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By Bob Urban, senior manager, ACRT Services
When it comes to safely performing tree work of any kind, best practices are essential. Keeping people safe on the job is a top priority — whether you’re a utility or a company that provides services to utilities. The daily and long-term benefits of using a safety monitoring program will not only improve the lives of the worker on the truck but also the stress and cost for management and ownership of organizations. From improving worker career longevity to stabilizing or reducing worker compensation insurance premiums — safety programs pay.
Too often, taking a closer look at how a given crew works and operates according to safety best practices and procedures is prompted by an accidental injury or even death. Beyond the human cost, the tree crew and the organization that has contracted them for work are both suddenly under significant pressure. Accidents may result in Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) penalties, higher insurance rates, workers’ compensation claims, and potential loss of long-term contracts when the clients have safety as a performance metric.
Adherence to safety best practices is a critical part of any type of work and doing everything possible to ensure that crews are upholding their commitment to safety is paramount. So how do you ensure safety best practices are always being followed? A comprehensive series of safety audits and feedback reporting or on-site, real-time training conducted by a third-party partner might be the answer.
A comprehensive safety audit program can be invaluable for any tree care organization, even when it might appear that your crew is adhering to safety practices. These audits will provide a detailed, objective assessment of a crew or contractor’s safety practices.
Safety audits of your crew should be performed at random and be unanticipated to get a real sense of how your crew is performing.
Every organization should consider implementing the following 10 audit areas as they are critical for overall crew safety and business success.
Choosing an audit partner
When you’re looking for a third-party partner to perform a safety audit, what criteria should you consider? Make sure that your audit team is well-versed in the appropriate OSHA- and industry-specific standards. For example, utility vegetation work is governed by the OSHA Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 29 1910.269 and ANSI Z133. An audit partner that is involved with relevant committees will have vast knowledge and understanding of the safety standards to which your crew must adhere. In addition, the more industry experience an auditor has, the more likely they are to have great familiarity with safety best practices. With the right experience and knowledge, your audit partner will be able to work with you to develop a comprehensive auditing program that evaluates in real-time how your crew is working in the field. Not all crews necessitate the same level of auditing. When selecting a partner to conduct your safety auditing, you should first identify the skills and background for the level of detail desired.
Benefits of an auditing program
Qualified vegetation management workers may go through formal safety training once a year where they’ll learn about aerial rescue, chainsaw use, tree felling, wood chipper safety, rope and saddle climbing, bucket operations, and more. However, safety is more than a once-a-year event, and perhaps more important than anything is consistency in working safely and following best practices. It’s one thing to pass an annual safety test, but it’s another to work the same way many months later when no one is evaluating you.
Auditing programs traditionally have been data pool sources, this is useful as long as the data serves a purpose or is utilized. The effort of a safety auditing and training program should not only provide data but culture. The emphases on training and direction, handled in a relatable manner at the field level, in real-time, will produce the results that improve organizations’ safety performance, worker satisfaction as a result of the regular input to job performance and ideally worker longevity by reducing injuries and physical stains inherent in the tree worker field.
As seen through these ten audit examples, a comprehensive safety audit is an immersive experience that takes an extensive look at a wide variety of safety practices. With a focus on safety and the implementation of a safety auditing program, you can ensure that your tree crew stays up to date on standards and any critical changes that may have been made since they were first educated on these. An auditing program also takes full account of how well a crew is living up to standards in their everyday fieldwork.
Ultimately, a safety auditing program should help you keep close tabs on how tree crews are adhering to safety best practices at any given time. It can serve as a proactive approach to help you take action against any unsafe behavior before it turns into a pattern.
ACRT Pacific is the largest independent utility consulting company in the U.S. and empowers utilities to proactively manage vegetation across their entire rights-of-way. We consistently stay on top of and share relevant industry content with our employees and customers around the country.