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

What’s in Your First Aid Kit?

What’s in Your First Aid Kit?

We as an industry, need to re-think how our First Aid kits are stocked and maintained. The basic kit you can pick up at the drugstore is not enough for the types of injuries we may need to respond to as arborists.

First Aid kits should be routinely inspected and expired materials replenished. Zip ties can be used as a soft lock on the kits – they can be quickly cut with a knife or pruner for access and the safety officer can easily see that someone has used the kit and that supplies need to be replaced. At the end of this article we have included a list of suggested items for an arborist’s first aid kit, but don’t just stock your kit and forget about it!

Some of my favorite kit items are multi-functional and take some practice to use, so when ordering these supplies, order extras for your crew members to practice with. Israeli bandages (or similar) are a must have, and an accident involving a severe cut with a pole saw is no time to try and learn how to use one. Tourniquets like the RATS are compact and can be applied with one hand by the injured person, so are ideal for climbers. A SAM Splint can also function as a neck brace. A SWAT-T tourniquet is multi-functional and can even be used as a sling. I recommend having all the items just mentioned, but it does take practice to use them quickly and effectively.

All First Aid kits on the truck should have at least the materials listed below, however, it is also a good idea for a climber and a ground person to carry a small personal First Aid pouch with them whether in the tree or on the ground. Time is crucial when responding to a severe injury, so a climber having supplies when aloft or a groundsman not having to run back to the truck for a kit can save a life.

Most items on the list are available at drugstores or online through Amazon, or check out http://www.wesspur.com/safety/first-aid.html for prepared kits.

Personalizing, understanding, and maintaining your first aid kit are important steps in your crew’s safety!

First Aid Kits for Arborists:
Personal protective equipment (PPE):
non-latex gloves
safety glasses
CPR barrier
Bag to dispose of used gloves
Absorbent compresses
Adhesive bandages (Band-Aids) various sizes
Adhesive tape
Israeli bandage or similar pressure dressing
Triangular bandage
Antibiotic treatment
Antiseptic swabs, wipes, and/or towelettes
Aspirin – Benadryl – Ibuprofen
Compression bandages
Burn dressing (gel-soaked pad)
Burn treatment
Cold pack
Glucose tabs or hard candies (like peppermints)
Clotting bandage
Eye covering with means of attachment (2 single or 1 large covering for both eyes)
Eye/skin wash
Hand sanitizer (water soluble; at least 61% ethyl alcohol)
Sterile pads (at least 4×4”)
SAM Splint
First aid guide (e.g. EMS Safety Basic First Aid Workbook)
Blanket (not cloth, but a Mylar “space” blanket)
Notepad & pencil

Written by: Dawn Thierbach

& Margaret Hebert

Aerial Lift Safety


An aerial lift device is undoubtedly one of the best friends an arborist may have.  But are you running this piece of equipment safely or just getting the job done?  

Many companies use this piece of equipment in all the right ways with all the safety devices and following the instructions, however it is very easy to get complacent when operating an aerial lift. Simple mistakes can happen at any time, but are magnified when you’re just trying to get that last job completed or have been on a storm damage clean-up for a few days in a row. 

So, let us all make a concerted effort through mechanics, the safety manual, and through personal protective equipment to truly make the aerial lift our best friend and not an adversary.It is always important to read your lift’s manual as a starting point, though that only goes so far.

Here are a few questions to ask your team to avoid some of the safety infractions I have seen in the field.

1. No PPE. Yes, you may be wearing all your PPE, but are you wearing your fall arrest system or are you hooked to the boom or where it is recommended to buckle in?

2. Have you dialectically tested your boom?  Do you do this test yearly – line clearance mechanics can test, but if you are a commercial arborist, you must take it to a testing facility.

3. Do you check the witness bolts?  Or are all your bolts covered with debris?  Are you greasing bolts?

4. Do you use the outriggers?  Or are you one of those arborists that only use the outriggers when you are not on even ground?  Do you use the outrigger pads?

5. Are you checking to make sure all your lights work?

6. Are you doing maintenance; or are you repairing the machine as it breaks down?

7. Do you use a spotter when backing out of a tight spot or any other time a spotter is needed?

8. Is your fire extinguisher up to date, or your first aid kit?

9. Do you handle your saw correctly in the bucket?

10. Is your bucket full of chips? Your reach, when chips are in the bucket is great, but do not allow the chips to build up so much that your hips are above the bucket’s edge.

These questions are just simple reminders to remember.  Make it a policy for all aerial lift devices that all crew members using this “friend” to read the manual, be aware of the safety, and to spread the knowledge.  

It is possible to point out when others are not using the device correctly as long as you point it out nicely and make sure they are that you are fearing for their safety and not being a jerk.  It is not wrong to ask questions about the device.  It is not wrong to question someone’s safety or safe use of the equipment.  We have to stop worrying about offending other crew members or other arborists when we point out safety infractions or when there is a better way to use equipment. Advise the “newbie”, have discussions with the intermediate arborist, and remind the experience arborists about safety with using an aerial lift device and all other safety devices. 

This tip is about the aerial lift device, but being a safety conscious person is not a crime.  Don’t be the safety police, be a safety conscious friend. Be aware of every device you use, you must use safely.  All of us arborists want you to go home at night to your families and friends.  For more safety tips, please visit our Weekly Tip blog here. 

Written by: Dawn Thierbach

Plant Health Care Safety Tips

Plant Health Care Safety Tips

It is always important to wear your Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), however, working with chemicals in Plant Health Care (PHC), is another story. As a tree care owner, you must make sure your PHC team takes PPE’s seriously. Here are some helpful safety tips to pass onto your PHC team.

Change of Clothes Keep at least one change of clothes in the vehicle. A change of clothes can make a difference in having to wear the original clothing/shoes that you may have spilled chemicals on during the course of the day home. Place your change of clothing in a sealed plastic bag, when it is time to go home put your chemical residue clothing in the bag and wear the clean clothing/shoes home. Remember to wash your hands after touching your chemical residue clothing. Also wash your chemical residue clothing by itself, do not mix wash your chemical residue clothing with your spouse or children’s clothing.

Gloves – It is imperative, that you wear chemical resistant gloves. When you take them off be sure to wash your hands (a disinfectant wipe can be used for this if in the field). If you don’t wash your hands, popping a candy in your mouth, smoking a cigarette, eating lunch, etc. becomes a game of Russian Roulette – what chemical am I going to taste today. Above all after washing your hands, do not touch your clothing again. Clean your gloves every night – you don’t want to put the gloves on with chemicals from the day before on them. Make sure your gloves go up to at least mid-forearm. If a chemical spills and reaches over the top of the gloves – change your shirt.

Long Sleeve Shirt and Pants – Simply put wearing a long sleeve shirt and pants will protect you from chemical burns on your skin. However, those clothes must be changed right away if you spill any chemical onto your clothes, as the chemical will soak into the fabric and then your skin.

Safety Goggles and Helmet – No one wants to lose their vision due to a chemical splash. So wearing googles are another must wear when working with chemicals. Ensure they fit tightly around your eyes. Your safety helmets also is important in protecting your scalp from the chemical and from blunt trauma that may happen with a broken hose or a slip and fall on a hard surface.

Rubber Boots – Wearing rubber boots and keeping them for only plant health care work is smart. Your feet walk through the mist from spraying and they get chemicals spilled on them. Make sure they do not have any leaks. It is a good idea to take them off without using your hands – try to buy them the right size so you can slip them off.

Disinfectant Wipes – Since chemicals can be transferred to any surface that you touch, utilize disinfectant wipes while in the field and make note of any areas that need a thorough cleaning when you get back to the shop. It is a good idea to bring your lunch in metal container, that way you are sure that no chemicals are touching your food in transport. Wipe down the steering wheel and seats of your truck before you touch anything with your hands. Everything that you touch with your gloves on, or from spills gets contaminated with residue from the chemicals.

If we have learned just one thing from COVID19, it is that it is very difficult not to touch your face or other parts of your body – remember that everything you touch could be contaminated by chemicals – WIPE THE SURFACES DOWN WITH A DISINFECTANT WIPE!

These are just small ideas to think about when working with chemicals – sometimes they do not receive the warnings that they deserve. Whatever chemicals you are working with just be safe about it – think through all the scenarios that might come up during the day where you could have contaminated yourself. Maybe have a group safety meeting and think of all the ways that chemicals can contaminate your workspace. If you do not have anyone working with you, think about the chemical contacts you do during the course of the workday and how you can possibly do better in the future controlling the chemical contaminants.

Above all – be safe!

Written by: Dawn Thierbach