OSHA Revisits Enforcement

Federal OSHA recently revised its enforcement guidance for the tree care industry by withdrawing a compliance directive issued in 2008 and replacing it with an enforcement memo that in certain key sections is very similar to what it replaced.

Peter Gerstenberger

Here is a link to the new guidance: https://www.osha.gov/memos/2021-06-30/inspection-guidance-for-tree-care-and-tree-removal-operations

Particularly disappointing to us is the fact that OSHA has chosen not to look at the facts and data to update its guidance on cranes, and specifically the practice of hoisting climbers. Below is a direct quote from the new directive:

“CSHOs [OSHA’s field-compliance people] should assess the employer’s compliance with OSHA’s Materials Handling and Storage standards at 29 CFR §1910, Subpart N, including whether the employer has ensured that truck-mounted cranes are operated and maintained in compliance with the Crawler Locomotive and Truck Cranes standard (29 CFR §1910.180). Among other requirements, the standard prohibits hoisting an individual on the crane load or hook, also known as ‘riding the hook’ (29 CFR §1910.180(h)(3)(v)). This requirement applies even though the standard for Arboricultural Operations–Safety Requirements, ANSI Z133-2017, §5.7.11, allows the hoisting of personnel into position with a crane.”

Disappointingly, except for updating the Z133 reference from 2006 to 2017, this passage in the new directive was lifted verbatim from the old directive. What was woefully out of touch with accepted safe work practice in 2008 is now absurdly so. Furthermore, a careful read of Z133 shows that it only conditionally allows hoisting when the employer has determined that alternatives to being hoisted constitute a greater hazard to employees or are infeasible.

Ironically, “greater hazard” and “infeasibility” are affirmative defenses an employer may use when contesting an OSHA citation. We are saying tomato and OSHA is saying to-mah-to.

Trying to look objectively at the data going all the way back to 2009, I have yet to find one instance of a serious or fatal injury that implicates the practice of hoisting a climber. By contrast, in the last year-and-a-half alone, there have been nine serious or fatal falls out of trees that involved tree or branch failure, hazards that can be circumvented or reduced with a crane.

Thankfully, the folks at OSHA drafting an arborist standard, as well as many of their field-enforcement people, are trying to see the risks in arboriculture through the eyes of the arborist. Slowly but surely, the needle is moving in the right direction.

Peter Gerstenberger, publisher

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