Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arboricultural Association.

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Review of safety reports and events

Author:  Bill Goodall
Last Updated:  02/06/2020

Bill Goodall, Utility Arboriculture Group

The year ahead is certain to bring enormous pressures, impacts and changes in lifestyles. It is likely that the Utility Arboriculture industry will still be active in essential tree and vegetation works throughout. This report covers some key learning from the events reported to Utility Arboriculture Group (UAG) over the last year and advice that may be helpful.

The UAG receives information from electricity distribution/transmission companies and contractors delivering services to them. Contractors anonymously report events, the types of injuries that occur and any learning. Please contact the Arboricultural Association to get guidance information and a template report table if you want to help with this. The UAG works with training and awarding bodies, suppliers of equipment to the industry and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to support the industry.

We have a system to create and circulate Safety Bulletins that are available to ‘Virtual’ UAG members. Information comes from the electricity distribution/transmission organisations, contractors and suppliers. There have been 65 bulletins released so far, and the learning from them can be used as the basis for meaningful toolbox talks. The bulletins cover both manufacturers’ information, e.g. product recalls, and safety learning from events. Information on becoming a Virtual or a Full UAG member can be found at www.trees.org.uk.

Report to the UAG: a fall from 8.5m caused by an incorrect climbing line connection was totally avoidable.

Report to the UAG: a fall from 8.5m caused by an incorrect climbing line connection was totally avoidable.

Incident and accident reports

A fall from height and a falling object from height produced the two most serious injuries reported to UAG last year. A fall from 8.5m caused by an incorrect climbing line connection was totally avoidable (see photograph below). The other incident was an impact strike on a tree feller during the ground-based felling of a stem with a hungup top section. It resulted in a life-changing injury. Both events caused serious fractures.

Sadly, we hear from the HSE that there have already been two fatal aerial tree work accidents this year. A falling object was involved in one and at the time of writing no details have been released about the other.

The HSE report on ‘Falls involving a single rope’ highlights numerous types of event that have led to fatal injuries. You can find the document here. It is understandable that there has been a focus on our industry and the work techniques being used.

The accidents and injuries reported to the UAG all involved trained and competent individuals. During some events, individuals had the opportunity to assess the conditions and stop work to report issues but did not do so. Human factors played a part in many of the reported events. A lack of concentration, moving into ‘auto-pilot mode’, bad habits or trying to finish work quickly have all played a part. We could all have moments like this, but our work environments and activities give no room for these human errors. Working together as a team, supporting each other and challenging each other when required are all part of staying safe.

Total lost-time injury rolling 12 months frequency rate per 100,000 working hours as reported to the UAG.

Total lost-time injury rolling 12 months frequency rate per 100,000 working hours as reported to the UAG.

Types of injury

The number of lost-time injuries reported last year was a reduction from 2018 figures, as shown in the graph opposite. However, one of these incidents led to a life-changing injury, and this shows that the target of zero injuries must be a common goal. There is no doubt that aerial and ground-based tree work can lead to the most serious injuries. There were six injuries that required specific medical treatment last year. Most were cuts requiring a small number of stiches, treatment for thorn injuries and severe wasp stings. There were 88 non-lost-time injuries reported last year. The events leading up to and causes of most of these injuries are well known to everyone. Many scenarios could have led to more serious injuries.

  • Silky Saw use: cuts to fingers and arms and non-injury cuts to ropes/lanyards.
  • Slips, trips and falls at the same level: uneven ground, holes, rocks, tree stumps, brambles, wet ground and slopes.
  • Manual handling: in the last year reports have included many injuries that occurred while operators were moving materials to and feeding chippers.
  • Thorn injuries: some occurred when appropriate safety gloves were being worn, others when they were not.

The controls to prevent these events are well known and will not be covered here. Staying focused and following best practice can reduce the number of these types of incidents.

Near misses

The UAG also receives near miss reports. In the last 12 months these included an aerial worker cutting a climbing line. On that occasion there was a second anchor line in place, which saved him from a serious injury. We also received reports of events where climbers fell from or within trees, but luckily none was seriously injured.

Discussions within the UAG confirm there are regular reports of driving near misses. Anyone who drives knows that going into ‘automode’ or being distracted is not an option. Travelling in arboriculture can be a serious risk, even if you are fit and non-fatigued. The erratic, idiotic, dangerous driving of others is a daily occurrence. Using defensive driving techniques, predicting what others are going to do, or risk, and taking proactive measures are survival techniques. As with tree work, following best practice, not rushing, planning and thinking ahead are essential.

Working during the COVID-19 crisis

COVID-19 is at the centre of life at present. We are still likely to meet landowners and grantors and be approached by members of the public if we are called out to complete essential tree work. As approved key workers, some companies are using formal letters to explain why work is still being completed and to confirm it is approved by the government. It is important that we give polite and professional answers to questions, and can explain what controls are in place to prevent any contamination.

This article was taken form Issue 189 Summer 2020 of the ARB Magazine, which is available to view free to members by simply logging in to the website and viewing your profile area.