Unsafe Climbing Practices: A Hard Habit to Break

Posted by Professional Tree Climber on 4/27/2018 to Tree Climbing Safety
Unsafe Climbing Practices: A Hard Habit to Break

One of the most interesting things about tree work is the way that we all tend to learn the trade. We learn from those around us, and in many companies this is all the training we get. A great term I heard in the past is that we are all “Work Isolated,” meaning that we might all essentially be doing the same thing, but we may be doing it completely different because we never really see the way that other companies are doing it. This was very true before the rise of the Internet and social media such as Facebook and Instagram. Now we have the ability to see what someone else is doing on the other side of the globe in a matter of minutes! So let me tell you a story from my past from right about the time that the tree industry was discovering Facebook!


In the Beginning

When I first started doing tree work, there weren’t any places to learn other than from the guys I worked with. They were great climbers, kinda cowboys, but they could get some stuff done and they were good in a tree. However, when it came to climbing safety, they were a bit lax and behind on the times. Interestingly enough though, since I had never done tree work before, I honestly had no idea that they were unsafe, so I did exactly as they did and thought I was just as good as they were. I’m sure we have all been in a situation like this in the past.


So, I would climb trees without lanyarding in until I reached the top of the tree because that’s what I saw them do. I would one hand the chainsaw while climbing in the tree, while in the bucket, and even when I was on the ground, all because I saw them do it. I wouldn’t wear any leg protection while on the ground either, partly because I saw them do it and also because I was lazy. So, since everything I had been trained to do was completely lacking in the safety department, I assumed that being unsafe was just part of the job and climbing safety was an afterthought. 


Climbing Is a Dangerous Job

Tree work is an inherently dangerous job. I think we can all agree on that! There are large limbs or trees falling all day long. Some of these trees could weigh as much as a school bus and that’s before they start moving and gaining forces that could crush your body into the dirt. Add in the use of chainsaws and the danger level increases.


Chainsaws use a rotating chain of sharpened teeth that will chip stone and dent steel, as well as cut through a hardened log with ease. As climbers, we handle them while in trees swinging around anywhere from 10 - 300 feet off the ground depending on the job. The combined danger of falling limbs and chainsaws can make most other jobs look like a day at the beach compared to what some tree guys go through in a day. So when we look at the combined things that make our jobs dangerous, why would we go out of our way to make the job even more dangerous by bypassing some of the most basic climbing safety guidelines, like being 100% tied in while aloft, employing proper chainsaw use, or wearing proper chainsaw protection? Well, because we were likely trained that way.


How My Perspective Changed

So, after I had worked on some different crews I started to get pretty obsessed with tree work. This led to me trying to find out as much information as I possibly could about it, which led me to the Internet where I found treebuzz.com, an online community of tree workers that share different techniques, jobs, and experiences. When I started looking at the way that some of these other companies were working and employing climbing safety standards, my eyes were opened! I was no longer “work isolated” I had just had my front door blown off by an enormous resource of professionals in my industry that I could get information from to help me become a safer and better worker. 


What’s interesting is when I came into work and started telling some of the guys about what I was learning, they just chuffed it off and made me feel like I was wrong and that they knew the best way to do the job. This was quite disheartening, but I soon got my own crew and could have crew members take measures to reduce harm risk by training them to be as safe as possible. This is where being “work isolated” can be really beneficial! If the guys that worked on my crew stayed with me long enough, we could have our own safety culture on our crew. This meant that we held each other responsible when a crew member did something unsafe. We looked down upon unsafe practices and we went out of our way to make sure that we did what was right, not just what was easy. 


Shaping the Culture

This safety culture led some of the people who worked with employing the same safety measures when they got their own crews because they were trained with those ethics at the forefront of what they did. I found it was much easier to get new workers on my crew and train them to be safe, rather than trying to take a seasoned climber and break their bad habits and form them into new ones. The age old saying “Old habits die hard” couldn’t be any more true than it is with a climber that was trained to one-hand a chainsaw!


So in the end, the two things need to be highlighted in this post are the facts that training is paramount if you want to make your company as safe as it possibly can be. Investing in proper training can make your company not only work more efficiently but also make sure that everyone goes home to their families at the end of the day. The other thing is to be sure to get out there in the industry and see how other people are doing things! Go to your state climbing competition and to regional training events to see what’s going on online. You will need to sift through the many keyboard arborist that are out there, but you are sure to come across a couple nuggets of great information that you can bring back to your company or your crews! Stay safe!


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