Fatalities in the Tree Trimming Industry can be Prevented

Contact: LARA Communications 517-373-9280

February 24, 2010 - One of the most tragic events in the workplace occurs when an employee is killed or seriously injured on the job. In order to protect employees from workplace accidents and injuries and to ensure a safe and healthful place of employment, the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health (MIOSH) Act was enacted in 1974.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of fatal injuries nationally was 184 among tree trimmers and pruners during 2006-2008. The leading causes of death were: Fall to a lower level (79) (from the tree or aerial work platform); Struck by a falling object (41) (i.e., tree, tree limb); and Contact with electric current (30) (power lines).

Fatal Accident Investigation − Sycamore Hills Golf Club
Sycamore Hills Golf Club, Macomb, is a 27-hole public golf course. On September 23, 2009, two employees were removing dead ash trees in a rough area. Five trees had been felled and a sixth tree was being addressed, which was about 15 inches in diameter and 84 feet tall. The tree was damaged at approximately 33 feet up and had portions of the upper crown in contact with an adjacent tree.

One employee was acting as a feller and a second employee was observing from a distance. Using a chain saw, the feller made two cuts and then retreated. When it did not fall, he made further cuts and retreated to the north.  Interference with an adjacent tree caused the tree to snap and break at about the 35-foot mark. The top portion fell on an east/west axis, and the remaining trunk fell to the north. The feller was struck in the back about 27 feet from the stump. Fatal injuries were inflicted to the cervical and thoracic spine.

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Summary of Violations
MIOSHA investigates all workplace fatalities that are determined to be "program-related," meaning that a rule or violation may have been associated with the incident. These investigations identify the hazards and conditions which existed at the time the incident occurred, with a goal of eliminating hazards to prevent reoccurrence.

As a result of the accident investigation conducted by the General Industry Safety and Health Division in September and October 2009, the company received 10 Serious citations for alleged safety violations with total proposed penalties of $23,010. Below are some of the Serious violations of Part 53, Tree Trimming and Removal:

  • Before a cut is started, a feller shall check for other employees and dead limbs, angle of tree, wind condition, location of other trees and other hazards, and plan his path of retreat, Rule 5336(1);
  • An undercut shall be large enough, about 1/3 the diameter, to safely guide the tree and reduce the possibility of the tree splitting, Rule 5336(3);
  • A back cut shall leave sufficient hinge wood (the distance between notch and back cut) to guide the tree's fall in the desired direction and to hold the tree to the stump during most of its fall, Rule 5336(4);
  • An employer shall provide training to each new employee regarding the requirements of this standard, the job hazards and safeguards before starting his assigned job, Rule 5311(a);
  • An employer shall conduct a briefing with any tree job involving unusual hazards, Rule 5311(a);
  • If there is danger of a tree falling the wrong way, such means as wedges, block and tackle or rope shall be used to control the fall, Rule 5336(9).

The responsibility to protect employees lies with the employer. It is anticipated that issuing these citations will cause the employer to strengthen their safety and health efforts by maintaining corrections.

Preventing Tree Trimming Fatalities
During the winter months, many companies perform tree trimming and removal operations. Dead and diseased trees are especially hazardous as they can break and fall in unpredictable directions.

To prevent injuries and deaths, employers must train their employees regarding the hazards of tree trimming and removal; the safeguards to prevent injury; and the requirements of Part 53, Tree Trimming and Removal. Particular attention needs to given when addressing dead and decayed trees which can be unstable. Cutting techniques need to be utilized that guide limbs and trees in a predictable direction away from the worker.

Due to a series of fatalities involving tree trimmers in 2006, MIOSHA launched a "Tree Trimming" initiative to prevent more deaths. MIOSHA sent letters to 1,000 employers in the tree trimming and removal industry to raise awareness of the hazards. Included with the letters were a Tree Care Industry Fact Sheet; a PowerPoint presentation on tree trimming safety; and the applicable standards, Part 53, Tree Trimming and Removal, Part 58, Aerial Work Platforms, and Part 33, Personal Protective Equipment. This material is available in the "Initiatives" section of our website at www.michigan.gov/miosha.

Perhaps the best protection against fatalities is a comprehensive safety and health management system. Such systems can create a culture of safety and health that transcends mere compliance with individual regulations. For more information on developing a safety and health management system, contact the Consultation Education and Training (CET) Division at 517-284-7720.

For more information about LARA, please visit www.michigan.gov/lara

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