This month we look into pruning issues as sadly, while on my travels, it seems a very rare sight indeed to find evidence of correctly finished pruning cuts on completed tree jobs.
Here comes spring and at Training For Trees, we are excitedly looking forward to receiving some new gear that was ordered at the end of the last financial year. It’s just that it is somewhere on the high seas at the moment so we just have to continue the wait.
Hopefully, after last month’s edition some of the myths surrounding work methods have been dispersed and every day we realise that some of the most wonderful individuals make up the arboricultural industry the world over and that generally we all have one thing in common and that is we all care about trees.
This month I would like to discuss some pruning issues with you all because, sadly while on my travels around this part of the world, it seems a very rare sight indeed to find evidence of correctly finished pruning cuts on completed tree jobs.
Good pruning skills and techniques can take many years to learn and sometimes the best place to start is with the aid of a short course in basic pruning techniques followed up by plenty of supervised practice in the workplace.
To begin with it is usually important to choose the right time of year to carry out the works as some species react adversely to being pruned at the wrong times. This can also affect flower/fruit production. It is very easy to cause irreversible damage to trees through poor pruning practices and it is essential that operators have at least some basic arboricultural knowledge regarding tree anatomy and physiology.
Careless pruning not only shows up as the work of someone who is not competent or professional in their work, but can cause irreversible damage to the subject tree in the form of scars along the branches coat hanger like stubs large flush cuts or wrongly angled branch collar pruning cuts preventing essential mechanisms and processes from happening, leaving the tree open to secondary infection, future decay and at risk of structural failure.
So Why Prune At All?
There are numerous reasons for carrying out pruning work to trees and shrubs but some of the common ones are as follows.
- Overhanging branches causing problems with neighbours
- Statutory clearance requirements for utilities such as power and phone lines
- Satellite signal reception problems
- Overhanging or low branches that impede traffic flow lines of sight and road signs
- Restructuring of storm damaged canopies
- Trees that have outgrown their current surroundings can be made smaller and retained as an alternative to their complete removal
- Removal of dead diseased dying and deranged wood (the four Ds)
- Formative pruning of young trees to produce a sound structure for future growth.
First and foremost the tree must be taken into consideration and factors including its current form condition structure and the required outcome for the pruning works.
Prior to commencing any pruning operation you must be aware of any legal and environmental restraints such as tree protection legislation and avoid disturbing any nesting birds or wildlife.
Make sure you are familiar with the specifications set out in the current Australian standard AS 4373 Pruning of Amenity Trees which you have to purchase from Standards Australia.
You should carry out a risk assessment on site before any works commence.
Control measures should include taking note of any work site issues, emergency procedures, the surroundings, exclusion zones, public access roads and any other issues that may be raised during the assessment. There should be a plan of operation agreed upon and most importantly communicate these items to all personnel on site.
Ensure that high quality pruning tools are selected. Care should be taken to ensure they are clean, sharp and maintained correctly.
Plan the sequence of operation and always consider the outcomes of your actions before cutting. As the old saying goes, you can always take more off but you can’t put it back on.
Make sure that final pruning cuts are made neatly and to the correct position retaining the branch collar.
A lot of tree cutting is carried out using powered pole saws and while these machines are a great asset to have in the toolkit, it just seems as if every crew has one as standard issue and I really feel they are somewhat overused, a bit like an adjustable spanner in a toolkit, and this one machine is used far beyond its intended capabilities as a one-tool-fits-all solution to tree pruning.
Imagine if your mechanic only used one spanner when working to fix your vehicle.
They are available with two or four stroke power and even come in rechargeable battery powered forms.
The most popular machines in our industry are the extendable, high reach types and over the years there have been some nasty accidents caused by severed branches falling on the operator and innocent bystanders, and in some cases have contacted with overhead power lines and caused fatalities.
The needs of the tree must be taken into consideration and this means you must consider whether the proposed pruning operation be carried out cleanly without tree damage using the pole saw.
Consider if the tree should be accessed utilising the skills of an experienced Arborist to prune the tree with chainsaw or hand saw, using a rope and harness, and working within the tree or by using an EWP for aerial access.
Due to the nature of a fast cutting attachment on the end of a 4m pole, the pole saw has a tendency to be a little difficult to control at full stretch. Achieving the final pruning cuts in accordance with industry best practice and the Australian standard for tree work is not always possible. The result is usually that a lot of unnecessary damage is caused to the tree. Damage often takes the form of causing scars along the branches and coat hanger like stubs, large flush cuts or wrongly angled and flush cut pruning wounds. This is an area of extremely bad practice that must be stopped.
“It’s really important to update your certification levels regularly over time as new techniques and standards are developed and updated fairly often.”
A lot of irreversible damage can be done to the subject tree in a very short space of time and it is essential that operators are trained in correct pole saw maintenance and operation along with them having at least a basic understanding of arboriculture and pruning requirements.
- Plan the sequence of operation and always reduce the weight of the branch gradually as you go by cutting it into manageable sections. Undercut the branch first and, when making the top cut, ensure that an overlap occurs to reduce the risk of tearing the bark past the branch collar. The resulting stub can then be cut back cleanly to the branch collar
- Don’t forget that the primary task that powered pole saws are intended for is the removal of lateral branches. It is almost impossible to make a correct pruning cut on upright growth and these normally result in a steeply angled, pointy cut which will not be able to compartmentalise correctly
- Regular maintenance of the machine will ensure that you are able to achieve maximum performance from the pole saw and should help to ensure the pruning cuts can be made in the correct position and cleanly finished
- Maintenance of the bar and chain is the same as for a conventional chainsaw, so don’t neglect the maintenance duties, just make sure you use the correct chain tension file size and stick to the correct filing angles as per the chain manufacturer’s recommendations
- Remember these machines are not insulated, so unless you have the correct training insulation and certification in electrical awareness, stay well away from overhead power lines. If in doubt call the local power supply company for advice.
Don’t Forget: Pole Saw Training And Certification
The competency unit FWPCOT3238 Operate a Pole saw is a nationally recognised competency unit that covers use of these machines.
Operators that are trained and certificated will have a greater understanding in the operation and maintenance of these machines and the end result will be seen in the standard of pruning and operation even regular operators can benefit greatly from training and updating their techniques.
It’s really important to update your certification levels regularly over time as new techniques and standards are developed and updated fairly often. It is recommended that regular updates are carried out and documented.
All qualifications need to be maintained as current and the best way to maintain currency is to have a refresher update in the unit of competency and receive an update certificate.
Refreshers are generally carried out in a shorter time frame than a full training course consisting of an assessment and update of current skill levels which generally picks up and corrects any bad habits that may have crept in over time.
The modern world of arboriculture is a far cry from the days that we just felt lucky to be doing a job using big noisy equipment and lifting heavy things.
Making the effort and spending the time to study and achieve the relevant arboricultural qualifications will lead you on a lifelong journey in one of the most diverse industries I know and build you a skill base that you can use anywhere in the world.
To be able to work as a qualified person within the arboricultural industry general requirements are that you will complete an apprenticeship and achieve the AHC30816 Certificate III in Arboriculture which is currently accepted as the minimum industry standard requirement to be able to be considered as a trade level qualified working arborist.
The pathway to achieve the Certificate III in Arboriculture qualification involves the completion of 23 industry endorsed units of competency that have been engineered approved and nationally mandated by industry working groups and government funded skills organisations.
Take The Pathway To The Diploma Of Arboriculture
Once you have achieved the Certificate III in Arboriculture or want to consolidate and recognise your industry experience, the next step is to continue to progress within the arboricultural industry and to follow the pathway from trade level working arborist and take it to the next level by undertaking the AHC50516 Diploma of Arboriculture.
To achieve this qualification you will begin a journey that will see you develop and gain an intimate and considerable working tree knowledge, you will be educated through face-to-face training and assessment, resulting in the completion of the 10 nationally recognised industry endorsed units of competency making up the Diploma, that have been engineered approved and nationally mandated by industry working groups and government-funded skills organisations to ensure that achieving this qualification will enable you to operate with the highest standards with the required skills as a business owner, lead arborist, tree officer, arboricultural manager or consulting arborist in the arboricultural industry.
At TFT we believe the message is finally getting through regarding the importance of training and qualification and the benefits that it can bring to everyone including the trees.
Make an effort to take ownership of your learning both at work and in your own time. Even when you are dragging branches to the chipper you could be learning about trees. How do they look, how heavy are they? What colour is the timber and what other features do you notice?
A tried and tested process that we at TFT have been suggesting for several years now is proving to be so true regarding the almost everyday question we get from employers which is:
“We need a new groundie climber or consulting arborist to join our operation.”
New workers don’t grow on trees unfortunately, but if you want to have reliable professional staff you have to be prepared to invest in them.
The government have realised the skills shortage and the importance of our industry and there is considerable support for organisations that are investing in and training their staff.
One of the best sources for new staff often overlooked is that some of the best new recruits could actually come from within your company, where a current employee is encouraged and supported to step up to the plate and develop new skills while to some extent learning on the job and continuing to earn their keep at the same time.
When this process is coupled with the journey through the arboricultural Certificate III or the Diploma qualifications, and you are prepared to work with your trainee and their training organisation, the outcome is a well-rounded competent and qualified staff member that is a real asset to your business.
We at TFT recommend employing as many new recruits as you are able to support, but bear in mind that supervision is recommended to be one qualified worker to one apprentice.
Various incentives are available to assist employers and students that are eligible.
Training in general could tend to slow things on the work site down a little initially, although as your apprentice makes progress through the training process, they will steadily begin to repay your investment in their future by becoming more useful and able to operate more efficiently within your company.
By the time they graduate they will probably go on to become your next lead climber crew leader or manager and could also be helping to train your next apprentice to keep your company evolving.
If your apprentice decides to leave and move on once they are qualified, then at least you will have had some return on your investment while they were employed with you and, if you get the balance right, then there will always be upcoming apprentices that will keep the cycle flowing giving you access to staff that already know your business and systems that will continue to provide a return on the investment you have made in them.
Training is as important as the servicing of vehicles and machinery. After all, workers are the machinery that you run and need to maintain to enable the smooth operation of your business.
At TFT we conduct the majority of our training and assessment at our modern training centre with access to in house trainer assessors, all the required up-to-date tools and equipment, local worksites and resources.
We take our students on a journey which begins with their enrolment and continues through the individual units of competency that collectively make up the qualification with regular face-to-face classroom sessions, issuing of assignments to be completed in the workplace and working with the self-employed, persons looking for a career change and employers to ensure they are progressing efficiently and meeting their performance requirements.
We are also able to travel and deliver and assess within the workplace if required.
Training For Trees is a privately registered training organisation (RTO).
We are completely independent and are not auspiced attached to or operating under the direction or licence of any other RTO or parent company which means we are able look after our students and employers at every step of their journey and beyond.
It has been proven that independent training and assessment increases staff retention safety awareness productivity and efficiency.
Remember to schedule in regular refresher and update training sessions.
If you want to be officially classified as a qualified arborist you will need to complete the appropriate level of qualification:
- AHC30816 Certificate III in Aboriculture Or
- AHC50516 Diploma of Arboriculture