TFTC #12 Make Gear Inspection Your #1 Safety Habit

Jun 21st 2019

It is well known that the tree care industry is not the safest of work environments. Our decisions can make it dangerous. Through May 2019, there are already 50 confirmed fatalities (according to reports on And this number is inevitably only going to increase. Your gear is integral to performing your job safely, therefore it is critical to prioritize taking care of the gear you use everyday.

“How long will this piece of gear last?” We receive this question often. It’s an important question, and we've likely stated it before in our previous posts, but unfortunately it’s a question without an answer.

Tree Care Industry Accident Reports

I recently attended an arborist symposium, and one of the speakers shared statistics from 2017 related to fatalities and the causes associated with those fatalities. Struck-by’s were (and still are) the leading cause of fatalities in the industry, accounting for 39.4% of all fatalities. Although specific information was not available for each fatality represented in the statistics, one would be inclined to think that most of the struck-by’s involved contact with the person’s head.

“Struck-by’s were (and still are) the leading cause of fatalities in the industry, accounting for 39.4% of all fatalities.”

During the presentation, a lot of discussion took place in regard to actual usage of PPE in the industry, to the inspection of gear, and how these play into the large number of fatalities.

I believe these numbers and statistics are worth sharing as well as the need to reemphasize gear inspection. For those who are unaware, hopefully you understand the necessity of inspection and making it a part of every work day. For those who are aware, the statistics should reinforce the need to inspect gear everyday and promote the same mentality to your coworkers.

In our very first installment of Tips From the Canopy, we briefly touched on helmets and inspection.

With so many pieces of gear being used on a jobsite, how would one know where to begin with inspecting gear?

The percentage of struck-by’s from the seminar certainly made me think about helmets, but it also brings to the forefront the need to inspect all gear. And with so many pieces of gear being used on a jobsite, how would one know where to begin with inspecting gear?

Every helmet, saddle, carabiner, friction saver, etc. comes with a user manual. This is the best place to begin understanding what to look for and inspect. If you no longer have the user manual, they are typically provided online by the retailer or manufacturer. Helmets are one item that has a long list of protocols when maintaining and inspecting, all of which should be followed to ensure the product protects you as well as extend the usable life of the helmet.

Read it!

The manufacturer has gone through great lengths to create, design, manufacture, test, and certify gear, and they know better than anybody what needs to be done to properly maintain and inspect that piece of gear. Most user manuals contain a section to record your inspections so you can look back and know the gear’s inspection history.

Read and familiarize yourself with the user manual, to know not only what to look for, but also the ways in which the product was designed to be used and not used. Understanding this is vital. Although many pieces of gear can be used in different configurations, it is necessary to know in which ways it cannot be used. Doing so opens yourself up to bad situations.

Is it a guaranteed fail if you use the product in ways not outlined in the user’s manual? Unfortunately, there is no way to answer that question.

However, you should never attempt to use a product in any way other than what is stated in the manual. Again, the manufacturer designed the product to perform certain functions in specific configurations and there is ample testing behind it. Be aware of the proper usage and configurations. Don’t hesitate to let someone else know if you see them using a product in a way it was not intended. It could very well save them from injury or death.

One thing about our industry that makes it unique is our ability to create systems that may have never been seen or used before, or mixing products to produce very efficient systems. Our industry is not as regulated as other industries. While that is not necessarily a bad thing, it does lead room for custom gear. While this has allowed great products to come to the industry and certainly increased innovation, it has also caused modifications of existing products to occur. If you refer back to the user’s manual, you will likely read something on this topic. Modification of any product is never something that any manufacturer is going be OK with, and doing so increases the your chances of something going wrong. Yes many people have done it, but realize that if you do, the liability is going to rest squarely on your shoulders.

It also helps to have someone else inspect your gear. When we are the only person who inspects our own gear, we tend to justify more easily the continued use of a product even when the condition of the product is one that should cause it to be tagged out of service. Allowing others to inspect your gear is a necessary check — not only of the gear, but of yourself. Many user manuals describe this as part of the inspection process. It’s often recommended every year, if not more often. It’s easy to do and will provide a better understanding of the condition of your gear.

  • Read the user manuals for your gear
  • Use gear as intended by the manufacturer
  • Check the condition of your gear regularly
  • Have a colleague examine the condition, too
  • When in doubt, replace it

There are many other aspects of gear inspection and maintenance that need to be addressed by the end user. These are only a few of the checklist needed to effectively guarantee the usability of gear we rely on to get us home safely and make our jobs possible. Whether it’s ropes, saddles, connectors, or any other piece of gear, understand the importance of inspection.

It is unfortunate and quite sad the numbers of fatalities and injuries that still occur in our industry. We each have the choice and ability to change this, and it is our responsibility to do so. Without us taking care of and watching out for each other, the statistics are likely not going to change in our favor. Gear inspection is part of that responsibility we have to ourselves, our families and our coworkers. Take the necessary steps to ensure the gear you are using is safe. When in doubt, replace it. Making the time to inspect your gear and others gear is part of what will keep you safe to climb another day.

(This one's added by the editor.) Here's a picture of Tim Bushnell smashing watermelons:

The video below is an announcement by Notch Equipment regarding their Armorflex chainsaw pants recently saving an arborist’s life:

Cut safe. Climb Safe.