The dangers of working in forestry and arboriculture

Between December 2020 and February 2022, 11 deaths were recorded in the UK arboriculture and forestry sector, according to initial notifications from the Forest Industry Safety Accord (FISA, 2022).

Between December 2020 and February 2022, 11 deaths were recorded in the UK arboriculture and forestry sector, according to initial notifications from the Forest Industry Safety Accord (FISA, 2022). Falling trees or branches killed nine people; one death involved an overhead power line and another died using a log-splitting machine.

FISA is a coalition of representatives from leading industry organisations and is determined to raise the standard of health, safety and welfare in the forestry industry, and have outlined their thoughts on the key risks forestry workers face. FISA chief executive, Gillian Clark, says winter storms that topple trees onto power lines are a major challenge. The agricultural sector is also affected, she says. ‘Farmers may be trying to clear trees when they have their spring turnout for livestock, for example. The last thing we need is for them to have a go at felling windblown trees.’ Compounding these hazards, budgets have been slashed in many industries and local authorities.

Tina Morgan, chair of the IOSH Rural Industries Group, says part of the problem is that tree work is not exclusively carried by forestry operators and contractors. ‘Industries where these are not a business’s main activities often have accidents as the work is not carried out frequently and is often thought to be “only a quick job”,’ she says. ‘Planning and proper preparation for this type of work is essential.’ She also highlights additional issues such as hand-arm vibration syndrome, asthma (from inhalation of wood dust), dermatitis (from chainsaw fuel and mechanical lubricants) and noise-induced hearing loss.

HM inspector of health and safety Christopher Maher GradIOSH leads on arboriculture at the GB Health and Safety Executive (HSE). People often fail to appreciate that risk assessments must be site- and tree-specific, he says. ‘It can’t be generic. Each tree and site presents different risks and could react differently in certain circumstances.’

The key is to avoid putting people at risk and put in place the right controls, as well as to record your thought process. ‘There’s often the temptation to view an incident as an unfortunate accident,’ says Christopher. ‘But when you take a step back, if a chainsaw operator had been driving an excavator with a grapple saw when the tree fell, they’d most likely be alive. That’s why the planning is so important.’

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How locate global can help?
Alongside the risks identified above, forestry workers must deal with a plethora of risks within their workplace. The biggest, apart from the usual slips, trips and falls, are falls from height, contact with machinery (chainsaws), musculoskeletal injuries, personal complacency, and the formation of bad habits. These risks are further exacerbated by the often remote and isolated environments that workers operate within. To better meet their duty of care to their employees and accurately monitor their safety whilst they work, organisations are increasingly turning to lone-worker safety solutions, like Locate Global.

At Locate Global we aim to support teams to maintain safety standards and encourage a positive safety mindset across organisations. Our platform offers peace of mind to both employers and staff that if an incident occurs, they can respond quickly and accurately to prevent situations from escalating. By implementing a solid foundation and emergency procedure, organisations inherently promote a more conscientious approach to workplace safety.

More specifically, within forestry and arboriculture, the most dangerous situations are often caused by falling objects, injury from machinery and falling from a height. Our platform has specialist features designed to ensure that incidents such as these are reported immediately, automatically notifying emergency contacts to allow for a faster response time. These include:

• Man down: Automatically detect freefall, impact or non-movement to raise an emergency alert.
• SOS button: Raise an emergency alert via an easily accessible Bluetooth button.
• Reporting: Identify hazards and risks encountered in day-to-day operations.
• Check-ins: Conduct check-ins to ensure user well-being and satisfy duty of care.
• Sat Integration: When working in remote or isolated areas Integrated Iridium satellite devices boost connectivity.
• What3Words address: to provide a 3mx3m coordinate when no address is available.
• Geofencing: to highlight potentially dangerous areas (like an ongoing forest fire) – visible for all users upon entry.

SOURCE: Smethurst S. (2022) IOSH Magazine. (Accessed 14 February 2023).
SOURCE: Garland J, Cedergren J, Eliasson L et al. (2020) Occupational safety and health in forest harvesting and silviculture: a compendium for practitioners and instructors. Forestry Working Paper No. 14. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: Rome. (Accessed 14 February 2023).
SOURCE: Forest Industry Safety Accord. (2022) Safety bulletins. (Accessed 14 February 2023).
SOURCE: Marshall C. (2022) More than eight million trees lost this winter in the UK. BBC News. (Accessed 14 February 2023).