As a 33-year green-industry veteran, Doug Pistawka is a good example of how there is always something new to learn in the training of tree care workers.
After Pistawka earned TCIA’s CTSP (Certified Treecare Safety Professional) credential in March 2018, he brought new insights back to his company, Eversource Energy, a utility company headquartered in Hartford, Connecticut, and Boston, Massachusetts, that serves more than 3.6 million electric and natural-gas customers in Connecticut, Massachusetts and New Hampshire.
As supervisor of vegetation management in Connecticut, Pistawka helps oversee a “very talented team” of eight Eversource arborists and 250 contract tree crews from six different tree companies. They manage Eversource’s $82 million program for power-line clearing in this heavily forested area.
“I found CTSP very valuable, in particular, the workshop where we had hands-on interactive sessions with other students, learning how to better educate adult learners. The big takeaway for me was to engage the audience – to be interactive, over traditional methods of teaching, like relying solely on watching PowerPoint presentations,” he says. “I find that many tree workers learn better by doing. I found it’s more effective to first explain the basics behind a technique, then to show them, have them do it, correct any errors and monitor their performance.”
This approach “is not something you learn anywhere else – college coursework or other training opportunities don’t teach you how to train, coach or mentor others. Some preparing for the CTSP program with less experience in the field might benefit by learning more about safety requirements and reviewing the ANSI Z133 in more detail,” Pistawka says. “But I was pleased with the content of the CTSP training, and to me, the lessons about hands-on training for adult learners were invaluable.”
The CTSP credential also helps him as chair of Eversource’s Vegetation Management Safety Committee, made up of arborists from transmission and distribution groups from all three states and an Eversource safety manager. One example Pistawka cites as a shift in his approach took place during a crew-training program at a recent Eversource safety summit with Eversource arborists and contractor supervision. Pistawka set up a mock tree crew with purposefully staged safety deficiencies, such as crew members wearing non-ANSI-approved safety glasses, cut chaps, improper work-zone setup, missing outrigger pads and carrying a chain saw incorrectly. The audience was engaged, interacting with the crew to inspect their truck, work zone and behaviors to identify the deficiencies.
“Rather than just explaining what to look for during a crew review, we had the audience actively engaged in what we discussed,” he says. “The tree-crew-review training was so successful that tree contractors have used the same program at their safety meetings directly with crew members.”
This year’s safety summit took place virtually in mid-July, using the Microsoft Teams app, and included timely topics such as hazard awareness of 5G cell sites. “Phone companies are installing cell sites on poles to boost cell reception, and many tree workers are not aware of the hazards involved,” he says.
Other topics included protecting oneself from ticks, hazards related to storm work and work-zone safety – a common hazard for roadside tree crews and one of the most difficult to control, says Pistawka, in part due to distracted drivers.
Keeping to his new resolve to keep training more interactive, he planned to encourage the use of MS Team’s Chat feature for an interactive Q&A session with the audience and Microsoft Forms to present a quiz.
Despite his already having had a lot of safety-training experience – he also serves on the Connecticut Tree Protective Association Safety Committee – Pistawka found the CTSP training added to his skill set.
“We’ve been collaborating with the Connecticut Tree Protective Association on an Electrical Hazards Awareness Program (EHAP) for the past 16 years that has raised the awareness of more than 1,500 tree care professionals. I make my portion of the program interactive by passing around electrical hardware like cutouts and polymer insulators that the audience can touch and operate firsthand. One of the highlights is a 7.9kV tabletop demo where I show what can happen when ‘humans’ made of hot dogs are brought into contact with energized conductors. It is a visual that attendees have later told me has caused them to stop and reconsider before working near power lines.
“CTSP helped motivate me to share my passion for safety and educate others more than ever before, ultimately to help keep people from getting hurt,” Pistawka says. “I have attended funerals where tree workers have needlessly paid the ultimate price for their livelihood. In large part, that is my motivation for doing what we do – so everyone can go home safely to their families and loved ones at the end of each and every day.”
To learn more about the CTSP credential and program, visit https://tcia.org/safety/about-ctsp.