a tree trimmer works aloft

Report Finds Familiar Causes for Tree Care Fatalities

A NIOSH Division of Safety Research report published in the April 24 issue of MMWR concludes that guidance offered by NIOSH, OSHA, and others to prevent fatalities in the tree care industry are still needed. This is the first report to comprehensively analyze fatalities in this industry since OSHA began collecting data in response to a petition from the Tree Care Industry Association, which offers a Certified Treecare Safety Professional credential and has workshops and exams scheduled later this year in Florida, Rhode Island, California, Texas, and Maryland.

The NIOSH analysis included 1,285 deaths in 1992-2007 of workers who died while performing tree care or maintenance. Struck by incidents were the top fatality cause, with 546 incidents, followed by falls (441) and exposure to electricity (174). Three hundred of the 1,285 fatalities occurred while the victim was engaged in tree felling; 569 while engaged in trimming or pruning; and 114 while engaged in clearing/removing work.

NIOSH found 38 percent of the victims were self-employed. While 34 percent died from falls, another 14 percent were electrocuted. The report says the fatality total "probably is undercounted because of a reliance on inconsistent narrative information" in the underlying data, which come from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries and a case series of fatality investigations conducted by NIOSH's Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) program.

The guidance from safety agencies over the years that remains valid starts with this point: All employers, even the smallest ones, should seek out worker safety information before initiating operations and should implement and enforce a comprehensive safety program with formal training in tree safety, fall protection, electrical hazards, machine safety, safety along roadways, first aid, and CPR. NIOSH also said workers should wear appropriate PPE, work in teams and be in visual contact with one another, check condition of tree branches before cutting them, climbing on them, or tying off to them, inspect equipment before each shift and remove damaged equipment from use until it is repaired, maintain minimum safe distances from power lines, and never use conductive tools or equipment near power lines.

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