Insights Into Accidents in Tree Care

While it requires making some assumptions, recent fatality data indicates the rate of on-the-job deaths in the tree care industry may be as much as 11 times those of other industries.

Meghan Schiereck/Unsplash
Meghan Schiereck/Unsplash

There were 5,486 fatal work injuries recorded in the United States in 2022, a 5.7% increase from 5,190 in 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) recently reported. The fatal-work-injury rate was 3.7 fatalities per 100,000 full-time-equivalent (FTE) workers, up from 3.6 per 100,000 FTE in 2021.

These data are from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI), conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a division within the U.S. Department of Labor.

The CFOI does not drill down far enough into specific occupations to provide a fatality rate for tree workers. The closest one can get is a rate for “building and grounds cleaning and maintenance” workers, which for 2022 showed a rate of 7.4, double the all-industry average.

According to data TCIA gathered by gleaning the news media and OSHA fatality reports for accounts of accidents, there were 243 tree care-related fatal occupational injuries in the U.S. for calendar years 2020 through 2023, yielding an average of 61 such incidents a year.

How does our industry’s fatality rate compare to the BLS all-industry average of 3.7? We cannot say conclusively, because we do not know the denominator in our equation: How many tree workers are there in the U.S.?

Bracketing our estimate of tree workers conservatively at somewhere between 150,000 to 200,000 full-time employees yields a fatality rate of somewhere between 30.5 to 41.0 per 100,000 FTE workers, as much as 11 times higher than the all-industry average.


Below we provide a breakdown of the accidents by causation along with one or more representative anecdotes of each type, as extracted from OSHA records or published reports.

Caught in, under or between – 31 incidents
Brush chipper – 7
Equipment – 7
Tree or tree section – 7
Tree and equipment – 4
Palm-frond skirt – 3
Ropes or rigging – 3

In West Bloomfield, Michigan, a 48-year-old man, part of a crew working at a private residence, was accidentally pulled into a brush chipper, possibly by his jacket, while feeding the chipper. 

Police were called by one of the man’s co-workers, who found him inside the brush chipper. Emergency services rushed to the scene and were able to perform first aid on the man, who was still conscious at the time, and apply a tourniquet to an unknown body part. However, he died on the way to the hospital.

Electrical contact – 37 incidents
Conductive tool and/or
uninsulated lift involved – 14
Direct contact with conductor – 4
Inconclusive as to
contributing cause(s) – 19

A man died after he was electrocuted while working at a home in Fridley, Minnesota. Police said the incident happened just before 8:30 p.m. An investigation showed that the victim, 51, of Minneapolis, had been working with a private company at the property removing a tree. He was working on a lift when he struck a nearby power line with a chain saw and was electrocuted. After the lift was lowered, he was provided lifesaving measures, but he was ultimately pronounced dead at the scene. 

Falls – 50 incidents
Falls from height – 49
Falls from aerial lifts – 19
Unsecured – 11
Boom failure – 3
Tip-over – 1
Circumstances unknown – 4
Falls from trees – 26
Tree or branch failure – 8
Cut line – 2
Equipment failure – 1
Unsecured – 5
Unknown cause – 10
Falls from height, unspecified – 4
Slip or trip – 1

An employee was removing a 10-inch diameter tree from the front yard of a private residence. The employee had tied a rope around the tree so it could be dropped down in a controlled manner after it was cut. After he cut a section of the tree, the weight of the section broke the rope, causing the [upper boom of the lift] to spring up. The employee was thrown out of the bucket and fell 30 feet to the ground. The employee died on impact with the ground. The lift was being used, probably inappropriately, as an anchor point for rigging. Clearly the victim was not secured in the bucket.

In another incident, at 11:20 a.m., a victim, 26, was using a chain saw to cut trees at a private residence. The employee was working approximately 46 feet up in a tree cutting an upper section, which he was tied to. The rigging system the employee was using was a negative-blocking rigging system, which is also known as butt-hitching or blocking wood. The employee did not take into account the forces generated by the cut material on the tree trunk as the material free falls before impacting the anchor point below the load.

As a result, the employee was killed when the tree trunk, at the point where the rigging system was attached, snapped from the strain imposed on it by the cut tree section. Multiple co-workers witnessed the accident. The employer failed to conduct a job briefing, failed to provide appropriate personal protective equipment and did not have qualified supervision on site.

Struck-bys – 93 incidents
Struck by tree – 50
Struck by tree limb – 35
Due to co-worker’s actions – 23
Due to victim’s actions – 12
Struck by motorist – 2
Chain-saw kickback – 2
Struck by work vehicle – 1
Struck by winch line – 1
Crushed by vehicle load (log) – 1
Cause unknown – 1

Federal OSHA investigated the workplace death of a 59-year-old Canton, Ohio, man. The victim was struck by a tree limb that fractured his cervical spine in multiple places and caused his death. The victim was operating a brush chipper outside the anticipated drop zone when a limb fell outward farther than expected. It fell from a height of approximately 40 feet and struck him.

In another case, a victim, employed by a lawn- and garden-services company, was standing next to an excavator as it pushed down a tree. The top portion of the tree snapped off and fell to the ground, striking the victim. He sustained a fractured skull and was killed.

In Crestwood, Kentucky, a man who was helping remove a large tree died when the tree fell on him, police said. According to employees, the victim, 33, had cut a wedge into the front of tree. He then prepared to move to the rear to finish cutting it when the tree snapped and fell. Co-workers said the victim became trapped underneath and they were unable to free him due to the weight of the tree.

All other causes – 32
Motor-vehicle accident – 3
Workplace violence – 2
Off-road-vehicle accident – 1
Heart attack due to
suspension trauma – 1
Heat illness – 1
Struck by lightning – 1
Thermal burns, fire – 1
Unknown circumstances – 22

You can search TCIA’s database of tree care-related incidents on the Association’s website by going to

Peter Gerstenberger is senior vice president of industry support at TCIA. He’s been involved with the development or revision of most TCIA training programs, and has served on the ANSI Z133 Committee for 20 years.

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