Contact with electricity is one of the leading causes of death for tree care workers.
A new OSHA pamphlet intended for small business owners and front-line supervisors offers measures to ensure that workers know and are prepared for the risks of tree-trimming operations near sources of electricity. These include training workers about potential hazards, making sure workers maintain a distance of at least 10 feet from overhead power lines, and providing proper gloves and shoes for hazards present where tree work is being performed.
Data from the NIOSH National Traumatic Occupational Fatalities (NTOF) Surveillance System indicate that 6,359 traumatic work-related deaths occurred annually in the United States during the period 1980-89 [NIOSH 1993]. For the 10-year period, 9% (6,105) of the total fatalities were due to falls, and 7% (4,491) resulted from electrocutions. For the same period, the NTOF data also show that at least 207 workers involved in tree trimming and cutting (about 21 each year) died from injuries sustained at work. The two leading causes of death among tree trimmers were electrocutions (74 workers, or 36%) and falls (67 workers, or 32%).
Through the NIOSH FACE Program, five electrocutions and three falls of tree trimmers were investigated from June 1986 to November 1991. Since the FACE Program was active in only 14 States during this period, these fatalities represent only a fraction of the tree trimmer deaths that actually occurred from falls or contact with electrical energy.
Current OSHA regulations relevant to tree trimming operations require that employers take the following precautions:
- Recognize and avoid unsafe conditions [29 CFR 1910.332(a)].
- Provide prompt medical attention in case of serious injury [29 CFR 1910.151(b)].
- Protect workers exposed to electrical hazard [29 CFR 1910.333(c)(3)].
- Plainly mark the functions of all controls for aerial boom platforms used primarily as personnel carriers [29 CFR 1910.67(c)(2)(ix)].
- Follow established regulations regarding electrical hazards for tree trimming [29 CFR 1910.268(q)].
- Ensure that line-clearance tree trimmers maintain minimum working distances from energized conductors [29 CFR 1910.268(q)(2)(iv), Table R-3].