Legislation à la française

I was with in Donzère in the Drôme in southern France last Friday, having been invited there to do a one-day event with and for Hévéa. I will write a bit more about this when I get some of the photos of the event, for now I would like to say this much: I was very impressed by the commitment and diligence with which the team at Hévéa interact with their customers. I was also deeply touched by the generosity of all there, making this a very humbling experience for me.

For all this, a big thank you goes out to Laurent, Sebastien and all at Hévéa and French Touch Concept for the invitation and the organization of the event.

What I would like to do today is to write about some of the quirks in French legislation relating to working on trees.

Without claiming to have a deep understanding of the matter, there are a number of strikingly different demands made of climbers by French legislation, such as the requirement to be permanently secured by two independent anchor points, climbing and rigging anchor points are defined by a diameter and characteristics (something that even people doing research into the matter hesitate to do). Further, anchor points shall be installed in a choked configuration or climbers are required to wear cut resistant lower arm protection when using a chainsaw.

The way all this came to be dates back to a period when there were a number of accidents (very few actually involving arborists, but rather farmers, foresters and landscapers) which caused the national health and safety organisations to look into the causes, followed by a draft document for proposed legislation – and without a prior industry review process this draft document was then implemented. Consequently, arborists find themselves in a situation which continues to this day, where in certain situations it is nigh impossible to work in accordance with legislation, e.g. when climbing a mono-stem conifer it is physically impossible to maintain two independent anchor points.

Hévéa event in Donzère, discussing positioning on a stem.

This is a strong warning against legislation attempting to micro-manage the way that an industry works. Legislators ought to lay out generic benchmarks, the nitty gritty details of how these are achieved however should be left to best practice guidelines issued by industry bodies, such as the New Zealand BPG that is published by NZ Arb.

In many ways, the situation in France seems to me like the worst of both worlds: There are regulations you are supposed to follow, yet they are, in some instances at least, disfunctional and self-contradictory. So, understandably enough, people do as they will in such a situation: they fudge it. Which is fine as long as all goes well, but of course if things go wrong, you may potentially find yourself in considerable trouble.

Having said all this, I return home with a feeling that as long as there are people such as the folk at Hévéa, people who care and understand the issues involved, not all is lost. After all, over the years there have been many very smart and innovative individuals within the French arborist scene who had a profound and far-reaching effect on how we work in trees today.

Regulations are not static and can evolve over time, but one thing is certain: to steer these processes, we, as an industry, need to have a strong and unified voice, we need to be eloquent and able to express our concerns and demands – and in this way I am confident that we can make a difference for the better.