Summer Safety: How to beat the heat and keep your crew safe when the mercury rises
Summer is often the busiest season for production tree workers. Dormant season’s end, summer storms and active insect and pathogen populations all add to the pace of tree care operations. Many tree care companies depend on the summer months to sustain them through the rest of the year. For most it is a make-it-or-break-it time. Therefore, a successful summer season is important.
Just as any tree job has specific concerns, so too does the summer tree season. Never is safety and efficiency more important than when workloads increase and the difference between a good year and a bad one may boil down to the activities of a few short months.
Safe work practices are always necessary and cost-effective. However, each season brings its own challenges. Tree workers can do many things to stay safe and productive this summer; we’ll look at three. By avoiding heat injuries, watching out for summertime pests, and ensuring proper equipment maintenance, this summer can be safe and successful.
How about this heat?
For many parts of the country, summer months mean increased temperatures and/or humidity. Heat injury, from mild dehydration to outright heat stroke, is a constant worry. Review the additional hazards of working in high heat and humidity during site safety briefings. Be sure the job plan includes breaks and that plenty of cool, clean water is available.
Focus a longer safety meeting on recognizing heat injuries in yourself and other crew members. Look at abatement strategies and proper treatment. If caught early, heat injuries can often be lessened or entirely avoided. Should a crew member become incapacitated by the heat, be sure he receives proper medical care promptly.
Heat injuries are serious and must be acted on accordingly. Just because there is no blood and gore does not mean a crew member may not need quick, thorough medical care. Just as with so many things, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Warmer weather also means that many other forms of life are more active. Bees, wasps and other stinging insects can be hidden in thick tree canopies or trunk cavities. In early summer, wildlife may be breeding or already have young broods. Beware of animals that may be more aggressive because of these cycles. Animals and birds are also more likely to be in nests and dens and may not appreciate your daytime visit to their lofty perches.
Be thorough in your risk assessments and inspect for evidence of wildlife before starting work. If crew members have any allergies, be sure the entire crew is aware and knows what to do should an incident occur. Make ready any necessary medications or other forms of treatment, and be trained and ready to use them when needed.
Not all pests are four-legged. Be aware of and able to identify poisonous plants. Even a mild allergic reaction to plants can cause discomfort and add to fatigue and frustration at the end of a long day. Be sure crew members can identify the major reaction-causing plants in your area, and develop a plan to avoid the risk or minimize the exposure.
Production tree care is dusty, dirty work any time of year. Add high temperatures and longer hours and summer work takes its toll on workers and equipment alike. Be sure all motorized equipment is serviced and running well. The frustration of malfunctioning equipment and long, hot days can be hazardous, if not fatal.
Sharpen saws and brush chippers regularly. Dull tools are no fun and can be dangerous. Be sure to clean radiators and cooling fins often. A clogged radiator might not make a difference when the temps are below freezing, but it can ruin efficiency on a warm day, not to mention the time lost and repair cost of a cracked block or other damage.
Mechanics will tell you they get more service calls on days with extreme temperatures. Make sure tires are at the correct pressure and in good shape. Tighten lug nuts and check brakes regularly. Top off fluids as necessary. Machinery without proper fluid levels has to work harder to do the same job. Low fluid levels usually mean higher working temps, and greater and quicker wear. What you may squeak by with on a mild day will catch up with you as time and temperature increase.
Be sure to store fuel and oils in shaded or cooler areas, as direct sunlight can cause unvented cans and/or storage bins to become pressurized and/or explosive. Saws and other gas equipment are slower to cool, so extra care when refueling is wise. Clean up spills promptly and use good judgment when filling hot equipment on hot days.
The summer season can be a great time to get a lot of work completed. However, increased workloads and temperatures, active hazardous pests and plants, as well as more demanding equipment usage can all add to the stress of a busy season. Make sure that safety briefings reflect these added concerns. Prepare workers and equipment alike with the tools and knowledge necessary to deal with the summer heat. Plan your work and work your plan. This becomes especially important as the summer months settle upon us.