Unplanned Events

Wearing one of my hats at TCIA, I get to do quite a bit of consultation with company owners and observation of crews in the field, all for safety and compliance purposes. Repeatedly, I’ve seen risk “sneak in” on job sites, with even the most experienced crews, when something about the job doesn’t go according to plan.

Peter Gerstenberger


1. The crane crew arrives on the job site to find a single-phase primary almost touching one of the removal trees, and it wasn’t noted on the work order.

2. A compact-lift crew must negotiate an icy slope that wasn’t there when the job was sold.

3. The top half of what was a 90-foot pine has speared itself into the ground and lodged in an adjacent oak, with all sorts of huge, broken-off snags in the upper canopy.

4. The homeowner comes up with one of those, “While you’re here, could you…” jobs that the crew isn’t quite equipped and prepared for.

5. There’s a big defect and a dead limb in a nearby tree – not readily observable from the ground – that is touching limbs in the tree being worked on.

6. Because of a high-value target on one side and a primary on the other side of the landing zone, the chipper operator is spotting for the crane operator as they lay huge picks in the street – but the spotter is doing something else during one of the picks.

One of the immutable truths I’ve heard applied to tree work is this: “Plan the work, work the plan!”

It sounds so simple, but when you fully apply it to a dynamic work site, it’s anything but simple. One way to apply the rule is: When something about the work takes an unexpected left turn, pause and produce a new plan.

There were vastly different outcomes in the six scenarios above. In two, the crews stopped work and revised their plans, resulting in safe outcomes. In two, the crews proceeded with the work and experienced close calls that easily could have been more serious. In one, a climber was seriously injured. In one, the worker aloft was killed.

Sounds like a contradiction, but plan for the unplanned. And since our theme this month is PPE, plan for the unexpected by wearing it, please!

While I have your attention, I’d like to let you know about a new feature on the magazine’s website, tcimag.tcia.org. We have compiled our accident briefs into a searchable, exportable table. You will find this new feature if you open the “Resources” tab. We hope you find it helpful, but regret there was a need to create it in the first place.

Peter Gerstenberger, publisher

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