Better Benefits = Better Employees

Better Benefits = Better Employees

Written by Eric Petersen, CIC

We often get asked about employee benefits and if there are any creative ways for tree care companies to offer benefits without breaking the bank. So for today’s business tip, I went straight to one of our referral partners, Jack Brees of RC Risk Advisors and had a great conversation that every tree care company should hear about!

Q: How do Voluntary Benefits help retain and recruit great employees? 

A: As a business owner in today’s retention and recruiting environment, having something that distinguishes you from the other employers can make it easier to recruit and retain employees.  If salary and job type are equal,  voluntary benefits are an area that separates your company from the rest and could make the choice that much easier for the job seeker. 

Q: What are the common Voluntary Benefit plans/programs that tree services purchase?

A: Voluntary benefits such as: Short Term Disability, Life Insurance, Accident plans, Hosptial Plans and Critical Illness plans help the employee navigate out of pocket expenses and are what is typically offered and accepted by tree service employees.  

Q: Do employees need to pay for Voluntary Benefits out of their own pocket?

A: Not any more! While being in the Voluntary business for the past 15 years, employees have typically paid for these benefits, however, RC Risk Advisors has built a partnership with a Wellness Company that implements a Wellness program that ultimately unlocks tax savings to the employee that are then earmarked for the purchase of voluntary benefits. As an added bonus, the business owner also will realize a sizable tax savings per employee annually.  

Q: Can you give an example of the estimated tax savings for a tree service with 9 employees? 

A: Take a business that has 9 employees, once this tax savings program is implemented the business will receive on average $150 a month in savings per employee to spend on voluntary benefits, ($1,800 a year). The business will also experience, on average, $500 of tax savings per employee annually. Add those numbers together and the total tax savings would be approximately $20,700 annually! In both cases, the employee and employer can choose to pay more taxes or use those monies to purchase voluntary benefits that could help their families with out-of-pocket expenses.  

If you have been thinking about bolstering your benefits or want to figure out a way to get creative with what you offer, please reach out to Jack and ask him about how voluntary benefits could fit in with your company!

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.

Q&A with Aerial Lift Specialist Dave Webb Jr.

Q&A with Aerial Lift Specialist Dave Webb Jr.

Written by Mick Kelly

As more and more tree care companies transition from climbing to working out of aerial lifts, the need to talk about safe ownership and operation of these pieces of equipment has become evident. Many times we hear from companies that they don’t know their aerial lift should be inspected annually and/or where or how to get the inspection done. 

At ArboRisk, we wanted to give you some basic information and provide a resource to help you out, so I sat down with Dave Webb Jr. of Wellbuilt Equipment to talk a little bit more about his background and knowledge of aerial lifts. His family has been in the aerial lift business for over 30 years – so they know a thing or two about what you should be looking for with your lifts!

Tell us a bit about yourself and your background in the lift industry.

My name is Dave Webb Jr. and I work at Wellbuilt Equipment. We’re a family owned and operated full service aerial lift company based out of Crete, IL. My dad started our company in 1987 in our back yard with just a couple of lifts. Since then we have grown to over 500 machines in our rental fleet and a staff of almost 30 people. 

I’m a second-generation aerial lift mechanic. I started working at Wellbuilt when I was 12 and became a mechanic when I was 18. I’m over 20 years into the industry and about 16 as a mechanic. Despite being in the management team here, I still work on equipment every day. I love getting dirty and fixing equipment, and hope to continue that path as long as possible. 

Explain the process of the annual inspection and why it’s so important?

First off, annual inspections are important to keep tabs on not only common wear and tear items but also long-term maintenance items and breakages that may occur on equipment. Many of our customers bring in their equipment quarterly for inspection and maintenance, but most are on a yearly rotation. 

The process of an inspection at our shop is very in depth. From top to bottom we touch everything on the machine. This includes checking electrical connections, torque checking every nut, bolt, hose, pin, mount, you name it, load testing, performing preventative maintenance and ensuring all proper decals and placards are in place. 

For more information regarding inspections, click here to visit our website!

How and where can you become a certified lift operator?

You can become a certified lift operator through an IPAF location (such as ourselves) or other independent aerial lift companies. We require that whomever is performing the training is familiar with the brand and model of the machine they are using to certify operators/users.

Do you have a brand and model of lift you recommend?

We sell two brands that we have partnerships here in the US with – CTE and Palazzani (Spimerica). Both have an industry leading 2 year warranty and excellent service and support. 

We try not to pick favorites as no brand truly checks all the boxes when it comes to design and customer service. We work on every brand of spider lift out there as well as over 60 brands of aerial lifts and other equipment. Brands and models vary heavily in features and cost, we try not to force a particular brand on a customer, but rather point them in the direction that best suits their needs. 

For more information on aerial lifts or inspections, visit Wellbuilt Equipment’s website here: https://www.wellbuiltequipment.com/

If you need further assistance with safety, please reach out to a member of our ArboRisk team. We have many resources that can help you with this, in addition to our Thrive Safety Package, which gives you one-on-one help creating the safety culture that you desire.

Margaret Hebert

Management’s Role in Safety

Management’s Role in Safety

Written by Margaret Hebert and Eric Petersen, CIC

We often hear that safety starts at the top, however, what does that actually mean? In this article we’re going to dig into the role that management plays in instituting a culture of safety within a tree care company. 

When building a safety and health program, many companies turn to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) for guidance. Sure enough, OSHA lists Management Leadership as the first of its seven core elements and for good reason. 

Management of an organization, the business owner(s), managers, supervisors, etc., provides the leadership, vision, and resources needed to implement an effective safety program. Being at the top of the organization, management must embrace and communicate a few basic principles:

  • Make worker safety a core organizational value.
  • Provide sufficient resources to implement and maintain the safety program once it is developed.
  • Visibly demonstrate and communicate their safety commitment to workers.
  • Set an example through their own actions.

According to OSHA, management leadership of a safety program can be broken down into four action items.

Item 1:  Communicate your commitment to a safety program.  A clear, written policy helps you communicate that safety and health are primary organization values – as important as productivity, profitability, service quality, and customer satisfaction. After all, without safety, none of these other things can happen.  

Item 2:  Define program goals.  By establishing specific goals and objectives, management sets expectations for everyone on their team and for the program overall. The goals and objectives should focus on specific actions that will improve workplace safety and health. Establish realistic, measurable goals for improving safety and emphasize preventing injury and illness rather than focusing on incident rates.  

Item 3:  Allocate Resources. Management has the authority to provide the resources needed to implement the safety program, pursue program goals, and address program shortcomings when they are identified. To do this effectively, management must integrate safety and health into the planning and budgeting process. Estimating the resources needed to establish and implement the program and allowing time in workers’ schedules for them to fully participate in the program are two critical components to an effective safety program. Remember to include all of the following when considering what safety resources your company needs: capital equipment and supplies, staff time, training, PPE and Safety Data Sheets.

Item 4:  Expect performance.  Management leads the program effort by establishing roles and responsibilities and providing an open, positive environment that encourages communication about safety and health. They will identify a front line person or persons (even a safety committee) to be responsible for safety performance. That person or committee charged with safety responsibility will need to make plans, coordinate activities, and track progress. Providing positive recognition for meeting or exceeding safety goals aimed at preventing injury and illness (e.g. reporting close calls or near misses, attending training, conducting inspections) is also a crucial management function. 

In case you are wondering what OSHA’s seven core elements of safety and health programs, they are as follows:

  1. Management Leadership
  2. Worker Participation
  3. Hazard Identification and Assessment
  4. Hazard Prevention and Control
  5. Education and Training
  6. Program Evaluation and Improvement
  7. Communication

If you have any questions on what role your management team should be playing in your safety culture, please reach out to a member of our ArboRisk team. We have many resources that can help you with this, in addition to our Thrive Safety Package, which gives you one-on-one help creating the safety culture that you desire.

Margaret Hebert
Margaret Hebert

Enhance Your Safety Culture

Enhance Your Safety Culture

Written by Tom Dunn

In the never ending quest to make sure every employee returns home safely each day, we wanted to take a deeper look into the concept of a company safety culture and the opportunities available for enhancing it.

We have previously touched on this topic in our weekly business tips articles (4 tips to creating a culture of safety) that included high level concepts like communication, training/employee development, preparing for safety, written procedures and having a safety “guru” on staff.

In this article we want to identify two specific, affordable and long lasting ways you can enhance your company safety culture. Both of these are offered by the only organization representing commercial tree care companies across the U.S, the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA). Full disclosure, the author worked at TCIA for 7 years.

The Certified Tree Care Safety Professional (CTSP) and the Arborist Safety Training Institute (ASTI) are two programs that individuals (CTSP) and tree care companies (ASTI) can access to enhance their company’s safety culture.

The CTSP program is one I went through personally. I found it very helpful in my roles at TCIA and continually saw the benefits it provided to tree care companies who had individuals complete the program. The idea behind this designation is to teach an individual about the different ways the adult learner takes in information and identify their own teaching styles to help them become the safety “guru” for their organizations.  

The individual going through this program can come from many different areas of a company, and depending on the size of the organization it might make sense to have more than one individual from a company obtain the designation. There are eligibility requirements, but TCIA will work with individuals to get them enrolled in the program.

The program is definitely a commitment for the individual going through it and for the company that is paying for it, but the long term benefits are far reaching for both.

There are other benefits as well. Insurance company underwriters are very interested in working with companies who have CTSP’s on their staff and offer discounted pricing for those companies. OSHA investigators are well aware of the designation and will take it into account during an accident investigation. In fact, as part of some settlement agreements, they have required companies to enroll individuals in the program.

Spurred on by Covid-19 restrictions, TCIA has made a commitment to transitioning the program to an online format. This has created the added benefit of cutting down on the travel costs that may have deterred companies from committing in the past.

To maintain their CTSP credentials, individuals must re-certify every 3 years, but there are many creative and accessible ways to obtain the CEU’s. Those who continue in the program become part of an active nationwide community for the rest of their working lives.

The ASTI program is another opportunity that not everyone is probably aware of or takes advantage of to enhance their safety culture. Smaller tree care companies who would like to bring in high quality, outside safety training, now have a way to do it affordably. Grants up to $2,000 are available to fund ½ day or full day training. You can utilize TCIA curriculum from the Tree Care Academy programs or other educational material as long as it relates back to safety topics that are important to tree care workers.

There are some caveats behind the ASTI program that you will need to consider. They have been put in place to offer quality safety training that will reach the biggest audience of tree care workers possible. For example, workshops have to be made available to all tree care workers in a particular geographic location and must be held in a neutral location (not at a tree care company shop).

The grantee is also responsible for marketing and registration for the event, but TCIA does offer materials to help as well as a list of approved instructors. There have been a number of tree care companies who have been awarded grants since the program was started. Why not your company?

Both of these programs will show your employees and potential employees that you are serious about creating a positive safety culture. Check out https://www.tcia.org/ for more information.  

ArboRisk is doing its part to help companies assess their safety culture and show employees of your commitment to safety. We have developed a safety culture survey that employees can take with actionable steps for company leaders to address any safety related deficiencies identified. Call us for more information on implementing the survey and check out our Safety Package for one-on-one help.

Tom Dunn