I came across SOCIAL in a recent edition of Berg und Steigen, the German-speaking Alpine associations’ publication regarding safety and technical matters. SOCIAL is a model developed by Benjamin Zweifel at the SLF Davos, where he is a forecaster for avalanches, as well as being responsible for their accident statistics.

I was struck by how this model could easily be adapted to situations we come across in tree care, for instance during complex climbing or rigging operations.

It breaks down as follows:


Does the planned work and the tasks it involves correspond to the skill level of each member of the team? Are there different skill levels in the team? Are all team members familiar with the tools and techniques that are going to be put to use? Are all team members familiar with emergency procedures?

⇢ Actions

Discuss the way you intend to work the job and also where there may be a lack of comprehension in regards to the plan. If necessary, adapt the techniques being employed and discuss emergency procedures.


Are the members of the group on site familiar with each other? Are the number of team members and the skill set they bring with them well adapted to the task? Are the different roles each member will assume defined and clear?

⇢ Actions

Site briefing, introduction of all persons involved on the job, discussion on how the job is going to run. Roles are defined and persons designated to assume defined responsibilities. Each person knows who is in charge of which part of the job. This is especially useful if there are a number of companies involved, e.g. tree care company, crane or helicopter operator, traffic management personnel etc.


Communication shall be open and clear. Doubts or insecurities shall be voiced, should points be unclear these need to be discussed. Lack of communication very often leads to bad decisions. Does everybody understand the decisions that have been made in regards to how the job is going to be run? Are people able to voice concerns during on-going operations?

⇢ Actions

Discuss potential risks and hazards, agree upon a clear communication protocol, make sure you have the means to communicate, especially on sites where noise is an issue, e.g. in proximity of roads or if machinery is being used, such as  clear hand signs or preferably radios.


Every member of the team should be able to identify with the procedures which have been defined. Have we discussed how we expect the job to evolve? Have we discussed potential alternative routes if plan A should turn out not to be viable? Is every member of the team in agreement with the defined actions?

⇢ Actions

Discuss actions and how you expect a sequence of events to evolve, e.g. did the way we rigged that last limb correspond to how we expected it to? Was there an anomalous amount of movement on the anchor point? Were we able to retain the piece in balance or did the centre of gravity shift suddenly? Debriefings can be helpful to keep track of such issues.


Are there any deviations from what we might expect? A thorough risk assessment is a helpful tool to catch issues before they become a full-blown hazard. Or are we maybe falling prey to target fixation? Are there exterior factors that are influencing our decisions, e.g. time pressure induced by expensive machinery (helicopter, crane etc.)?

⇢ Actions

Methodical application of risk assessment. Do not let yourself be guided by planning optimism, which is the assumption that everything will tend to pan out as well as possible – sometimes it can also be helpful to assume that things can go wrong and adapt actions accordingly.


Umm. Ok, I am struggling a bit with this one.

The SLF guide here says to define a leader. This may work fine in a alpine guide/ client relationship, such as the SLF guide is assuming.

In the kinds of situation we are considering, however, I believe we need to take a somewhat more differentiated approach. This goes back to point O/ Organisation, the designation of roles: There shall be a person on site who is responsible for the over-all coordination, this does not make him or her the leader, the apex of a decision-making pyramid, rather they represent one element in a series of checks and balances, this person will be coordinating with the other people on site who are all monitoring the area their designated roles relate to, be this the aerial, climbing part, managing the ground, handling the rigging, road safety, waste handling etc. Also, this person will be thinking one step ahead, trying to catch potential issues before they develop into full-blown issues.

⇢ Actions

Ensure that communication is happening between the coordinator and the various other operators on site.

Admittedly, as with every model, this one obviously has its limits. yet I think it offers some interesting pointers and also opportunities to formalise procedures, creating clarity and structure.

Certainly worth a discussion.