OSHA Tree Care Industry Standards May Get a Pruning

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration has started to lay the groundwork for improving the regulatory schema for tree care industry safety standards. The idea is to drive down injuries and fatalities in the tree care industry. treetrimming

There are an average of 70 deaths nationally every year in the tree care industry. OSHA insiders call this rate “unacceptable,” and pointed to the fact that many tree care industry workers aren’t given the right protective equipment. They often are not properly trained either. In some cases, even where training is offered, it isn’t provided in the language workers best understand.

An informational stakeholder meeting was held recently in Washington, D.C., Bloomberg Business reported. It was recommended there that any new rule cover a myriad of different hazards, including unsafe tree branches, insect bites, pesticides and broken aerial lifts. 

OSHA is looking to update the current rule, 81 Fed. Reg. 38,117. Most of the previous regulation set by the regulatory agency has focused on logging. As of yet, there aren’t any specific rules for the majority of occupational tree trimming activities.

The agency in 2008 began the rulemaking process at the behest of the Tree Care Industry Association. However, it set aside the measure in 2010. The issue was recently revived last year. This move was driven at least in part by the substantial number of tree care industry deaths and high number of workers’ compensation claims. Between 2009 and 2013, there were more than 400 tree care deaths.

The most commonly-cited problem was falling tree branches. This most often affected tree care industry workers who were either climbing or in aerial buckets. Workers on the ground also face falling branch hazards, but they are also placed at high risk with use of dangerous power tools, like wood chippers and chain saws.

Even so, there is currently no timeline set up for this rule. The tree care industry standards OSHA does have touch on ladders, guarding wall openings and holes, respiratory protection, flammable liquids and access to protective equipment.

Some have voiced support for OSHA just adopting ANSI Z133-2012, which is the American National Standards Institute’s tree-trimming standards, followed by most in the industry. However, OSHA leaders have said they can’t adopt the standard just the way it is.

Many of the deaths were attributed to violation of basic safety precautions, such as not allowing workers to be under trees or inside the so-called “fall zone” where the tree trimming was happening.

Some tree care company workers say the culture is changing. Years ago, it was common for workers to stand directly underneath as trimming was being conducted overhead. Not so much anymore. Many companies report having a comprehensive meeting at the start of each project and smaller meetings at the start of each shift.

Part of the problem is that although many companies do have safety protocols, the job is still generally treated like an unskilled staff. Some employers have shown no hesitation in handing a brand new worker a chainsaw without safety training or in asking him or her to climb up a rotting or dead tree.

As of right now, industry standards for tree care are voluntary, except in five states (Virginia, Oregon, California, Michigan and Maryland), where the states have taken initiative to adopt their own standards.

If you have been injured at work, contact the Lee Law Offices at 800-887-1965.

Additional Resources:

Tree Care Industry Safety Raises OSHA Concerns, July 14, 2016, Bloomberg BNA

More Blog Entries:

Workers’ Compensation for Icy Slip-and-Fall, July 30, 2016, Anderson Workers’ Compensation Lawyer Blog

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