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The words "personal protective equipment," unlike many words in this modern world, particularly in an election year, say what they mean and mean what they say: equipment that will protect a person. In addition to being required by law, modern quality PPE is lighter, more comfortable, and easier to use than previous generations.

Personal Protective Equipment

By Michael “House” Tain


 


As most every tree care worker knows from hard-earned personal experience, the average tree job work site is chock full of things that can cause pain, injury and/or just general discomfort. Now most folks have at least heard of the ANSI Z133.1 and what it says about personal protective equipment (PPE) in tree care, or dimly remember something about it mentioned in the employee handbook. But far too often the mental connection between written standard/regulation and self-preservation is missing in those wee tree climbing and cutting minds.


The simple fact is that the standards on PPE under which the tree industry operates are meant to help make it more likely that each crew member is able to go home at the end of the day with all their pieces and parts in working order. The words “personal protective equipment,” unlike many words in this modern world, particularly in an election year, say what they mean and mean what they say: equipment that will protect a person. In addition to being required by law, modern quality PPE is lighter, more comfortable, and easier to use than previous generations, eliminating the “hot,” “slows me down,” “makes my butt itch” arguments of the past — not to mention that none of those sensations are possible if the non-user is dead or in a non-sensory state. The most effective PPE is obviously the training, experience, and knowledge that a tree worker holds in their brain (and uses in safe efficient work practices), but the addition of the individual items of PPE required by standard will go a long way toward making sure that all that training, experience, and knowledge doesn’t end up as a puddle of goo on the ground.


 


ACTIVITIES AND REQUIRED PPE


 

PPE

CLIMBING/AERIAL

GROUND

Head

Yes

Yes

Eye

Yes

Yes

Leg/lower body

No

Yes

Hearing

Yes (noise dependent)

Yes (noise dependent)


 


 


The table above shows how required PPE can be broken down into four general areas: head, eye, chain-saw-resistant leg/lower body, and hearing protection. Boots and clothing are not covered in a whole lot of detail by the ANSI standards, which more or less state that they should be appropriate to the known hazards of the job. Tree care workers should keep in mind that states, provinces and municipalities can choose to expand on these standards, so the requirements may vary with geographic location.


 


Maintenance


All PPE will require some form of care and maintenance in order to function correctly and do its job of protecting its user, so the recommended care and feeding of PPE is part and parcel of its use. Hard hats should be inspected regularly for cracks and breakdown of materials; and should they ever take an impact, be discarded and replaced. Some plastics used in helmets and hard hats will degrade over time from sun exposure, and the manufacturer’s recommendations regarding replacement should be followed closely. Safety glasses and goggles that roll around on the dashboard of the truck are going to be less than useful, so keeping them in a safe scratch-free container will increase their lifespan. Chaps and chain-saw-resistant pants not only can be washed, but should be; and for reasons beyond personal hygiene. The build-up of oils, dirt and grime in the fibers of the chaps or pants can reduce their chain saw resistance, so regular washing according to manufacturer’s specifications will not only keep the user smelling fresh and clean, but will also make them more safe.


 


 

All the PPE all the time: helmets, eye protection, ear protection, high visibility, and chain saw protection all on the same worksite.
Photo by Kevin MengersBoots and clothing


As mentioned, federal standards are not very specific on footwear and clothing requirements for tree work, though individual states and municipalities may certainly be quite clear. Either way some common sense should enter into each tree worker’s brain when trying to decide to whether to don flip-flops or Wescos. Tree care work sites are full of uneven ground, sharp objects, and large heavy items — all of which can take a toll on those “dogs” that keep crew members upright and feeding the chipper. Sturdy boots meant for a work site — with some form of hardened toe-cap — are an excellent idea; and the modern use of polymers and other non-metals for toe protection means the frostbite of the past can be a distant memory. Clothing choices also should involve some common sense, especially if a company has any desire to be viewed as somewhat professional; and the availability of lightweight, breathable, high-visibility clothing options can certainly make it easier to keep track of everybody both on the ground and aloft.


 


Head protection


The options for head protection have certainly come a long way since the day of the full brim “tin” hard hat; and since it should be on the tree worker’s head throughout the whole work day, exploring the options available can help increase comfort and safety. There are a number of both conventional construction-type hard hats and mountaineering-style helmets that easily meet the ANSI standards for head protection, but companies and users should do the research on their chosen style to make sure their brain is getting the protection it deserves. Chin straps are typically integrated into the mountaineering-style helmets, while the construction hard hats often have an “add-on” option. In either case, a chin strap can help keep the “lid” where it is needed; and is only useful and helpful if it is fastened correctly. Tree crews working in line clearance or in proximity to electrical conductors are going to need Class E hard hats or helmets to prevent a possibly shocking experience.


 


Eye protection


ANSI Z87.1 is the standard that deals with eye protection requirements for tree care; and typically glasses or goggles that meet the standard will have it printed somewhere upon them. The newer glasses and goggles, while not perfect, have come a long way from the old humidity-rampant eye aquariums of high school shop and chemistry classes. Many are impregnated with anti-fogging agents; and there are a variety of wipes and drops that wearers can employ on a daily basis to keep their vision fog free. The integrated mesh screen on a forestry type hard hat [bold>does not<BOLD] P goggles.

 


Chain-saw-resistant leg/lower body protection


By the federal standards, although there certainly is variety in states and municipalities, chain-saw-resistant leg/lower body protection is required only when operating a chainsaw on the ground. Although that is technically the requirement by law, it is [bold>highly recommendedwhenever<BOLD] P or with have who tree for are the that and be saw chain care.

 


Hearing protection


The standard requires that hearing protection be used when work site noise levels reach or exceed an eight-hour average of 85 decibels. A better guideline, and one that’s much easier to keep track of, is that when loud stuff is running (chippers, chain saws, stump grinders, and some trucks) the muffs are on or the plugs are in. Many hard hats and helmets have muffs integrated into them for ease of use in field situations; and many tree care workers choose to use plugs with muffs over them for additional protection — though this is certainly not required. Earplug users, especially those using the disposable foam type, should keep in mind that those are intended for only short term use, and that whatever noxious substances are on the fingers will soon be in the ears. In cases like these, those “lucky” earplugs that have lived in the right hand britches’ pocket for the whole week may not be all that “lucky.”


 


As mentioned, the ANSI Z-133.1 states quite clearly what personal protective equipment is required on a tree care worksite. But the real reason that PPE should be used is so that everyone is able to go home at the end of the day looking, talking, and functioning more or less like they were that morning. To do otherwise is to cheat yourself, your coworkers, and your family of your presence.


 


Michael “House” Tain is a contract climber, splicer, educator and writer associated with North American Training Solutions www.northamericantrainingsolutions.com and Arbor Canada Training and Education www.arborcanada.com. He is currently located in Lancaster, Ky., and can be reached via e-mail at house@houseoftain.com

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