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Home » Arborist Blog » Arborist Safe Work Practices | Protect Your Arborists on the Job

Arborist Safe Work Practices | Protect Your Arborists on the Job

Arborists play a vital role in maintaining the health and safety of urban and rural landscapes. From pruning and trimming to tree removal and hazard assessment, arborists tackle a range of tasks to ensure the well-being of trees and the safety of the surrounding environment. 

However, it’s essential to recognize that arboriculture is not without its risks. In fact, it consistently ranks as one of the most dangerous professions. Working at heights, handling heavy equipment, and navigating unpredictable tree structures pose significant hazards to arborists on a daily basis. 

Due to this, it’s essential that arborists understand the most dangerous aspects of their work and implement and maintain safe work practices to mitigate these risks. 

Whether you’re a seasoned tree care professional or someone considering a career in arboriculture, understanding and implementing safe work practices is crucial for protecting yourself and those around you. So, let’s dive in and learn how to stay safe while working among the trees. 

Cultivating a Culture of Safety 

In the world of arboriculture, where every task involves navigating heights, heavy machinery, and potentially hazardous environments, safety isn’t just a priority—it’s a way of life. Arborists face a unique set of risks each day, from working at great heights to operating powerful equipment, making it imperative to cultivate a culture of safety within the industry. 

Establishing a safety-first mindset is not only essential for protecting the well-being of arborists but also for ensuring the success and longevity of their careers. One of the most effective ways to do this is by fostering an environment where safety is not just a set of rules to follow, but a core value ingrained in every aspect of the job. 

Here are some strategies for arborists to cultivate a culture of safety: 

  1. Education and Training 

Providing comprehensive safety training and ongoing education is crucial for arborists to understand the potential hazards they may encounter and how to mitigate risks effectively. Regular training sessions, workshops, and certifications keep arborists up to date on the latest safety protocols and techniques, empowering them to make informed decisions while on the job. 

  1. Lead by Example 

Leadership plays a pivotal role in shaping workplace culture. Arborists in supervisory roles should lead by example by consistently prioritizing safety in their own actions and decisions. When leaders demonstrate a commitment to safety, it sets a positive precedent for their teams and reinforces the importance of safety as a non-negotiable aspect of the job. 

  1. Open Communication 

Encouraging open communication channels is essential for fostering a culture of safety where every team member feels empowered to voice concerns, ask questions, and report potential hazards without fear of retribution. Establishing regular safety meetings, toolbox talks, and anonymous reporting systems creates opportunities for dialogue and ensures that safety concerns are addressed promptly. 

  1. Peer Support and Mentorship 

Building a supportive network of peers and mentors within the arborist community can provide invaluable guidance and encouragement in prioritizing safety. Experienced arborists can share their knowledge and expertise with newer team members, offering practical advice and insights gained from years of experience working in the field. 

  1. Continuous Improvement 

Safety is an ongoing journey, not a destination. Arborists should continuously strive to improve safety practices by soliciting feedback, conducting regular risk assessments, and implementing lessons learned from past incidents. Embracing a mindset of continuous improvement ensures that safety remains a top priority at all times and helps prevent complacency. 

By embracing these strategies and actively cultivating a culture of safety, arborists can create safer work environments, reduce the risk of accidents and injuries, and ultimately ensure the well-being of everyone involved in the industry. 

Identifying Common Arborist Safety Issues and Hazards 

Every year, arborists face the sobering reality of fatal incidents and serious injuries while performing their duties. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the annual fatality rate for grounds maintenance workers, which includes tree workers, is approximately 17 per 100,000 full-time equivalent workers. This translates to roughly 220 fatal incidents annually within the industry. 

These sobering statistics underscore the importance of vigilance and adherence to safety protocols within the arborist profession.  

Struck-By Incidents 

Struck-by incidents represent the most prevalent fatal injury for arborists, often resulting from workers being hit by falling trees or branches. These incidents highlight the critical importance of delineating a clear drop zone and fostering effective communication between team members.  

Failure to establish a designated area for falling debris or to communicate actions within the team can lead to tragic consequences. For instance, arborists working in trees may inadvertently cut branches without warning, catching ground workers off guard and increasing the risk of struck-by incidents. 


Falls rank as the second leading cause of fatalities among arborists, with many incidents occurring when workers fall from trees or descend with falling trees. These accidents typically happen when arborists momentarily neglect proper safety precautions, such as securing themselves while performing tasks. In some cases, workers may underestimate the risk or assume they can complete a quick task without securing themselves, leading to potentially life-threatening falls. 

Electrocution Risks 

Electrocution poses a significant risk to arborists, accounting for a substantial portion of fatal incidents within the industry. A significant number of these incidents occur when climbers inadvertently come into contact with primary distribution lines, either through conductive tools like metal pole saws or by inadvertently touching branches that have caught on a powerline. 

Even after pruning a branch, the residual contact with electrical lines can prove fatal if proper precautions are not followed diligently. 

Implementing an Arborist Safety Checklist 

Ensuring the safety of arborists requires a proactive approach that addresses potential hazards before they escalate into accidents. One effective tool for promoting safety on the job is the implementation of an arborist safety checklist. 

This checklist serves as a comprehensive guide for assessing and mitigating risks associated with tree work. Let’s delve into some key components you should consider for your arborist safety checklist: 

  1. Equipment Inspections 

Regular inspections of equipment are essential to identifying potential safety hazards. Arborists should systematically examine all tools and machinery before each use, checking for signs of wear, damage, or malfunction. 

This includes chainsaws, climbing gear, ropes, harnesses, and rigging equipment. Any equipment found to be defective or compromised should be immediately repaired or replaced to prevent accidents. 

  1. Work Site Assessments 

Before commencing work on any tree, arborists should conduct a thorough assessment of the work site. This assessment involves identifying potential hazards such as overhead power lines, unstable branches, nearby structures, and uneven terrain. 

Arborists should establish a clear drop zone for falling debris and ensure adequate space for safe maneuvering. Additionally, assessing weather conditions, such as wind speed and precipitation, is crucial for determining if it’s safe to proceed with tree work. 

  1. Emergency Preparedness Plans 

Preparation is key to effectively managing emergencies in the field. Arborists should develop and implement comprehensive emergency preparedness plans that outline procedures for responding to various scenarios, including injuries, falls, and equipment malfunctions. 

This plan should include protocols for summoning medical assistance, evacuating the work site, and administering first aid. All team members should be familiar with emergency procedures and undergo regular training drills to ensure readiness. 

  1. Communication Protocols 

Effective communication is vital for maintaining a safe working environment. Arborists should establish clear communication protocols to facilitate information sharing and coordination among team members.  

This includes establishing hand signals and verbal cues for signaling movements and actions during tree work. Regular team meetings and briefings should be conducted to review safety procedures, discuss potential hazards, and address any concerns or questions raised by team members. 

By incorporating these key components into an arborist safety checklist, tree care professionals can proactively identify and mitigate risks, promote safety awareness, and ensure a safe working environment for all team members. 

Ensuring Proper Training for Your Arborists 

Arborists face a myriad of hazards daily, ranging from working at height to operating heavy machinery, making ongoing education and skill development essential for mitigating safety risks. 

Here’s why investing in proper training is crucial for the safety and success of your arborists: 

Equipment Use Training 

Arborists rely on a diverse array of specialized equipment to perform their duties safely and effectively. From chainsaws and woodchippers to harnesses and rigging gear, proper training in equipment use is paramount to preventing accidents and injuries. 

Arborists should receive thorough instruction on equipment operation, maintenance, and safety protocols to ensure they can confidently and competently utilize these tools in the field. 

Emergency Response Techniques 

Emergencies can arise unexpectedly in the tree care industry, requiring swift and decisive action to prevent further harm. Arborists must be equipped with the knowledge and skills to respond effectively to various emergency situations, including injuries, falls, and equipment malfunctions. 

Training programs should include instruction on first aid, CPR, emergency evacuation procedures, and communication protocols to enable arborists to react calmly and efficiently in times of crisis. 

Improved Situational Awareness 

Maintaining situational awareness is critical for identifying and mitigating hazards in the arborist’s work environment. Through regular, comprehensive training, arborists will develop the ability to perceive, understand, and respond to incidents and situations faster than ever before.  

By cultivating situational awareness, arborists can anticipate risks – like potential overhead hazards, unstable tree structures, and changing weather conditions – and take proactive measures to safeguard themselves and their colleagues from harm. 

Continual Education and Skill Development 

Safety standards and best practices in arboriculture are constantly evolving, necessitating ongoing education and skill development for arborists. Employers should prioritize providing regular training opportunities to their arborists to ensure they remain up to date on industry advancements and safety regulations.  

Whether through workshops, seminars, or online courses, investing in continual education empowers arborists to enhance their skills, expand their knowledge, and adapt to emerging challenges in the field. 

By prioritizing proper training for your arborists, you not only demonstrate your commitment to their safety and well-being but also equip them with the tools and knowledge necessary to excel in their roles. Remember, a well-trained arborist is not only an asset to your team but also a guardian of safety in the tree care industry. 

FAQs about Arborist Safety 

How often should safety training sessions be conducted for arborists? 

Safety training sessions should ideally be conducted regularly, with frequency depending on factors such as the complexity of tasks, the level of experience of the arborists, and any changes in safety protocols or regulations. At a minimum, safety training sessions should be conducted annually, but more frequent sessions, such as quarterly or semi-annually, may be necessary for high-risk activities or when new hazards are introduced. 

What are the first steps to take if an arborist is injured on the job? 

In the event of an injury, the first priority is to ensure the safety and well-being of the injured arborist and those nearby. The following steps should be taken immediately: 

  1. Assess the Situation: Quickly assess the severity of the injury and determine if emergency medical assistance is needed. 
  1. Administer First Aid: If the injury is minor and within your capability to treat, administer first aid as necessary. 
  1. Notify Supervisors: Report the injury to the appropriate supervisors or managers as soon as possible. 
  1. Document the Incident: Record details of the injury, including the date, time, location, nature of the injury, and any contributing factors. 
  1. Seek Medical Attention: If the injury is serious or requires professional medical attention, arrange for the injured arborist to receive prompt medical care. 

These initial steps are crucial for ensuring that the injured arborist receives timely and appropriate assistance, and for initiating any necessary follow-up procedures, such as incident investigations or workers’ compensation claims. 

How can arborists stay informed about the latest safety protocols and equipment? 

  1. Join a local ISA (International Society of Arboriculture) Chapter 
  1. Attend arborist and tree care expos 
  1. Attend tree climbing competitions 

Wrapping Up: Maintaining Arborist Safe Work Practices 

Ensuring the safety of arborists is paramount in the dynamic field of arboriculture. By implementing a comprehensive safety checklist, conducting regular training programs, and fostering a culture of safety, arborists can mitigate risks and create a safer work environment. 

The safety checklist serves as a vital tool, addressing common issues, inspecting equipment, and preparing for emergencies. Training programs provide essential knowledge and skills, empowering arborists to navigate hazards effectively. Meanwhile, a culture of safety promotes vigilance, communication, and collective responsibility. 

Remember, safety isn’t just a priority—it’s a shared commitment. Together, let’s prioritize safety to ensure that arborists can work confidently and securely, knowing that their well-being is safeguarded. 

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