Protect Yourself: What you wear could save your life

Protect Yourself: What you Wear Could Save Your Life

Personal protective equipment, or PPE, should be part and parcel of every climber or branch manager’s daily outfit, so normal and natural that the respective tree crew member feels near naked without it. Sadly this is not always the case. Equally sad is the reflection in the tree care industry accidents, injuries and death statistics of this all-too-common lack of PPE.TSM hardhat

The ANSI Standards show the tree care industry and its members the required steps to take on the path to safety, much like leading that horse to water, but there are a lot of tree folks who aren’t drinking from the PPE fountain and quite often suffer the consequences. A company, crew or individual can be fined for not wearing the required PPE on a worksite, which is a pretty strong incentive to put the gear on. However, the primary reason for wearing PPE is to protect oneself, so that at the end of the day you go home with all the pieces and parts that were there at the start of the day.

Even the latest, greatest and most advanced PPE is not going to protect folks who make bad decisions, use poor judgment, or use generally insane work practices, but wearing the required PPE will lessen the odds of a serious injury in the event of the unexpected.

There’s a large amount of economical PPE available that could be considered hot or uncomfortable while still meeting the basic requirements. While this is better than no PPE at all, discriminating tree folk should be aware that just as the tree industry has grown and modernized, so has the PPE available, leaving crews with a number of options that are cooler, more comfortable, less foggy and more stylish. Regardless of whether the crews are rocking old-school or new PPE, the point is protection not just over the course of a workday, but over the course of a tree climber’s career.

Table 1 shows how easy the ANSI standard required PPE can be broken down: head, eye, leg/lower bodyand hearing/ear. Leg/lower body in the tree care industry is referring to chain saw chaps or pants, both of which have evolved enormously to provide users with more comfortable, better-vented options.

table 1

In general, clothing and footwear are not covered in a great deal of detail under ANSI, but understandably tree folk should be making choices that are suitable for a dirty, skin shredding and tripping hazard environment, not for threads that look good in the club. States, provinces and municipalities can choose to exceed these standards, so tree companies should also be familiar with their local regulations and requirements.


 Head, leg, ear, eye protection, even safety footwear, this saw operator has it going on in the PPE department.

Take care of them, they’ll take care of you

All PPE needs to be cleaned and cared for, otherwise it won’t perform as required. Daily inspection and maintenance should be a part of appropriate PPE use.

Helmets and/or hard hats need to be inspected regularly for cracks or breakdown of the plastic from sun exposure. An excellent way to quickly check the material integrity of a hard hat or helmet is to push the edges together, and then let it go. The helmet should quickly return to its original shape; if it lags a bit or stays bent inward, it’s time to get a new one. Any helmet or hard hat that takes an impact should be discarded. The suspension system inside, the heart of impact safety for a helmet, should not be altered and it should be inspected regularly. In addition, storing smokes, chew, beef jerky or other items between the impact-absorbing webbing of the hard hat/helmet and the shell is an excellent way to reduce the effectiveness of the helmet, so keep that stuff in the truck; you should probably quit anyway.

Keeping glasses or goggles in a soft container will prevent scratches and nicks that make them difficult to see out of, and you’ll always know where they are.

Any form of chain saw protective clothing should be washed periodically to remove oils, dirt and dust that can lessen the effectiveness of the chain saw-resistant fibers. Check the label for the correct laundry settings; drip or air drying is typically the best option.

Threads and dogs

As stated above, ANSI is not very specific on clothing and footwear for the tree care industry, but hopefully for most tree workers a certain amount of common sense prevails. The environment in which tree work takes place is often not that friendly to bare skin and ill-protected feet, with heavy, abrasive items often moving or rolling at high speeds, or needing to be picked up and moved around.

Boots intended for a worksite instead of line dancing are a good way to keep those “dogs” protected, and some form of hard toe caps can help stop injuries, while also allowing for excellent tire-kicking qualities.


A climber aloft with not only all the required PPE on, but also high-visibility outerwear. Photo by Michael Tain.

The type of clothing, or threads, that a crew wears can affect how they’re perceived by customers and the public, not to mention any passing law enforcement officials. Professional high-visibility shirts with company logos, even in a casual T-shirt style, will go a long way toward helping a crew of less-than-savory-appearing tree folk look more professional and less intimidating. In addition, the availability of breathable, high-tech fabric clothing designed for tree work movements have made the daily pile of sweaty, putrid, cotton T-shirts and jeans with ripped crotches a pleasant, but unmourned, memory.

Melons and maples

While a ball cap with the bill appropriately shaped or unshaped, depending on preference, may be quite stylish and keep one looking good cutting wood, it won’t be very helpful when a maple hits the melon. Modern head protection is filled with options for tree care personnel, so each individual can find the option that is comfortable for their noggin and appropriate for their work. These options run the gamut from basic construction/forestry type hard hats up to mountaineering-style helmets with vents and integrated eye/ear protection.

Regardless of choice, you should make sure the hard hat/helmet meets the standards for tree work, and that it’s sufficient to protect you from an impact from above? The majority of helmets come with built-in chin strap systems, which can be helpful while in the tree or on the ground. Most hard hats have some sort of chin strap add-on available.

As mentioned in maintenance, the suspension system of both hard hats and helmets is what absorbs the impact, so cutting straps for comfort, or using it for storage, is going to reduce its effectiveness. Crews doing full-on line clearance work or working near electrical conductors will need hard hats/helmets that are Class E. Keep in mind that the vents meant to keep the melon cool in non-Class E hard hats are a path for the voltage.

The eyes have it

The national standard for eye protection required under ANSI is termed Z87.1. The glasses or goggles that meet the standard will usually have this number printed on them or on the box/instructions. Most modern safety glasses are impregnated with antifogging and anti-scratch surfaces, both important features when climbing on a hot, humid day. There are also a number of lens wipes and gels that can help keep the glasses functional. These products can be used periodically throughout the day to keep glasses functional and fog free.

Built-in mesh screens on hard hats or helmets are meant as face protection and don’t qualify under the standards as eye protection. Operators using these types of face screens must wear glasses or goggles beneath the screen. For those workers who cannot find an acceptable set of safety glasses because of prescription requirements or extreme sweating capabilities, some helmet/hard hat systems come with plastic shields that qualify as eye protection.

Britches and stitches

As can be seen in the PPE requirements table, the standards only require chaps or chain saw pants when operating a chain saw on the ground, though this can vary by state or province. However, personal experience has shown that wearing leg/lower body protection aloft is highly recommended as a form of “cheap” insurance. While professionally manufactured chaps certainly meet the requirements, tree workers will often find that pants or bib-style overalls are more comfortable, flexible, and user friendly in the tangled strap snagging environment that is most tree work sites.

I can’t hear you

While the standard requires hearing protection after noise reaches or exceeds an eight-hour average of 85 decibels, an easier way to protect the hearing is to put muffs on or plugs in whenever loud stuff (chain saws, chippers, grinders) is running. Many hard hat and helmet systems have muffs built into them for easy use, and there are a variety of plugs available with strings and attachment options. Users of plugs should keep in mind that regardless of type, they need maintenance and replacement, so keep them clean and functional so the ears will remain likewise.

Personal protective equipment, or PPE, use will not only help tree care crews be safer through the day, but also help lengthen their careers by preventing or minimizing injuries that might shorten it; and while a fine for violating the PPE requirements would certainly hurt, it is not nearly as painful as having to explain to someone’s loved ones why they are not coming home.

REMEMBER: Protect yourself: What you wear could save your life!

(*Article courtesy of Tree Services Magazine- Written by  Michael (House) Tain, a contract climber, splicer, educator and writer associated with North American Training Solutions/Arbor Canada Training and Education, currently located in Lancaster, Ky.)