Documenting Safety Efforts

Documenting Safety Efforts

Written by Eric Petersen, CIC

One of the common hangups that tree care companies have regarding safety is how to document their efforts. All too often, the owner feels paralyzed by what they think they need to document thereby preventing them from documenting anything. I want to simplify it so you can start documenting the safety and training efforts that you are probably already doing and set you on a path to be able to build a better safety and training program within your company. 

But first, why do you need to document safety and training efforts within your company? The answer is quite simple. You, as the owner of the tree care company, have a responsibility to create a safe work environment for your employees. 

Now creating a safe work environment for an arborist can be quite the challenge with new or multiple worksites each day, a tree care company has a lot less control over the work environment than a plastics manufacturer where all of their work is being done inside four walls. In fact, you will never be able to create a work environment that is completely void of all hazards, however, that is precisely why training your employees on a regular basis is really the only way that an employer can attempt to achieve that goal. Documenting the training that has been done is your way to prove that it happened. 

So, in my opinion, there are three types of crucial safety documents that every tree care company must have. I should mention that obviously, the more training and documentation you have, the better, however, if you are just starting out with documentation, focus on these three types:

1. Written Safety Program Signature Page – If you don’t have a written safety program (or Injury and Illness Prevention Program as it is called in some states), get one right away, either from your insurance agent, TCIA or any of the other online resources out there. This obviously establishes the safety protocols for your company. All written safety programs should have an acknowledgement or acceptance page that each employee signs to confirm that they were given the document and were trained on it. This is the number one document you must keep in each employee file from a safety and training perspective. 

2. Initial Training/Onboarding Documentation – Your written safety program should also include a list of training topics for a new hire. Often referred to as orientation or onboarding, this initial list of training topics guides the tree care company on what to train the new hires on. After each employee has gone through a training topic, have them and their supervisor sign a document to be kept in their employee file stating the following:

    1. When the training was done
    2. Name of the individual being trained
    3. Who the trainer was
    4. Topic of the training
    5. Where/how the training was performed (in-person, on the job, online, etc.)
    6. Any additional follow up training required?
    7. Signatures by employee and supervisor/trainer

3. Ongoing Training Sign-in Sheets – The third type of documentation that you should have within your tree care company would be proof of on-going training. This training can happen in a number of ways, but is done after the initial onboarding training. Examples of ongoing training would be, Tailgate Safety Meetings, All Company Safety Training Days, Specific training like Aerial Rescue or First Aid/CPR, etc. For each of these training events, make sure to have sign-in sheets that list the same information above for the Initial Training. These sign-in sheets are typically kept in a Company Training File as they will be focused on a group of people and not one specific individual. 

Again, the more documentation that you have from a safety and training perspective the better, however, if you have been unsure on what to document, start with these three types of documents. If you would like help developing a stronger safety culture within your company, reach out to a member of the ArboRisk team today to begin our Thrive Safety Package. We will work with you one-on-one to improve your safety culture no matter where it is today.

The Key to Accident Prevention

The Key to Accident Prevention

Written by Amanda Carpenter and Anthony Tresselt

Originally published in the July 2022 edition of the ISA Ontario Arborist

The hierarchy of controls is a system of controlling risks in the workplace, a prevention through design strategy for prevention and/or reduction of occupational injuries, illness, and fatalities. Despite the best designed and applied control solutions, there is an independently acting human being that is involved in every workplace injury. Human behavior is the one thing that cannot be eliminated, substituted, engineered or controlled to create safety on the worksite. The person is most often forgotten in risk control hierarchies.

In the arboriculture industry, a lot of focus is put on regulation and technical training.

These administrative and engineering type controls can and do help, but alone they are not the total solution. For instance, the ANSI Z 133 has been in existence since 1968. As a consensus standard, it is updated at regular intervals by those in the industry. Yet the incident rate for occupational injuries still remains high compared to other industries. The same can be said for technical or skills training. Advances in tools and techniques have been progressive, the number of individuals in the industry providing quality training has increased, yet the incident numbers as a whole remain high. 

What regulation and training cannot take into account is the human. Even new, top of the line tools and techniques can be used poorly or misaligned. Highly articulated and crafted regulation with the best intent still must be followed by those doing the work to have any effect.

When, as an industry, we look at the incidents in arboriculture, we see again and again how misuse of well-designed tools, misapplication of well-established techniques, and/ or disregard for industry best practice leads to death and injury. This, coupled with tens of thousands of hours of one-on-one patient interaction with an orthopaedic physical therapist for occupational related injuries, leads us to the observation that many injuries could NOT have been prevented with more safety training and engineering.

 While a vital part, safety training is just one part of the system.

 Without an understanding of how and why humans act, training loses effectiveness. The worker must choose the safe act, the safe tool, the safe technique. There is a human involved in every accident or near hit. The subcon- scious nervous system is in charge of the human’s thoughts and actions 95% of the day; therein lies the key to a safe worksite and meaningful reduction in incidents.

Safety training involves establishing or changing a behavior. When we train or teach, we are speaking to the analytical part of the brain. However, access to training in the moment of a true emergency is not possible for some on this analytical level. It lies behind the gate-keeper of subconscious patterns that are formed from prior experiences, many of which occurred in the first 7-8 years of life. When choice is involved, the human brain will rely on established patterns and appear to resist change. Breaking these established patterns for new, safer ones, is an involved process that takes awareness, patience, and time.

 This process of behavioral change cannot be regulated or engineered.

Forced compliance is short term. Procedure can only serve as a guideline for action. The impetus of action, choice or decision must come from established behavioral patterns. This is easily seen in the all-too-common faulty logic on the tree care job site of, “we have been doing it this way for years and haven’t got hurt yet.” Often said or implied, this attitude shows the basic human reliance on pattern and the reluctance to change.

Even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, many production arborists make a conscious decision to ignore hazards and use technique known to have high risk of injury. Or conversely, they choose not to take actions known to protect them when engaged in hazardous activity.

Luck or hope is not a safety strategy.

The number of times an “unsafe” act has not resulted in dire consequences does not reduce the hazard. Yet many use this as a justification for not using personal protective equipment, established procedure or new techniques. The best tools and regulations can and often are short circuited by human behavior.

Some humans are more tolerant to change than others. The predictability of change tolerance is often found in the story behind one’s eyes. What has been one’s prior life experience with change? Has life thrown several unexpected and unfortunate changes at them? Did life throw a single pain- ful experience at an early stage of life, which set a pattern in their nerv- ous system resulting in their need for consistency?

 People make changes for one of two reasons, out of desperation or out of inspiration.

Desperation becomes a catalyst for change. Acute pain gets one’s attention; it screams and demands that something be done NOW. While chronic pain is an underlying, low-grade discomfort that allows one to put it off, the voice of chronic pain says; “I can’t keep doing this” or “I can’t keep living like this.” Yet, most often a change is not made until the body takes one out with an acute injury or illness. Why is this? The answer lies in the understanding of the autonomic nervous system.

Humans have a pattern of life, learning and adaptation, a rhythm that becomes familiar and predictable. This pattern, whether healthy or not, becomes recognized by the autonomic nervous system as normal and is perceived as safe. Anything that veers from this pattern can become a trigger; a stimulus that results in an underlying stress response in the body similar to fear. This pattern is exactly why change is so difficult. There is no reasoning this experience, it occurs instantaneously in the body at the subconscious level. You cannot rationalize an irrational response.

In injury prevention, safety training alone often does not create a long-term change in behavior, but the injury itself can be a catalyst to change.

It is not the fear of injury that keeps people safe, rather their ability to tolerate behavior change. For example, a tree care worker has developed a habit of one handing a chainsaw, (a behavior that incident numbers tell us causes many injuries on the tree care job site). The behavior is restricted by legislation as well as manufacturer instructions. Despite legislation and instruction, that pattern is very difficult to change. However, an injury creates an acute pain, often resulting in an immediate change in behavior.

 An expert is born from the internal emotional response that can only occur during a real experience.

Many safety trainers share their personal story to inspire others to behavior change related to hazardous actions. The story of pain, expressed through the authentic  vulnerability of another human can also become a catalyst of change for others. The emotional connection and response that occurs through authentic storytelling can support the behavior change we are hoping for in safety training. Proper technique, rules, and regulations cannot spawn the same type of long-term change housed in the subconscious.

We believe the key to worksite accident prevention is in transformation of the human nervous system, which involves both the person in the mirror and a supportive, vulnerable team willing to hold each other accountable and learn through shared experiences. When skillfully done, human behavior can be changed through transformation, creating a safer worksite and world.

If as an industry we wish to make long term, lasting change, we must address not only training, and industry regulation, but the third hidden factor of the worker and how he or she makes choices. We must come to understand the vital role subconscious patterns (healthy and unhealthy), the autonomic nervous system, and the story behind the eyes of the people doing the work, all play. Failing to do this is akin to claiming a flat tire is fine as it is only flat on the bottom!

Developing individuals and leaders to see and recognize the cognitive dissonance created when familiar ideas and/or beliefs are challenged or proved ineffective can and will transform this industry. But like the very problems we wish to address, it begins and ends with the individual human. We as trainers and facilitators need to take part in and develop a better understanding of the human factor in all we do as arborists, climbers, sawyers, crew leaders and business owners.

To learn more about Amanda and Tony’s transformational coaching program Leadership Performance Mastery: Uncovering the Leadership of Vital Energy, visit their website at https://www.leadershipofvitalenergy.com/

Safety Pays

Safety Pays

Written by Eric Petersen, CIC

One of our goals at ArboRisk is to help tree care companies embrace the idea that safety should be looked at as a profit center versus as an expense. The idea is quite simple in that the safety efforts that you embark upon ultimately lead to higher productivity and profitability for your entire team because you are not dealing with injuries and all of the costs associated with them. Because not everyone buys into a statement like that immediately, I want to highlight a fantastic resource that you can use to illustrate this point…OSHA’s “Safety Pays” website. 

OSHA’s Safety Pays website serves as an interactive tool that enables businesses to calculate the potential financial benefits of investing in workplace safety measures. It aims to showcase that by prioritizing safety, companies can not only protect their workers but also realize substantial economic advantages. The site is a testament to the fact that a safe workplace is a profitable one. 

The Safety Pays website offers several key features that make it a valuable resource for tree services of all sizes: 

Individual Injury Estimator – My favorite part of the website is a user-friendly interface (Individual Injury Estimator) that allows you to choose an injury type and enter your profit margin to determine how much that injury would cost your company both in direct and indirect costs. 

For example, if an employee at a tree service suffers a shoulder strain, the estimated cost of that injury will total over $67,000! 

In this example, I used a profit margin of 15%. If your profit margin is higher than that the financial impact to your company would be a little lower, however, if you’re running under that profit margin, the impact of this injury will be felt even more. The website calculated that the direct cost of the injury will equate to $32,023 and the indirect costs would amount $35,225 to total $67,248! In case those numbers don’t mean much to you, think about this. With a 15% profit margin, this injury would require the business to produce an additional $448,320 in sales to cover these costs. 

Can you afford to do $448,000 of work for free?

Safety Pays Tool – The Safety Pays Tool is your chance to get a more customized experience and allow you to compare your company to the industry average. This tool is especially helpful when looking at budgeting for new equipment or perhaps investigating the cost/benefit of a full time safety director. 

Educational Resources – The website isn’t just about numbers; it also provides educational resources and case studies that illustrate real-world examples of companies that have benefited from safety investments. 

How can you utilize the Safety Pays website within your tree service? 

During your next Safety Meeting, pull up the website and go to the Individual Injury Estimator. Ask your team to throw out an injury type. Then enter in your company’s target profit margin and reveal the results of the calculator to the team and watch their reaction. Even more powerful tie the estimated additional sales to the number of jobs that equates to by dividing the sales number by your average job cost. If these numbers don’t open people’s eyes within your organization, nothing will. 

If you are looking to boost the safety culture within your company or perhaps just want confirmation that you are doing what you can, reach out to a member of the ArboRisk team or sign up directly for our Thrive Safety Package. We work one-on-one with tree care companies every day, helping them get every one of their employees home safe each night.

Elements of a Fleet Safety Program

Elements of a Fleet Safety Program

Written by Eric Petersen, CIC

Most tree care companies address fleet safety within their overall written safety program, however, as I’ve seen the number and severity of auto accidents increase over the years, I always recommend to put the fleet safety items into their own document to draw attention to the importance of each item. So what goes into a Fleet Safety Program? 

Here are some common elements of a Fleet Safety Program:

  1. Safety Rules: Clearly defined rules outlining the expectations, responsibilities, and guidelines for safe driving practices within the fleet including a distracted driving policy. 
  2. Driver Selection and Record Monitoring: How will the tree care company select drivers and monitor their driving record. Developing a set of Motor Vehicle Guidelines to show what violations are acceptable and which ones are not is crucial to managing the drivers. 
  3. Driver Training: Outline what training programs or topics will be delivered to your employees. Topics should cover defensive driving techniques, vehicle handling, and awareness of potential hazards on the road.
  4. Vehicle Use Policy: Who is allowed to drive your vehicles along with when and where? Develop rules to keep the vehicles your business owns operating for business work only. This is a large part of managing the risk that your vehicles bring to your company. 
  5. Vehicle Maintenance: Insert or develop regular maintenance and inspection schedules to ensure that all fleet vehicles are in good working condition, including brakes, tires, lights, and other essential components.
  6. Telematics and Monitoring: If you are utilizing any telematics systems to monitor driver behavior, vehicle performance, and adherence to safety policies, you need to have a section in your Fleet Safety Program about this. This will outline what data is collected (it may involve tracking speed, harsh braking, or acceleration) and how it will be used.
  7. Incident Reporting and Investigation: Establish protocols for reporting accidents, near-misses, and other safety incidents. Prompt investigation of these incidents helps identify root causes and implement corrective measures.
  8. Communication and Engagement: Establish effective communication channels to disseminate safety-related information, updates, and reminders to drivers. Encouraging open dialogue and feedback from drivers helps improve the overall safety culture.
  9. Continuous Improvement: Every safety program should include a section on how to provide regular evaluation and a Fleet Safety Program is no different. Identify areas for potential  improvement, incorporate new technologies and best practices, and adapt to changing safety regulations and industry standards.

When instituted properly, these elements will create a comprehensive fleet safety program that prioritizes driver safety, reduces accidents, and protects the well-being of both drivers and the public. 

If you are struggling to create a Fleet Safety Program, reach out to a member of the ArboRisk team today or sign up for our Thrive Safety Package here.

Safety Happens at the Individual Level

Safety Happens at the Individual Level: Q&A With AManda Carpenter

Written by Eric Petersen, CIC and Amanda Carpenter

Like many in the tree care industry, I have been very fortunate to have become friends with so many passionate people who want to help make the industry safer. One of those friends is Dr. Amanda Carpenter. Amanda’s enthusiasm for helping arborists make it home each night comes through in every conversation she has. She has dedicated her professional career towards helping businesses truly create a culture of safety and helping the leaders of the organization understand that safety happens at the individual level. 

I recently had the chance to speak with Amanda and get her insight on this concept and how tree care companies can implement true change within their safety culture. 

Q: You’ve often said that regulation and training alone will not change the safety outcomes of the tree care industry, focus needs to be put on individuals and how people respond to stressful situations. How does a tree care company begin to train or focus on the individuals within their team and their stress response?

A: Human behavior is at the root of safety, and it can’t be engineered. How humans act and react is a result of the wiring of their autonomic nervous system as uniquely wired as the electrical in each house. Previously human behavior was most often trained using fear and focusing on what not to do. However, when we focus on what not to do, a picture becomes anchored in memory. Much like telling you not to think about a red car….. The nervous system is wired for reaction based on experience and memory, so we must train and learn from a place of how we want to respond. Safety is best when memory is accessed in a regulated nervous system. A tree care company can begin to train and focus on supporting a healthy nervous system for its individuals by creating a grounded, psychologically safe work environment. This all begins with the most powerful leader in the organization.  


Q: A lot of tree care companies discuss near misses during a safety meeting, however, you have mentioned that it could actually create the opposite effect within their team unless the discussion is handled appropriately. What is the best way to discuss past accidents and near misses?

A: Much like the example of not focusing on a red car, when we discuss what could have happened while the nervous system is in a heightened state, the memory that it actually happened gets anchored. This can cause a PTSD type response in some individuals and instead of learning from the near miss, fear and anxiety now interfere with the individual’s ability to work safely. The key to learning from an accident or a near miss is to discuss in detail only once the nervous system has come back to baseline, which requires at least 12 hours.  

Additionally, an individual who shares a near miss story, must be brave and comfortable enough that they know they will not be reprimanded or ridiculed. Listeners must support the individual who is sharing and if anyone responds, they must embody emphatic energy towards helping the individual and learning from their sharing. The nervous system reacts to thoughts and feelings, not just words, so the key here is that each individual and the organization must hold a core belief that it is ok to make a mistake.  


Q: What other tools can a tree care owner use to further their focus on individual stress response training

A. We want each individual to be aware and manage their stress response and recognize how their reaction impacts themselves and others. Creating safety cultures with authentic core beliefs is a great place to start. Safety cultures that have a ‘zero tolerance for accidents’ or ‘no injury is acceptable’ mantras are diminishing the safety effort rather than enhancing it. When an employee does not have room to make a mistake, the increased stress on their nervous systems can result in a greater number of mistakes that go unreported and covered up.  

People make changes for one of two reasons….from a place of desperation or a place of inspiration. In the safety world, we want to inspire change to prevent a desperate moment, which ultimately could be severe injury or death. This inspiration must come from the most powerful leader. I’m not talking about inspiring a culture of safety through an incentive program, rather shifting the energy of workers to be safer because the company cares about them. Tree care company owners must fully commit to everyone on their team and begin to build a culture of acceptance, understanding and camaraderie towards each other, including themselves. The leaders must also consciously acknowledge the subconscious limiting beliefs inside their organization, such as “you’re weak if you ask for help” or “just suck it up and move on”. The most powerful leader sets the tone of culture, so the limiting beliefs of that individual need to be discovered and dissolved for an organization to thrive in an authentic culture of safety.   


For more specific, one-on-one training, Amanda has a great Transformational Leadership Coaching program to help leaders understand their own limiting beliefs and then be able to discuss it throughout the organization. 

Lastly, make sure to check out the March 2023 episode of The IndusTREE Podcast to hear a half hour conversation with Amanda that digs into this topic at much more length. 

Amanda A. Carpenter is a transformational leadership coach specializing in the science and practice of human performance. To learn more about Amanda’s transformational coaching program Leadership Performance Mastery: Uncovering the Leadership of Vital Energy, visit her website or watch this short video.

Taking Your Team to New Heights by Planting a Tree

Taking Your Team to New Heights by Planting a Tree

Written by Kevin Martlage

In a 2019 Gallup Article, “This Fixable Problem Costs US Businesses $1 Trillion”, Gallup reported that voluntary turnover costs businesses $1 trillion dollars annually. In addition, the cost of replacing an employee can range “from one-half to two times their annual salary”. 

To put that in perspective, a full-time employee making $60,000 per year would cost an estimated $30,000 to $120,000 in sourcing, training, on-boarding, and hiring costs to replace them. The interesting thing about the Gallup Poll and their findings is that “52% of voluntary exiting employees said their manager or organization could have done something to prevent them from leaving their job”. So over half of those people who left an organization said they did so because of something their manager or organization did not do. That is incredible to think about and I am sure the costs have increased in the past 3 years since the publication. 

So, what can we do strategically as business owners and leaders to ensure we find the right employees and then ultimately support them as they become leaders within our organization, and we reach new heights as a team? The answer is simple. Go plant a tree. 

As a leader in the tree care industry, you must always ensure that you, and your team, are knowledgeable in understanding what is necessary to meet the needs of your clients while expertly taking care of their trees. This takes on a lot of different forms including Plant Health Care (PHC), pruning, planting, and removal. Let’s take planting a tree for instance. Anyone can certainly go outside, dig a hole, place the tree in that hole, and fill the hole while hoping that the tree makes it. However, if you follow the guidelines outlined on the Trees are Good Website for planting a tree you quickly see that there is much more to the process than just digging a hole and planting a tree. Specially, they recommend you consider the following:

  • Identifying the right tree to plant
  • When to plant
  • Planting stress
  • How to properly plant the tree (there are 9 steps outlined in this section)
  • Right Tree – Right Place
  • How to mulch the tree 
  • How to avoid any potential tree and utility conflicts

All these things are very important for an arborist to consider when planting a tree. By taking into consideration these things you are ensuring that the tree will establish the appropriate root system and continue to grow and flourish as part of the canopy and ecosystem in the environment in which it was planted. So, what does planting a tree have to do with hiring and retaining great people? The answer lies within the basic considerations we review when planting a tree. 

I have written before about how developing a career path for your employees is like planting a seed and then caring for it through the germination, seedling, sapling, growth, and nurturing stages Outlining a Career Path for Your Team” – ArboRisk Insurance Weekly Tip January 14, 2022. The same analogy can be made when hiring, on-boarding and then supporting your new and existing team. However now the tree (your new hire) is grown, and it is time to transplant it into its destination. 

Let’s use the considerations for planting a tree as outlined on the Trees Are Good Website as a template. Below, I have outlined the steps to consider when planting a tree and then included questions to consider for the hiring, onboarding, and growth process. These questions are designed to help you ensure the best applicant is identified, hired, and integrated successfully within any organization. 

  • Identifying the right tree to plant
    • What is the position we are hiring?
    • What skills are necessary?
    • Do we have a developed job description that outlines the requirements for the position?
    • What organizational and business culture traits are we looking for?
  • When to plant 
    • When does the position need to be filled (immediately, 30 days, 60 days, etc.)
    • How will we post the job announcement and manage the applications?
  • Planting stress
    • What will the hiring and interview process look like internally and externally?
    • Who needs to be involved, internally, in the hiring/interview process?
    • Who is going to review applications and schedule the interviews?
    • Who will conduct the interviews?
    • What stress will this cause on the organization to find the right applicant?
  • The Right Tree – Right Place
    • How will we identify and assess the applicants to find the right candidate?
    • What are the non-negotiable traits and skills that we must have?
    • What questions are we going to ask each applicant?
  • How to mulch the tree
    • Do we have the proper offer letter developed?
    • What paperwork needs to be done once they accept (i.e., payroll, HR, etc.)
    • What does their first day look like?
    • What does their first 90 days look like?
    • Do we have an onboarding plan?
  • How to avoid any potential tree and utility conflicts
    • Are expectations clearly defined?
    • Are they aware of your organizational culture and how they can impact it?
    • How do we ensure that they are avoiding any “organizational culture hazards” during their first 6 months?
    • How will be ensure that they are growing and flourishing in their new environment?
    • How are we going to ensure they do not leave?

This may seem like an odd analogy when it comes to hiring and supporting your new hires. However, I would argue that if you were planting a $60,000 tree, you would take these steps and more to ensure that the tree was planted perfectly to enable its growth and sustainability. So why would you not do the same for each person, both current and future, within your organization. 

Leadership in today’s economy is not easy. Supporting your team, ensuring you have a hiring and on-boarding plan, and making sure that your team feels supported and engaged is the X factor that will set your tree care company apart from the competition. I encourage you to continue to focus on your people, both current and future, so that you are not part of the more than $1 trillion in expenses seen globally by companies who are losing employees because of things they could have identified and changed to ensure they stayed. 

If you are interested in learning more about effective hiring, recruiting, on-boarding, and overall leadership development and planning, please check out the Risk Management Packages located on the Arborisk Insurance website. If you need more assistance with hiring and recruiting, contact ArboRisk to learn more about their Thrive Risk Management Hiring & Recruiting Package or the Leadership Development Package.

Tom Dunn