We had one of our regular instructor meetings for Baumklettern Schweiz yesterday in not-so-sunny Windisch.
We spent the morning indoors working through a number of topics – one that looms large at the moment being how to accommodate the new best practice guidelines that SUVA, the Swiss health and safety body, issued in 2012.
Rather unfortunately SUVA decided to attempt to establish common guide lines for a very broad range of activities, that address any form of work on and in trees, so in effect this applies to gardeners pruning ornamental tress, foresters installing winch lines or arborist pruning large trees as well as to industrial rope access folk felling trees in steep terrain.
As you can probably imagine, finding a consensus amongst such a diverse group of professions is nigh impossible.
Not surprisingly the end result is an unhappy compromise leaving many questions open. Without a doubt, things like this are a process and take time to evolve. Baumklettern Schweiz was part of the consultation process for this first set of documents and will hopefully be able to contribute towards further refinements.
Consequently a new clientele of gardeners and landscapers are requiring training for the use of PPE to work in a secure fashion at height, including when they are on ladders. This is a one day course that will be mandatory as a part of their curriculum as from next year.
This is all very well in theory – but you catch yourself wondering how all this looks in practice.
Well, I have part of that answer:
There we were, discussing all I wrote about above ad nausea, when outside the window, what d’you know, there is a guy pruning the pollarded Plane trees outside the restaurant – completely unsecured, free climbing the tree. The situation got even more absurd in the afternoon when we went outdoors to discuss some practical aspects of these courses – so we were on one tree, all as should be, hi viz clothing, ladder secured and tied in – whilst in the background here is this other bloke free climbing the next tree!
In many way this brought home to me what we are up against here:
Insurance and health and safety organisations respond to accident statistics.
So if they receive a lot of claims related to tree climbing incidents, they will react accordingly, for instance by putting more restrictive regulations in place. The frustrating thing being though, that that fact who had the accidents is not factored into the equation:
Was is a farmer who fell out of the tree? Was it a forester, a gardener or an employee of a cleaning company? Was it the janitor or an odd-job man? Were they trained and qualified to do what they were doing? So often the truth is that the majority of incidents do not involve trained arborists, yet we are affected by legislation becoming more restrictive.
What to do?
That is not an easy one. If you see people working in blatant disregards of your local regulation, it might be worth considering reporting them. I do not really see this a grassing on the guys on the tools, very likely this is how they were instructed to do the work and they know no better – so it is really the employer who needs to be held responsible, which a visit by a health and safety inspector would achieve.
And I suppose, as I have written before, we need to make sure that as professionals we behave accordingly at all times, making tree care a reference point when it comes to best practice – and not just a another bunch of cowboys that need a guiding hand…