Tree Care Industry Safety Raises OSHA Concerns

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By Bruce Rolfsen

July 13 — An OSHA rule covering the tree care and trimming industry may have to cover a wide expanse of hazards—from falling tree branches to insect bites to broken aerial lifts to pesticides—agency officials were told July 13 during a meeting with industry representatives.

The stakeholders meeting was the latest step in the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's move to restart a rulemaking focused on protecting workers who cut and trim trees (81 Fed. Reg. 38,117).

While OSHA has regulations focused on logging, the agency doesn't have specific rules for most types of tree trimming.

William Perry, head of OSHA's Directorate of Standards and Guidance, said that the agency hasn't yet set a timeline for pursuing the rule. OSHA is still in an information-gathering phase and needs to determine if a tree care rule would trigger a Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act review.

While many in the audience might favor OSHA simply adopting the voluntary American National Standards Institute consensus tree-trimming standard (ANSI Z133-2012), the agency can't adopt the standard as is, Perry said.

OSHA administrators David Michaels told about three dozen people attending the day-long session that the rule should be “common sense” and “usable by employers.”

Often workers injured in tree-trimming accidents had little training or protective equipment and if training was offered, it may not have been in a language they spoke, Michaels said.

Industry Support

Most of the people attending the meeting, favored OSHA's pursuit of a rule.

Mark Gavin, president of the Tree Care Industry Association, said many lawmakers were surprised that the association came to them seeking support for the tree care rule.

OSHA in 2008, at the urging of the association, initiated a tree trimming rulemaking (73 Fed. Reg. 54,118) then set the project aside in 2010. The agency resurrected the rulemaking (RIN:1218-AD04) in 2015.

Peter Gerstenberger, the association's safety director, said that from 2009 through 2013 there had been 408 tree care fatalities. Falls and being hit by tumbling branches are the most dangerous risks for workers in aerial buckets or climbing.

On the ground, workers are most at risk from falling trees and branches, however power tools such as chainsaws and chippers were also a hazard, Gerstenberger said

Participants said many of the deaths among workers on the ground were attributable to a lack of training and safety precautions, such as not allowing workers under a tree and inside a tree's potential fall zone while trimming was taking place.

John Sullivan, a safety official with Lewis Tree Service, said that when he joined the company several years ago it was common for workers to be under trees while cutting was going on. Since then, the culture of the company changed to discourage workers from being under trees and now drop zones are marked with orange cones.

Representatives from the large tree care companies such as Asplundh Tree Expert Co. and Carolina Tree Care said their safety practices call for hazard analysis and team meetings before work on trees begins.

The industry's challenge is that while large companies and many small employers have safety protocols, others treat tree work as an unskilled task, representatives said. For example, companies hand workers chainsaws without on-the-job safety training or expect workers to climb a dead or rotting tree.

To contact the reporter on this story: Bruce Rolfsen in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Larry Pearl at

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