California weather crisis illustrates importance of arborists

Woodcutter Saws Tree With Chainsaw On Sawmill

The deadly California storms and subsequent flooding have brought to light the importance of arborists—not just during times of emergency, but year-round. The West Coast storms, which have claimed the lives of 19 people at the time of this writing, have swept away homes, flooded streets and waterways, and downed innumerable trees and power lines. 

It is times like these—during and after severe storms—that the skills and knowledge of arborists are most in need. But it’s also times like these that pose the most risk to these professionals. 

Increased workplace risk for arborists

If the past is any indication of the future, arborists working in storm-stricken California face elevated risks—now and for months to come. Case in point: experts at Rutgers University conducted research in the years following 2012’s devastating Hurricane Sandy to determine how severe storms impact arboriculture as a whole. What they learned was that “storms and the ensuing long hours exacerbate [an arborist’s] significant risks.” The more frequent and severe weather events are, the greater the need for arborist services in the aftermath.

An unexpected consequence of the increased demand on their time and resources means that not everyone will follow the best practice of hiring qualified arborists, and the results can be frightening. Science Daily reported that “The incidence of injuries increases after storms when unqualified ‘storm-chasers’ with chainsaws and landscaping companies offer their services to uninformed homeowners.”

But it’s not only the DIY tree trimmers who are at risk. Even well-established businesses facing increased demand can let young or untrained workers handle dangerous tasks. Increased workload for arborists and their teams can also result in equipment maintenance issues going unchecked; lack of proper rest, which can result in slower reaction time and potentially lead to accidents; and diminished job quality.

How arborists can prepare

Address these evolving exposures by partnering with insurance agents and carriers who have demonstrated subject matter expertise in this area. 

“Even outside of storms of these magnitudes, tree care professionals and arborists—who many refer to as tree surgeons due to their training and skills required to do their work—have dangerous jobs,” said Peter Grant, CEO of Safesite. “Their ‘busy season’ is 365 days a year. We absolutely recommend leaving the worry of finding a trusted workers’ compensation partner with a robust risk management program to a skilled insurance broker.” 

Important topics for insurance partners to discuss with arborists include: 

  • Are you fully dedicated to adequate safety training and refreshers for your staff year-round?
  • Are you communicating critical safety information in your team members’ native language?
  • Do you use a paper or app-based safety management system? Is it effective for resolving hazards and preventing injuries?
  • Are you adequately staffed for worst case scenario CAT events in our area? Do you have the resources to verify that contract hires know safe work practices?
  • How will you ensure your team isn’t dangerously overworked during post-storm busy times?

Working with industry specialized insurance partners can also alleviate extra work for arborist businesses, especially when time is of the essence. 

“Foresight and Safesite bring dedicated expertise in the arboriculture and tree care industry on the insurance and safety side, so that these hardworking professionals can focus on the job at hand and not on their insurance policy at a time of critical need,” said Grant. 

Beyond planning: doing tree work safely

The work arborists perform is so specialized that they’ve come to be known as “tree surgeons.” It should come as no shock to anyone who has observed an arborist scaling a tree or untangling branches from electrical wires after a storm that arborists have one of the most dangerous jobs in America. And now, with unpredictable weather patterns changing the landscape, prioritizing worker safety is paramount. 

Although there is no current Occupational Safety and Health Administration standard for tree trimming, employers are required to comply with all general industry standards set by a network of national, regional, and state associations. Some states have their own regulations to protect arborists and consumers alike. New Jersey, for example, recently passed a comprehensive licensing law to assist consumers in hiring a tree care company that upholds the state’s standards.

An arborist’s “busy season” knows no seasonal boundaries and arborists must ensure all workers are adequately prepared, even temporary hires. Partnering with a workers comp provider like Foresight can help ensure arborists’ safety-first programs run smoothly and are rewarded with lower premiums.

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