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Tree-trimming deaths under investigation in California

Posted On: Jan. 12, 2017 10:08 AM CST

Tree-trimming deaths under investigation in California

California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health is investigating four tree-trimming workplace fatalities from the past six weeks and has launched a statewide safety awareness campaign for tree service companies, landscapers and other businesses.

The state’s Department of Labor Relations announced Wednesday that the four tree-trimming deaths now under investigation by Oakland-based Cal-OHSA include:

  • A worker in Mariposa County who was struck by a branch on Dec. 1
  • A worker in San Bernardino County who suffocated when dry palm fronds collapsed and trapped him on Dec. 4
  • A worker in Los Angeles County who fell approximately 60 feet when the branch he was tethered to broke on Jan. 6
  • A worker in Siskiyou County who was struck by the tree he was cutting to clear power lines on Jan. 9   

Cal/OSHA investigated nearly 70 accidents involving tree work, including trimming or removal services, in the two-year period between Oct, 1, 2014, and Sept. 30, 2016, the office said Wednesday in a statement. Nearly three out of four of these accidents — 74% — resulted in a worker hospitalization, and 12 of the accidents involved the death of a worker, the office reported. The major causes of tree trimming injuries and fatalities include falls, electrical shock, being struck by a tree branch, chainsaw lacerations, palm tree skirt collapses and ladder accidents.

Cal/OSHA cited the example of a tree service worker in Humboldt County who accidently cut the lanyard used to secure himself to a tree and fell 54 feet to his death on Dec. 30, 2015. The investigation found that the employer failed to ensure the worker was using a required second point of attachment in his security system while he was operating a chain saw in a tree.

As part of what is dubbed the “Tree Work Safety Emphasis Program,” Cal/OSHA inspectors throughout the state who observe unsafe tree trimming or tree removal operations will investigate possible violations and will respond to reports of unsafe operations, according to regulators.

“Cal/OSHA’s safety awareness campaign aims to protect the lives of tree service workers,” said Cal/OSHA Chief Juliann Sum in a statement. “Employers in this high-risk industry need to be aware of, and take steps to minimize, the hazards to their workers. We will cite employers that are not in compliance with safety requirements.”