By Michael “House” Tain
The American National Standards Institute Z133-2012, hereafter referred to as Z133, is a standard that provides general tree care work and operations’ safety requirements for the tree care industry. Although it is not technically a regulation but rather a guide, it has been adopted by many municipal, state, and federal organizations in the production of their specific regulations. Thus, it can provide tree companies and personnel with an excellent idea of the safety requirements of their chosen profession. The standard committee was originally organized in the late 1960s at the urging of a mother who had lost her son to a tree care accident. The first standard was produced by that committee in 1971, and approved as an American National Standard in 1972. The Z133 is under constant review by members of the committee, with revisions released periodically — the most recent of which happened in 2012. When questioning the wisdom of safety regulations or requirements, climbing arborists and tree folk should bear in mind that the committee is made up of tree industry professionals, including members from professional organizations, tree care companies, training companies, utilities, rope/gear manufacturers, and arborist equipment retailers. In short, each member of the tree care industry has the ability to play a role in suggesting changes or revisions in the regulations that govern their work, and participating in the important, though often thankless, task of helping keep tree folk safe as they move about in and beneath the canopy.
The Z133 consists of several specific guidelines for various common work activities in the tree care industry including general information on subjects such as traffic control, PPE (Personal Protective Equipment), electrical hazards, rigging, climbing and removals, along with a number of informational appendices that are intended to help users better follow the guidelines. Among the specific guidelines, readers will find references to other standards that may apply such as the ANSI Z89.1 for helmets/hardhats or the MUTCD (Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices) for traffic control situations. In any case, not only should every tree care company have a copy of the Z133 available, it is imperative that both workers and management be familiar with its guidelines; and make these standards part of the daily work practices and culture.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
One of the most immediately applicable sections of the Z133, but sadly most often ignored, is the section on PPE. As has been discussed in previous articles, PPE is, at its most, basic cheap insurance; and, given the work place accident and injury rate of the tree care industry, cheap insurance that all tree folk could benefit from.
Head protection: Helmets or hard hats are required during tree care operations; and Class E helmets/hard hats must be used when working near electrical conductors.
Hearing protection: Although the standard speaks of a “time-weighted average” of 85 decibels over 8 hours, the reality is that most tree care work sites are noisy ear-destroying locations; and hearing protection should be in use whenever the litany of chippers, saws and grinders are operating.
Eye protection: Eye protection needs to be worn whenever involved in tree care operations due to the multitude of things your mama never mentioned that “could put your eye out.” Users should remember that those sunglasses that look so good on their favorite reality TV star may not meet the safety glasses standard at all.
Leg/lower body protection: The Z133 continues to require leg/lower body protection when operating a chain saw on the ground, but not when aloft; however, personal experience has shown that a chain saw injury aloft can be much more challenging than one at ground level. Tree crews would be well advised to wear chaps or chain saw pants at all times during tree care operations regardless of location or elevation.
Electrical hazards: Tree crews working in a typical urban, suburban, or even rural environments will be confronted with electrical hazards on a regular basis; and perhaps even more so in the event of storm situations. This section in the Z133 provides a good basic introduction to some of the unique characteristics of electricity and the ways it can leave a mark on tree folk. Of particular importance is the section and table(s) on minimum approach distances; and tree folk would be well advised to remember that non-line clearance qualified personnel are to maintain a 10-foot distance from energized conductors.
Vehicles and driving: Although many tree crews may not put that much thought into how much driving/vehicle operation is a part of their daily tree care operations, safety research has shown that many accidents in the industry involve driving and/or work site vehicle operation. Although the guidelines in the Z133 are fairly basic and may seem “common sense,” implementation of them into everyday work practice — if not already in place — will help make the crew and company safer.
Cranes: The requirements of the Z133 in reference to crane use has been discussed in more detail previously, but tree care personnel will find some valuable basic information included in this section; and would be well served to remember that crane use in tree care operations differs fairly radically from crane use in other industries. Of particular importance is the information on attachment to the crane for climbers; and the exceptions regarding when a climber may remain attached to the crane while a load is suspended.
Chain saws: This section in the Z133 addresses some chain saw operations fairly specifically; and although it shouldn’t be considered a “primer” on chain saw use, it provides a good basic starting point for initial chain saw work practices. Fairly specific guidelines include a prohibition on “drop-starting,” the use of two tie-in points (TIPs) when operating a saw aloft, and proper hand placement (both hands on the saw) during chain saw use.
Climbing: Although the Z133 doesn’t necessarily deal directly with specific climbing techniques or methods, it does contain some excellent information on strength requirements, along with specific guidelines for certain climbing situations. Some examples of these are inspections of climbing equipment and lines before each use, termination guidelines for connecting links in split -tail systems, and snap hook use.
Rigging: The rigging section of the Z133 emphasizes the importance of understanding load ratings and the use of working load limits, along with requiring some form of communication system to make the rigging operation not only safer, but more efficient.
Tree removal: The Z133 does speak in this section to the need to keep non-involved workers out of the possible impact zone, two times the height of the tree, but also provides guidelines on exceptions that may arise due to work site requirements or hazards. In addition, the standard speaks to some of the basic requirements of felling notches; and requires their use in any wood greater than 5 inches in diameter.
Brush removal/chipping: This section not only addresses personal protective equipment needs while chipping, but also speaks to the dangers of chipping while wearing entanglement hazards such as gauntlet-style gloves, climbing harnesses and lanyards. In addition, the section contains some excellent guidance on body and brush positioning during chipping operations.
The Z133 cannot, of course, provide safety guidelines for each and every tree care situation, nor should it, as the best resource for safety is each individual tree crew member taking responsibility for themselves and those around them. But it does provide an excellent basic introduction to the safety requirements that the tree care industry has designed and developed for itself. As an introduction, implementation into work culture and practice of the Z133 by tree companies and crews will increase safety, but progression beyond that requires a commitment to safety and efficiency that goes beyond the fear of fines or discipline; and springs from the inner spirit of tree workers and managers who wish to make their workplace a safer, more professional environment.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.