Rigging Setup: What’s in Your Pre-Flight Site Plan?

Site setup has many factors to consider, including traffic control, drop/landing zone and debris management. This photo by TCIA’s Kathleen Costello was taken during a TCIA training session with OSHA Region 1 staff in March 2019 at Minute Man National Historic Park in Concord, Massachusetts.

This excerpt is a preview of TCIA’s soon-to-be-released, revised “Best Practices for Rigging in Arboriculture” manual.

No two rigging jobs are exactly the same. Pre-planning of each rigging job is required, and constant re-evaluation on site must take place as the job progresses. Prevent your rigging operation from becoming an incident scene by pre-planning every step and applying clear thinking and situational awareness.

Tree-rigging operations need to be managed to meet the following criteria:

• The work is properly planned, and all workers associated with the job have a clear understanding of what is expected.

• Risk assessments are carried out during all phases of the operation.

• There is a plan in place for handling unexpected situations or emergencies.

• There are enough crew and equipment to complete the work.

• The work is appropriately supervised.

Job briefing

There must be a designated Qualified Arborist in Charge (QAIC) on every rigging job who assures the job briefing is performed and all hazards are mitigated. The job briefing is the process where the crew discusses potential hazards on the job site that might cause injury and the steps to take to mitigate those hazards. The QAIC must understand the nature and risks inherent to that job site and be able to communicate those with the other workers present.

A job briefing should be a discussion among the entire rigging crew addressing these items:

Walking job briefing/work-site inspection with the entire crew

Evaluate job sites before beginning work to determine the safest areas for material storage, the landing and loading zones, adjacent trees that may serve as anchor points, the best placement for machinery during operations and the size and type of machinery to be used (cranes, chipper, dump trucks, skid steers, etc.).

A site-risk assessment is instrumental in allowing the tree care operations to be completed as safely and efficiently as possible. You can combine the job briefing and a site inspection by performing a walking job briefing. Walk through the entire work site with the entire crew.

Some common hazards to look for on the job site:

• Slopes, rocks, muddy areas that could cause slips, trips and falls

• Plant hazards such as briars, poisonous plants, fallen trees, spring poles

• Utility services such as poles, conductors, service drops, meters, well casings or underground sprinkler systems

• Property obstacles that could be damaged such as houses, garages, sheds, boats, cars, outdoor grills

• Hardscaping obstacles such as fences, walkways, driveways, pools, decks, patios. Is that gate wide enough to get the tree pieces through?

• Sensitive landscaping

• Struck-by hazards such as dead trees, broken hangers, etc.

Once the key hazards have been identified, you then must address how to remove or avoid them. It isn’t enough to just say, “Be safe out there.” Be specific in how to mitigate risks.

Categories of hazards/key risks

Struck-by hazards

Drop zone – the area under the tree where debris, tools or other objects may fall

Landing/loading zone – the area on the ground where the tree parts are staged for bucking and chipping

Danger zone – areas on the work site with high hazard potential from falling objects, traffic, electrical conductors, etc., that must be mitigated or marked

Fall hazards

• Slips, trips and falls:

• Beware getting caught in scattered brush on the ground.

• Wear appropriate footwear and watch your footing.

• Use good housekeeping on the job site to prevent trip hazards.

• Falling out of the tree:

• Inspect the tree before you enter it or start to work on it.

• Always use appropriate fall protection aloft, especially when operating a chain saw.

• Inspect your tie-in point before you go aloft or are hoisted by a crane.

• Use good rigging practices to reduce the forces on the tree.

Electrical hazards

Look for electrical hazards by locating conductors and inspecting for electrocution hazards, such as:

• branches contacting conductors;

• pitted or blackened areas on branches caused by electrical arcing when windblown branches intermittently contact conductors;

• branches that might contact a conductor if a climber’s weight or rigging load is placed on them;

• vines growing up telephone poles, guy wires and service drops; and

• underground utility services.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) for rigging operations

• Head protection conforming to ANSI Z89.1 (Class E helmets when working in proximity to electrical conductors)

• Eye protection conforming to ANSI Z87.1

• Clothing and footwear appropriate to the job hazards

• Hearing protection when noise levels exceed the thresholds established in OSHA standards (1910.95)

• Cut-resistant leg protection is required on the ground when using a chain saw.

• High-visibility apparel conforming to ANSI/ISEA 107 is required when workers are exposed to vehicular traffic hazards.

• Approved and appropriate fall protection – either a climbing (suspension/ work-positioning) system for a climber or full-body harness and fall-arrest lanyard for a lift operator


Rigging operations require skilled organization and the cooperation of the entire crew. Each person must have a clear understanding of the work procedures for the job. This high level of coordination begins before the job starts, during the job briefing, with discussions on the work procedures and communications. In order to perform the work procedures without incident, it is vital to have practiced communication systems in place.

• Hand signals

• Voice commands

• Radio-headset communications

Hands-free radio headsets are the most recommended for all tree care operations. Radio communications enable the entire crew to discuss decisions, alert each other of danger and dial in the efficiency of the entire rigging operation in real time. The arborist aloft and ground person are able to work confidently during complex setups, low-light conditions or other less-than-ideal conditions. It is preferable for everyone on the crew to speak the same language when using radio-headset communications.

• The device(s) used to transmit signals must be tested on site before beginning operations to ensure that the signal transmission is effective, clear and reliable.

• Signal transmission must be through a dedicated channel.

• All communication equipment must be tested before any lifting begins.

• Make certain there are extra power packs and/or batteries for two-way radios on site.

Vehicular traffic and pedestrian management

The job briefing also must address vehicle and pedestrian traffic-control safety measures essential to the rigging operation. Workers can be struck by moving vehicles, or the traffic zone could interfere with pedestrian traffic. Adhere to these guidelines to avoid conflict with moving vehicles and/or pedestrians:

• All workers must be briefed on traffic-zone safety and site setup.

• Develop a temporary traffic-control plan in accordance with state/local regulations or the Federal Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD).

• Ensure the appropriate signs and cones for the traffic flow and job setup are on site.

• Utilize properly trained and positioned flaggers if necessary.

• Make sure the flaggers are paying attention.

• Ensure all crew members working in or near traffic are wearing appropriate high-visibility apparel, based on the time of day and traffic speed, that is in good condition.

• Provide pedestrians a safe route away from the work zone.

• Set up appropriate signs and cones for the traffic flow and workflow.

Emergency procedures

Call for help – Ensure that crew members are provided with a quick means of summoning assistance when an emergency occurs. There should be a charged cell phone in every vehicle on the job site. The job briefing should contain the following information and be readily available to everyone on the crew:

• Address of location or GPS coordinates

• Nearest hospital

• An appointed 911 caller or driver. Only one person calls 911. Don’t let 15 people call at once.

While it is extremely important to be prepared in an emergency, it is even more important to take steps to prevent the accident.

Overall site setup

• Mitigate all overhead and underground hazards – electrical, stability or otherwise.

• Establish an emergency contingency plan.

• Manage traffic and pedestrian control.

• Consider site access, chipper setup, log-loader and skid-steer movement.

• Prepare a landing zone large enough to contain long or wide parts of the tree crown. The piece of the tree that is removed should fit in the landing zone.

• Use cones or caution barrier tape to establish, mark and manage the drop zone.

• Identify the debris path.

• Know where each piece will go as it is being cut from the tree.

• Protect property and landscaping.

• Move objects that might be targets when possible.

• Flag or place cones over sprinkler heads.

• Flag or place cones over sprinkler heads.

• Avoid wet/muddy areas to prevent soil compaction.

• Avoid driving or moving equipment over septic systems, etc.

A job briefing should be a discussion among the entire rigging crew addressing these items:

• Hazards associated with the job

• Personal protective equipment

• Communication

• Vehicular traffic

• Electrical hazards

• Rescue/emergency procedures

• Work procedures involved

• Job assignments and personal protective equipment

Best Practices for Rigging in Arboriculture – 3rd Edition will be available from TCIA in early 2020.

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