Health and safety training in the outdoor workplace is essential, especially for those who are working at height. These environments naturally attract greater danger, especially in professions such as tree surgery, where potentially dangerous equipment including chainsaws are in use.
In this article we’ve given a summary of health and safety practices for aerial workers.
The biggest single cause of death in the workplace is a fall from a height which is also a primary cause of serious injury. This is a particularly high risk in arboriculture where 16 per cent of all accidents involve a fall from a height. 6 per cent of accidents for tree surgeons are caused by uncontrolled swings, leading to impacts with branches or the trunk.
It goes without saying then that all the appropriate measures must be in place when working from height, whether it be assessing risk before ascending or wearing the appropriate personal protective equipment.
Personal Protective Equipment
Specific items of personal protective equipment are required for those working in tree surgery as with any other ‘high risk’ profession. As work with a chainsaw is involved, there is strict guidance on the PPE required, which you can see listed in detail by HSE here.
For groundwork, a safety helmet approved to BS EN 397 must be worn. For climbing, a mountaineering type safety helmet with a 4 point chinstrap is required, compliant with BS EN 12492.
Eyes should be protected with a mesh visor accredited to BS EN 1731. This is necessary to protect the eyes and face from flying debris. Safety glasses or goggles may also be required. These must be approved to BS EN 166 standards.
Noise cancelling PPE must be worn at all times. Workers should use appropriate visual communication signals to maintain full communication and follow procedures to ensure that safety precautions can be carried out, and the operator contacted, when the noise-cancelling equipment is in use. For particularly loud machinery such as a chipper, it may well be considered appropriate to use ‘chipper’ muffs – ear muffs with a rating of SNR31 or greater.
Appropriate gloves must be worn after risk assessment. These will change according to the task and must take into account potential cut risks from thorns, chainsaws and different weather conditions. Chainsaw protective gloves should be compliant to BS EN 381-7.
Chainsaw boots are essential. These must be compliant to BS EN ISO 17249 with protective guarding at the instep and front vamp, a steel toecap and a good grip.
Legs and groin
The AFAG recommends that aerial work is carried out in Type C trousers with chainsaw protective blocking material to the front and back of the leg. Where this is impractical, for example because of high heat stress risks, Type A (with protection to the front of the legs only) can be an alternative where a risk assessment has been carried out. Fully trained chainsaw operators working only on the ground can wear Type A or Type C protective trousers.
As a general guide, high vis clothing should always be worn, and all outer clothing should be designed to prevent snagging.
Only appropriately trained individuals should use chainsaws and extra care should be taken if these are to be used at height. Aerial work should only be carried out when at least two workers are present, with one fully available, competent and equipped member of the team in place for rescue purposes. All operators must wear full PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and chainsaw operators working as tree surgeons or in forestry and arboriculture must have the proper training, which should include induction training, risk assessment and refresher courses.
The workers on the ground must carry out a risk assessment with the climber before they begin work and plan the job with the contractor who will be working at height. Clear communication must be maintained between ground staff and aerial workers at all times, and ground stuff must concentrate and watch the climber carefully.
All climbing and lowering ropes must be kept free from tangles, knots, machinery and branch wood. Ropes must also be stored safely and away from vehicles, obstructions and equipment. All precautions must also be made to keep the public and traffic away from the work site whilst the work is in progress. Clear signage should be employed as appropriate.
During the job, the situation must be regularly and carefully monitored, with adjustments to the planned mode of operation put into place as appropriate.
It’s important that full permission for tree felling is obtained from the Forestry Commission beforehand, even if the tree is on private land. A license is granted for approval purposes, or a Dedication Scheme.
Employers also have requirements to ensure that their staff are safe and well under The Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992. For employers of tree surgeons, The Work at Height Regulations 2005 places safety duties on employers and contractors alike, and its provisions must be fully integrated into corporate health and safety procedures.
The Government has published a list of health and safety measures that apply to those working as tree surgeons or in similar aerial roles. You can see it in full on the HSE website.
About the Author: Paul George is the managing director of Landmark Trading Ltd, the UK’s leading supplier of arborist equipment, tree surgery and tree climbing equipment. You can connect with Paul on Twitter on @LandmarkTrading or check out their Facebook page.