It has been said that preparation is the key to success. As it relates to safety in tree work, this statement could not be truer.
When we think of being prepared, we think of proper training or certifications, proper equipment and tools, personal protective equipment (PPE), knowing job specifics, etc. Once all the above criteria are met, it is a natural tendency to dive right into the job. However, there is one more critical step to ensure safe and successful completion of any job, and one that, sadly, often is overlooked. After arrival to the job site, the hazard assessment begins and job briefings are completed, and herein lies our critical next step – job-site setup.
This article will look at safe and proper job-site setup.
Exit and access points
First and foremost, as part of your job briefing’s emergency action plan (EAP), the quickest and most unobstructed points of ingress and egress must be identified and remain clear of obstacles. Your job briefing (or job safety analysis, JSA, or job hazard analysis, JHA) is completed and signed by all crew members, and the EAP should be readily accessible.
Work- and personal-vehicle parking
Choose to park smart. Back in your vehicle with the help of a spotter, whenever possible. This will save critical time should you need to vacate in an emergency. Always set your parking brake and deploy your chock blocks, as required. Avoid parking too close to intersections or driveways. If you have to park close to a traffic warning sign, always park behind the sign, so as not to obstruct visibility of the sign. Create a buffer zone around your vehicle by dropping safety cones in front of and behind your vehicle.
Traffic signage and safety cones
Especially when working near busy roadways, your two primary goals should be to create a safe roadside work zone and to hinder traffic as little as possible. Always ensure your signage is set up properly, with adequate signage and devices and sufficient buffer zones, all in accordance with the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) handbook. If it is determined that traffic control is needed due to encroachment into a traffic lane, dedicated and qualified traffic-flagging personnel must remain on your job site from task start to finish.
Cell service/available land lines
Knowing whether you have cell service is critical to your EAP. When working in areas with poor or no cell service, identifying the nearest accessible land line or nearest cell-service location must be predetermined and included in your EAP. The assigned 911 caller(s) should be aware of the exact location from where to call for help in case of an emergency.
Inspecting for job-site hazards
Identifying all distribution and/or transmission power lines and their respective voltages, proximate to the work zone, and establishing minimum approach distances (MADs) are all critical pieces of your hazard assessment. Stage all work tools and safety equipment away from all electric-utility facilities, including any presumably non-energized guide or span wires.
Hydration station/rest area/restroom
OSHA regulations require a designated rest area or safe space away from work hazards, free of fumes or hazardous chemicals and, if applicable, with refuge from heat, with shade or an otherwise cooler rest environment for workers. An air-conditioned vehicle will suffice for any worker recovering from heat exhaustion, for example. As arborists, this can be challenging, given the varied work environments encountered, ranging from very urban areas to very rural areas and even, potentially, disaster areas or areas of emergency response after hours.
Nearby, accessible restrooms also are a requirement. Work-site accommodations might be a porta potty or a crew vehicle at the ready for a trip to a restroom. This is a necessary preparation component that cannot be overlooked, and if not present or planned for as part of any job site, may result in fines.
At least one fresh and fully stocked, arborist first-aid kit should be present at all job sites and easily accessible for all workers. More than one kit may be necessary when crews are working spread out from each other, with one kept near each job site. Conduct periodic inspections of the contents of each first-aid kit and replenish contents as necessary.
Some areas, especially during fire season, will require fire-safety tools to be kept within close proximity to the job site. Typical fire-safety tools include a fully charged, inspected and tagged fire extinguisher, an Indian/portable fire pump, several cutting tools such as a McLeod (rake/hoe) and a round shovel or Pulaski tool (axe/adze). A typical axe is not considered a cutting tool in some fire jurisdictions. There must be at least one of the aforementioned fire tools per each crewmember. Such tools must be kept together, at least 10 feet away from flammable fuels and in a prominently displayed, safe area of the job site and out from under any power lines.
Fuel staging/spill management
A fuel-spill kit should be kept at the job site and next to the chain-saw fuels. The spill kit consists of absorbent material such as kitty litter, rubber gloves, plastic trash bags and spill mats, typically all kept in a five-gallon bucket. Fuel mix must be kept in an approved and labeled fuel container. The bar-oil label must remain affixed on the store-bought container, and both the fuel mix and bar oil must be staged on fuel-spill mats or remain on the vehicle so as to be off ground soils.
Climber/aerial-device-operator rescue gear
This equipment is for use in an aerial rescue or to at least be able to assist the climber/operator down. Typical rescue gear, with PPE, consists of a full climbing setup, including climbing saddle, climbing system, climbing rope, safety lanyard, spikes, throw ball, untangled throw line, cambium saver/friction device, handsaw, arborist saw/breakaway lanyard and a blood stopper. All described items must be suitable to climb with and must meet or exceed ANSI standards.
Lastly, to help avoid damage to ground features or structures from falling branches or trees, keep some high-visibility flagging tape on site to help ground workers flag important site features for climbers or aerial-device operators cutting aloft.
Taking the time to make proper observations and to inspect, assess and set up a proper work zone is the first step to successful and safe completion of any job. Although these points are not meant as an exhaustive list of every possible site-setup scenario, they are intended to help your crew set up with the very basics. State and local requirements will vary and also may change with the weather or seasons for some areas.
Have a safe workday, and stand out today with your safe, practical and compliant site setup!
Carlos Ramirez, CTSP, is in charge of field-site safety with P31 Enterprises, Inc., a TCIA member company based in Oroville, California.