Tree work safety checklist

A tree work safety checklist is something every arborist should have. Every year arborists put their safety at serious risk, and even those with extensive experience in tree work can suffer serious injury. Safework NSW has offered a tree work safety checklist every arborist should keep handy and use at every job.

Safework NSW’s definition of tree work includes: ‘…activities such as lopping, pruning, thinning, felling and removal of trees’, and notes common causes of injuries include falls from heights, being struck by falling objects, working around power lines, musculoskeletal disorders, exposure to noise, working with equipment and sun exposure.

After consultation with industry partners, the agency achieved some real improvements in health and safety for tree workers and employers and has offered the following tree work safety checklist for members of the arbor industries. We’re publishing it here because it’d be good to keep a copy in the work vehicle and tea room for everyone to check regularly.


Image: Halfpoint/

• Only competent persons should undertake the assessment of trees and sites, planning and preparation of the work method
• Determine appropriate control measures in consultation with workers and document the safe work method to serve as evidence of managing risks
• Discuss the control measures at the toolbox talk
• Consider conducting a site-specific risk assessment
• The risks common to many jobs may not be re-assessed, but persons undertaking the work must be familiar with the current control measures in place
• Planning should consider whether the presence of plant, such as an EWP, will impede the cutting and lowering of tree sections
• Plan emergency rescue plans, including aerial -rescue procedures, with everyone involved
• Use of plant to access high sections can reduce fatigue and dehydration.


Image: serikbaib/

Hazards could be either known in advance or be unforeseen. Some possible hazards are:
• Condition and stability of the tree
• Falling or swinging objects, including tree parts that have been cut or have the potential to break
• Onsite conditions that increase the risk of slips, trips and falls
• Manual tasks, including pulling, pushing, lifting and plant vibration
• Electric shock hazards from energised power lines
• Working with plant, including mobile plant like chippers and EWPs
• Dehydration and fatigue
• Wind and rain
• Allergic reactions to trees and poisonous plants
• Biting or stinging (such as insects and snakes).

Assessment of tree

Image: serikbaib/

Assess the condition and stability of the tree visually. This includes noting:
• Whether the tree is leaning heavily
• If there is evidence of bark inclusion
• If there are dead branches
• Any signs of decay in the tree structure
• Any signs of fungal fruiting bodies
• Any hollows
• If there are branches intruding from nearby trees
• The presence of any concealed nests or insect colonies
• Whether the tree type is susceptible to branch failure when under load
• Checking the stability of the tree root plate by pushing or pulling the tree and observing the ground movement.

Accessing the tree

• If a tree is not to be felled from the ground, conduct a site-specific risk assessment to help decide the safest way of accessing the tree. That may include the use of an EWP, a crane or climbing equipment
• Secure a suitable rope climbing system by using correct knots at a location on the tree which can withstand the forces of a fall
• If a crane is to be used to place a person in the tree it must be done in accordance with the Plant Used In Connection With Tree Lopping – Crane Access Method Position Paper (available at
• Climbing spikes can damage tree tissues which can result in infection and decay as well as creating future hazards.


• Ensure only a competent and experienced person does the risk assessment, planning, and execution of work methods, and is on site to identify hazards (if necessary) to prepare an amended safe work method
• Ensure all workers performing jobs with common risks are familiar with current risk-control measures in place
• Regularly remind workers of common controls and re-train workers as frequently as is necessary.

Before tree work commences

• Communicate the work method to the workers
• Communicate the emergency rescue plans with everyone involved
• Provide clear access routes, enforce exclusion zones and implement the traffic-management plan.

Managing unforeseen risks

• Ensure when any change or unforeseen risk arises, like a change in wind speed or changes to the ground condition after rain, new assessments, plans and onsite management are undertaken
• New or varied plans must be as thoroughly worked through as the initial work method.

Power lines

De-energise nearby power lines.

If this is not possible, maintain safe distances using tiger tails where necessary. The safe work method needs to include information on how to avoid damaging power lines or any other assets in the vicinity. Electricity network operators also provide useful information.

A spotter should be available to alert the operator to hazards using a communications system understood by everyone involved.


Image: AdboeStock/benschonewille

• Secure a suitable rope climbing system by using correct knots at a location on the tree which can withstand the forces of a fall
• Wear climbing spikes maintained as per the manufacturer’s recommendations
• Always maintain two points of attachments to the tree, particularly while cutting or moving on a dead tree. For example, use a flip line and a climbing rope.

Plant and equipment

• Use plant and equipment only within its capabilities and in accordance with manufacturer’s recommendations
• Do not use mobile plant on soft ground, where underground assets are present, on recently filled excavations, or on sloping or uneven surfaces if it’s not designed for such purposes • Ropes should not be attached to the plant or equipment
• Plant needs to be inspected and maintained as per the manufacturer’s recommendations
• The top of an EWP basket should be located at the same level, or above, where the cut is made
• Workers in an EWP basket need to wear a full-body harness to prevent being flicked out in the event the boom springs back, possibly after the basket unexpectedly snags
• Do not carry fuel in the basket of the Elevated Work Platform.


• Never drop start a chain saw when working on the ground
• Wear cut-resistant leg protection, and hearing and eye protection when using a chainsaw
• Start and warm up the chainsaw before climbing to prevent starting difficulty while the climber is on the tree.

Working in the sun

To reduce the risk of heat-related illness and fatigue, be proactive and develop plans. Make sure workers are protected when working outdoors by monitoring the weather forecasts, planning ahead and rescheduling certain tasks to earlier or later in the day.

Australian workers are more vulnerable to skin cancer due to exposure to high levels of UV radiation. Workers are encouraged to take precautions to avoid sun damage. It’s advisable to wear comfortable, task-specific clothing, a hat, SPF 30+ sunscreen, lip balm and wraparound sunglasses.

When working in hot environments it’s better to have frequent smaller drinks of cooled water rather than infrequent large drinks. On hot days it’s preferable to drink a small cup (200ml) of cool water every 15 to 20 minutes.

These points may seem like common sense, but the clock’s running or the crew is large, it’s easy to let things slip.

Keep the tree work safety checklist handy, use it often, and, above all, look out for each other.

There’s plenty more great safety advice available at

Image: SafeWork NSW


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