting an energized wire or other object. Every arborist must ALWAYS KEEP THE WIRE IN FRONT OF THEM to avoid direct or indirect contact with a wire. 

Arcing – Arcing or arc flashing is discharge of electricity caused when wires from different phases are touching or an electrical explosion happens due to a fault in the system. Proper distancing from electrical wires will reduce the risk of injury or death due to arcing.

Step Potential – Step potential is another monster when talking about electricity. Step potential is a voltage difference between the worker’s feet and the electrical grounding object. It can occur when the bucket or truck comes in contact with an electrical wire, thereby changing the electrical path and making a very dangerous situation for the ground worker. Because of this, each crew member must remember to NEVER TOUCH THE BUCKET TRUCK WHILE IN OPERATION NEAR ELECTRICAL LINES, EVEN TO GET A TOOL OUT. Step potential can also occur near guy wires, which is why all guy wires should be discussed during the job briefing and marked when the jobsite is being set up. 

Equipment & Vehicles – Every crew member must also recognize that equipment like gaffs, spurs, or chainsaws can be conductive. Some equipment is labeled “non-conductive” however this does not mean it is electricity safe. Ropes, wooden/fiberglass ladders, fiberglass or wooden pole pruners, and hydraulic saws all are listed as non-conductive.  However, they can become conductive if they are dirty or wet, making proper gear inspection vital. For a more detailed article on gear inspection check out this one. Bucket trucks should be dielectrically tested at least once a year; however, that is the minimum. We recommend getting them tested at least twice a year.

Wind – Wind is always a factor while performing tree work, but it is even more important when working near electrical wires. To avoid potential contact or arcing, consideration must be given to how a cut branch or a rope will react with the wind.  

Get energized by your work, not electricity!  For additional resources on how to institute an electrical hazard training program within your company, reach out to an ArboRisk team member today.

Written by: Dawn Thierbach

and Margaret Hebert

Five Tips for Safety Meetings


Blank stares? Crickets chirping?  Is that a couple of the things you experience in your safety meetings?  It’s tough – not only coming up with topics, but also delivering those topics in an interesting, engaging way.  Below are five tips to help keep your safety meetings topical and interesting.

1 – Have the meetings outside when possible.  We didn’t get into this industry because we like sitting behind a table staring at a screen.  We’re the outdoor, fresh air, active types.  This also allows you to more easily incorporate tip 2…

2 – Practice what you teach.  Don’t just talk about safety; practice it hands on with your crews participating.  If you’re talking about chainsaw safety, start one up and demonstrate using it properly.  Want to discuss traffic protection, have your team plan it and set it up.  Always practice with the items in your first aid kits.  As I’ve stated in a previous weekly tip, the middle of an emergency is no time to learn how to use a tourniquet or Israeli bandage.   And remember, practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.  

3 – Change it up.   Following the same format meeting after meeting even SOUNDS boring.  Using published safety meeting materials is convenient; but using them every single meeting can result in your team losing interest or even dreading the meeting.  Alternate between published materials, hands-on training, team participation, different speakers, and even guest speakers.

4 – Don’t forget these topics.  

  • Driver safety – one of the largest exposures to risk within your tree care company comes from your vehicles on the road.  In fact, 38% of the insurance claims we see at ArboRisk are vehicle related.  
  • First Aid – Your First Aid/CPR training certificate is good for two years, but it’s a great idea to stay fresh on the various topics and to practice applying splints, tourniquets, compression bandages, etc.  
  • Identifying hazardous conditions in trees – It’s a good idea to have all crew members capable of recognizing the signs in trees that indicate potential hazards.
  • Hazardous materials safety – you can cover several topics from fuel to chemicals to PPE.

5 – Get CEUs.  Even if it’s only 15 minutes of training, CEU credits, especially with regular and frequent safety meetings, add up quickly.  Remind your credentialed team members that they earn CEUs with both ISA and TCIA for their safety training. CTSPs can get their credits for developing the training and instructing it, as well.

Finally, don’t forget to document all safety meetings with the topic, date, duration, presenter(s), and the names of those in attendance. This is extremely important in case you are ever inspected by OSHA.  It will also be needed when individuals apply for their CEU credits.

Hopefully, the above tips give you some reminders (or even some new ideas) for keeping your safety meetings topical and interesting.  These meetings are a crucial part of team building, developing and maintaining your culture of safety, and helping your tree care company become extraordinary!

Written by: Margaret Hebert

Chainsaw Safety

Chainsaw Safety

As an arborist, you quickly found out that operating a chainsaw is a prerequisite for the job. That being said, the actual prerequisite is SAFELY operating a chainsaw. Keep in mind that most of our chainsaw injuries result in 110 stitches or more! Listed below are a few guidelines that you may have forgotten or you may not know.

Never walk around the job site with a chainsaw running, use the chain brake when taking one to three steps. If you have to walk farther, turn it off and carry the saw by the handle with the bar pointing backwards.

When in a tree with a chainsaw always use two hands. Most injuries in this situation are to the left hand, and in 97% percent of the accidents, the operator was using the saw with one hand. If you are down on the ground, use the saw that requires two hands; do not use your top handled saw. Make sure you are secure in your footing while operating that chainsaw – two feet, planted securely on the ground. If you are in the tree, make sure you are tied in and use a second means of attachment such as a lanyard, to keep yourself steady. Whether in the tree or on the ground, make sure the chain brake is engaged and do not drop start the saw. Brace it on a limb in a tree, or, when on the ground, put the saw down and use your foot on the handle.

Make sure you are secure in your footing while operating that chainsaw – two feet, planted securely on the ground. If you are in the tree, make sure you are tied in and use a second means of attachment such as a lanyard, to keep yourself steady. Whether in the tree or on the ground, make sure the chain brake is engaged and do not drop start the saw. Brace it on a limb in a tree, or, when on the ground, put the saw down and use your foot on the handle.

Always make sure your thumbs are secured, tucked in, or wrapped around the handles when using a chainsaw. Always be aware in what position you are running the chainsaw so as to avoid kickback. Never operate a chainsaw over shoulder height. Also, if you have long hair, make sure it is tied back.
When you are ready to start chainsaw operations, notify your crew. If they need to get your attention, they should either wait until you are finished or walk in front of you about 5 feet away and signal that you need to stop. Tell your crew to never tap you from behind when you are operating a chainsaw.
Spread out a small tarp to set up a fueling station on the grass or out of the way of pedestrians and cars. Never refuel on the sidewalk or the roadway.

Always wear safety glasses, hardhat (with or without a face shield is acceptable), and ear plugs. Repetitive use of a chainsaw running at 85 or more decibels WILL harm your hearing ability. Besides the other PPE that you must wear, wear you chaps, and remember that the groin area is not protected with chaps.

Because our industry works with dangerous motorized equipment, carry a trauma kit for the injuries. Climbers should carry a tourniquet up in the tree and one ground person should carry a tourniquet. This might seem like overdoing it, but, as I stated above, most of our chainsaw injuries result in 110 stitches or more. Everyone should learn how to apply a tourniquet and also practice one-handed for applying a tourniquet. Climbers are all alone in the tree and a tourniquet just may save their life.

For an in-depth look at chainsaw safety, sign up for our webinar on March 19 from Noon – 4pm Central time. Earn 4 ISA and CTSP CEUs by attending. Learn more at StreamsideGreen.com.
As always, stay safe out there, enjoy your industry, and go home healthy to your family!

Written by: Dawn Thierbach

& Margaret Hebert