Winning Hearts and Minds

Steve Pregler’s article (“Celebrating Dr. Alex Shigo,” page 88) took me back to the beginning of my career. In 1986, Al Shigo had just launched his second career as an author and lecturer with Shigo & Trees, Associates. He needed an agent and manager, and he turned to his friends at the National Arborist Association, now TCIA.

Peter Gerstenberger

That summer and fall, I had the privilege of being Dr. Shigo’s lab assistant, road manager and chauffeur as he toured the country, winning the hearts and minds of arborists. He knew that if he could get arborists to see the tree as he saw it, he would have no trouble convincing them to abandon their paint pots and flush cuts. He won hearts and minds by literally getting people to look through his microscope. Al Shigo made converts, the converts in turn trained others and today we have a changed industry. The novel ideas Shigo preached 30-plus years ago are now the norm.

Fast forward to today. Industry leaders are trying to win hearts and minds at federal OSHA, trying to get officials to see what we see, much as Shigo did.

I’ll use the single example of being hoisted by a crane. Most of us know this practice is disallowed by a federal OSHA crane standard from 1974. Federal OSHA just released an enforcement memo affirming this is still the law of the land. Thus, when a compliance officer (certified safety and health official, or CSHO) encounters the practice in a federal-jurisdiction state, the typical outcome is a “serious” citation that the employer must fight. Cite first, ask questions later.

What CSHO wouldn’t be convinced that a crane was the safer alternative if they had to strap on a pair of spikes and manually climb that dead tree, or figure out how to get that tree down safely from the bucket of a truck-mounted or compact lift, with 20 or 30 feet of tree directly above them? Wouldn’t it be great … this is usually where I wake up from the daydream.

We’ve provided live demonstration and simulation to OSHA around this issue to get them to see it as we do, and it’s working. Local arborists put on a full-day demonstration for about 30 OSHA Region 1 CSHOs in 2019, and there have been other slideshow presentations and site visits for them before and since.

OSHA Region 1 just announced a Regional Emphasis Program under which they will be paying a little extra attention to tree care operations for the next five years. The way it deals with the crane-hoisting scenario is particularly interesting. To summarize, it says that if the CSHO hears the arborist begin to make the argument, “We’re hoisting because it’s safer!” they will ask the arborist to show documentation that they have considered and ruled out other alternatives. In other words, ask questions first.

Hearts and minds are slowly being won.

Peter Gerstenberger, publisher

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