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PPE and Tree Care Operations

By Michael “House” Tain


Any tree person who has spent more than a few minutes outside the truck has quickly seen evidence that tree work involves a lot of machinery, actions, and objects that can cause a variety of pain and discomfort should they come into contact with the worker’s pieces and parts. ANSI Z133.1 is the standard that dictates a great deal about tree care operations, but of particular importance to this article are the “Z’s” directives on personal protective equipment, or PPE. The industry itself plays a role in developing these standards; so tree people are, up to a point, figuring out and writing the rules for tree people. Although some might feel that the PPE requirements are simply meant to “shackle their buzz” and interfere with their personal freedoms, the reality is that the rules are pretty much all a result of tree folks losing their lives, limbs, or other pieces and parts. In the end, the rules on PPE — and the personal protective equipment — itself are meant for one simple thing: protecting the person who is wearing the equipment. So not only are certain items of PPE required by standard, they also are intended to protect the tree folks who might complain about their use. PPE is certainly underappreciated and, all too often, underutilized, but modern materials and manufacturing have done their best to make PPE more comfortable, easier to use, and less sweat/heat rash inducing. Of course, the person killed or injured due to a lack of required PPE will no longer be able to feel uncomfortable or sweaty, so that in itself might be an encouragement to use it. Personal protective equipment cannot do all the work on its own; and it is obviously only as good as the user wearing it, their experience, knowledge, and safe work practices. But simply wearing the required personal protective equipment is a great start to keeping all those pieces and parts where they belong.


Activities and required PPE



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 by geographic location.


Take care of it so it can take care of you

Every item of PPE will need some kind of care and maintenance to function properly and protect its wearer, so inspection and maintenance is just as important as putting on the PPE. 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 manufacturers’ recommendations regarding replacement should be followed closely. The suspension unit inside the hard hat or helmet plays an integral part in protecting the “melon” from an impact, so it should also be checked for serviceability. 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 their overly “woodsy” odor. The build-up of oils, dirt, and grime in the fibers of the chaps or pants clump the fibers together and can reduce their chain saw resistance. Regular washing according to manufacturers’ specifications will keep the user smelling fresh as a daisy, and will also make them safer.


Dogs and togs

As mentioned earlier, the federal standards are not very directive on the footwear and clothing — or dogs and togs — requirements for tree care operations, though states and municipalities can be quite specific. In any case, a certain amount of common sense should make it clear to the average Johnny B. O’Doughnuts what kind of footwear and clothing is a good idea for tree work. Most tree jobs involve some level of uneven ground; large, moving, heavy things; and a multitude of sharp, abrasive surfaces, both organic and manufactured — any and all of which can take a significant toll on less-than-well-protected feet or exposed skin. 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. There is certainly a wide variety of durable work clothing available — even the tree industry’s home grown Arborwear — thus, tree folks can be well dressed and professional in appearance. 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; and are imperative when roadside work is involved in the job.


The all important melon

There are far more options for head protection than there were “back in the day” of the full brim “tin” hard hat; and, as it should be on the “melon” all day, it’s a good idea to explore the options to find something both safe and comfortable. Both traditional construction-type hard hats and mountaineering type helmets are available that easily meet the ANSI standard, but companies and users need to do their due diligence to make sure that their chosen style will do the protecting required. In addition, several manufacturers have designed and developed tree-industry-specific helmets which may provide an even more desirable, safe, and comfortable option. Chin straps are typically integrated into the mountaineering style helmets, while the construction hard hats often have an “add-on” option. Regardless of style, a chin strap can keep the helmet where it is needed. But it is only effective if properly adjusted and fastened, rather than flopping around in that “devil may care” look. Tree folks working line clearance or close to energized conductors need to make sure their hard hats or helmets are Class E, otherwise they might experience an arc of voltage to their brain housing unit.


Can’t cut what you can’t see

The standard that deals with eye protection is the ANSI Z87.1, and typically glasses or goggles that meet the standard will have it printed somewhere upon them. New-generation glasses and goggles, while certainly not perfect, are much better at controlling fogging and scratching, assuming they are properly cared for. There are a number of wipes and substances that users can employ to keep their glasses fog free; and their use is highly recommended. The mesh screen on a forestry type hard hat does not qualify as eye protection — a fact usually stated on the mesh screen but typically ignored by many as they go about their work. Glasses or goggles must be worn beneath these mesh screens, but there are clear plastic shields available that do qualify as eye protection for those users who have issues with glasses or goggles.


Chaps ain’t just for the rodeo

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 chain saw on the ground. While that is technically the requirement by law, it is highly recommended that chain saw protection be worn whenever operating a saw. Personal experience has demonstrated pretty clearly that a cut to the lower body by a chain saw while aloft is even more challenging to deal with than one that happens on the ground. Options include apron and wrap-around style chaps, along with chain saw-resistant pants and overalls. The chaps are probably a better choice for someone who is going to be using a saw periodically and sporadically throughout the day, while pants/overalls are for crew members who know they’ll be running a saw all day. The pants and overalls also have the benefit of no straps or other items to get hung on branches or brush; and the more modern styles incorporate flexible, breathable fabrics to make them more comfortable during all aspects of tree care — plus they come with all kinds of handy pockets and zippers.


Huh? What’s that you say?

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, which personal experience has shown can lead to some nasty ear fungus development.


Personal protective equipment, or PPE, is not going to positively guarantee that every crew member goes home with every piece and part they started the day with, but it goes a long way toward making that outcome much more likely. The use of required PPE, coupled with safe, efficient work practices, can make all tree crews safer; and its modern materials and manufacturing can make them more comfortable at the same time.


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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