Safety in the utility vegetation management (UVM) field is of paramount importance to both tree workers and to the utility companies that hire them. The Utility Arborist Association (UAA) has a history of promoting safety and safe work practices within the utility industry, and in association with the International Society of Arboriculture.
The core mission of vegetation management work in the utility industry is to clear vegetation away from electric utility lines to prevent outages and to provide a safe work environment for field professionals who work on and around power lines. This, in turn, provides for a safe environment for the general public, as well.
UVM workers must assess and mitigate numerous hazards on a daily basis, during inclement weather events and at night. These hazards encompass the following, but are not limited to, electrocution, struck-by incidents from falling objects, falls, traffic, terrain and weather.
Currently, falls are the No. 1 cause of fatalities in the UVM industry, followed by struck-bys and electrocutions. Recently, the number of electrocution incidents has decreased, which is an encouraging sign that the message is being heard and internalized within our workforce. The message to our membership is that no job is so imperative so as to put your life or that of your coworkers at risk.
Safety Communication and Education
The UAA recently formed a safety subcommittee, which resides under the umbrella of the education committee. This committee focuses on safety education and communication in our industry, and was formed in response to the renewed focus on safe work practices.
In 2011, the UAA sponsored its first safety summit in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S. A utility tree worker came up with the idea for this conference after attending a safety seminar that focused on linemen events and accidents. Afterward, this person asked his supervisor if there was such a forum for the UVM industry. After some research, the idea of this conference gained overwhelming support.
The first UAA Safety Meeting was well attended by line clearance crew members, first line supervisors, foresters, safety professionals, and executives and presidents of tree and companies and utilities. The intended outcome was to raise awareness of safety and to share concerns and prevention strategies within the industry.
The topics discussed during the meeting included electrocution, fostering a culture of safety, struck-by incidents, traffic safety, failure to comply with company safety policies, and falls. Each topic was addressed by tables of participants led by a facilitator who collected information and then presented this information to the entire group on the second day. After the summit, champions for each topic prepared papers that were then published in the Utility Arborist Newsline, the UAA's official newsletter.
In November, the UAA held its second UAA Safety Meeting in Marlborough, Massachusetts, U.S., with an equal amount of success.
Lessons Learned and Looking to the Future
So as we move forward within the UVM industry, the UAA will continue to use the lessons learned during the first safety meeting including: being your brother's keeper requires commitment from everyone, training pays, safety is a belief system, accountability is not a bad thing and communication is imperative.
All utilities have exposure, whether it's through their own employees, their contractors, homeowners or the general public. The UAA is doing its part by raising the level of awareness and by educating not only our own workforce but the general public, too.
However, there is always room for improvement. According to statistics, we are still experiencing 12 to 16 serious injuries and fatalities on average per month. This is not an acceptable level, and the UAA will continue to strive toward zero accidents by providing its membership and others the information necessary achieve that goal.
Anne Beard ([email protected]) is the current president of the Utility Arborist Association and the manager, system forester for Public Service Company of New Mexico and Texas New Mexico Power. During her 24 years in the utility industry, she has progressed from a consultant forester in Florida through various supervisory and managerial positions in Oklahoma, Texas and New Mexico. She has served on the International Society of Arboriculture Certification Test Committee.