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Work-Related Fatalities Associated with Tree Care Operations --- United States, 1992--2007

Workers in various industries and occupations are involved in the care and maintenance of trees, such as tree trimming, pruning, and removal. This work is recognized as having many safety hazards (1). Although previous analyses have involved subgroups of workers who perform this type of work (2), no analysis has focused on identifying injured workers from all industries and occupations that perform tree care operations. This report summarizes the characteristics of fatal occupational injuries, using data from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) and a case series of fatality investigations conducted by CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) program. During 1992--2007,* a total of 1,285 workers died while performing tree care and maintenance; 44% were trimming or pruning a tree when fatally injured. The most common causes of death were being struck by or against an object (42% of deaths), most commonly a tree or branch; falls to a lower level (34%); and electrocutions (14%). Most of the decedents (57%) worked for small establishments with 10 or fewer employees. Employers, trade and worker associations, and policymakers should take additional steps to improve the safety of workers involved in tree care, such as providing formal training to workers and ensuring that personal protective equipment (e.g., fall protection equipment) is used properly.

The analysis consisted of two parts. For the first part, NIOSH reviewed data for 1992--2007 (the most recent data available to NIOSH) from CFOI, a national surveillance system for work-related deaths attributed to traumatic injury maintained by the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics. CFOI derives fatality data from multiple sources (e.g., death certificates, medical examiner/coroner reports, workers' compensation reports, and police reports) (3). Potential cases of tree care--related deaths were identified in the CFOI database using specific data elements: industry, occupation, injury source, and narratives describing the injury event.§ A case was defined as a fatal event that was a direct result of a tree care operation, as determined by the injury narrative. After the initial selection of potential cases, a manual case-by-case review of injury narrative confirmed relevance. Events among workers conducting the following activities were included: tree topping, tree trimming/pruning, tree felling, tree removing, and tree clearing. Because of changes in classification methods in 2002, industry and occupation are reported only for 2003--2007.

For the second part of the analysis, NIOSH reviewed all fatality investigation reports concerning tree care operations from the NIOSH FACE program for 1985--2007. Through on-site investigations, NIOSH and cooperating states collect detailed information on the circumstances for select incident types (including falls and electrocutions) for purposes of making recommendations for preventing future similar deaths (4). FACE investigations collect information on employer safety programs, worker training, and use of personal protective equipment, information that is not available from national surveillance systems such as CFOI.

Fatality Surveillance

During 1992--2007, a total of 1,285 worker deaths associated with tree care in the United States were reported to CFOI, an average of 80 deaths per year. The decedents were nearly all males (99%) (Table 1). The majority of decedents (70%) were non-Hispanic whites, but the proportion of deaths involving Hispanic workers increased over time, from 12% in 1992 to 29% in 2007 (Figure). Substantial proportions of the decedents worked for pay or compensation (59%) or were self-employed (38%), and 57% worked in establishments with 10 or fewer employees (Table 1). Nearly half of the fatalities occurred at a private residence (44%). The most common events leading to death were being struck by or against an object (such as a tree or branch) (42% of deaths), falls to a lower level (34%), and contact with electric current (14%) (Table 2). Regarding job tasks, 44% of decedents were either trimming or pruning a tree when they were injured, and 23% were involved in tree felling.

During 2003--2007, most of the decedents (74%) worked for the landscaping industry, which includes arborist and tree trimming services. Less commonly, decedents worked in construction (8% of deaths), crop production (7%), and utilities (1%). Regarding occupation, 50% of decedents were tree trimmers or pruners, 15% were landscapers or groundskeepers, 10% were first-line supervisors or managers in landscaping and grounds keeping, 7% were agricultural managers, 6% were in construction occupations, and the remainder were in various other occupations.

Fatality Investigations

A total of 45 fatality investigations completed during 1985--2007 were found to be related to tree care operations, including 14 fall deaths, 13 electrocutions, and nine struck-by deaths. Among the 14 fall deaths, four involved falls from a height of 35--50 feet when an aerial lift bucket broke; four resulted from being tied to a branch, limb, or tree trunk that broke off from a height of 30--60 feet; five occurred when the climbing rope broke or was cut by a chainsaw or the climbing safety mechanism failed; and one occurred because of tripping and falling from a height of 12 feet while exiting an aerial lift bucket. Among the 13 electrocutions, five deaths resulted from bodily contact with a power line, five resulted from equipment (i.e., chainsaw or aerial lift bucket) that provided an electrical pathway, two involved a branch falling onto the power line and then making contact with the worker, and in one case a power line downed in a hurricane was wrongly assumed to be de-energized. The nine struck-by deaths involved a tree branch or tree trunk, two involved an entire tree ranging from 30 to 70 feet high, and two involved being struck by a vehicle while performing a tree care operation.

In eight of the 45 incidents, the decedent was working alone. In most of the other incidents (60%), the decedent was working as part of a crew but outside visual contact with his or her coworkers. In 70% of the incidents, safety training consisted of only informal or on-the-job training, and in 75% of the incidents, the employer did not have written safety policies and procedures in place.

Reported by: DN Castillo, MPH, Div of Safety Research, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health; CK Chaumont Menéndez, PhD, EIS Officer, CDC.

Editorial Note:

In 2006, the Tree Care Industry Association petitioned OSHA to consider a safety standard specific to tree care operations because of the hazardous and unique nature of these activities. In response, OSHA began collecting data to inform next steps (1). NIOSH provided information based on the 45 fatality investigation reports from FACE and then conducted the analysis of surveillance data presented in this report (5). This report is the first to comprehensively examine injury fatalities specifically associated with tree care operations and their circumstances. The results confirm that although most tree care fatalities occur in the landscaping industry, at least one quarter occur in other industries, such as farming, construction, and utilities.

A substantial proportion of fatalities occurred in workers who were self-employed or worked for establishments with fewer than 10 employees. Small businesses typically do not have the resources to employ occupational safety professionals, and might lack the knowledge, skills, and resources to identify safety hazards and develop safe work practices. NIOSH has a guide for small businesses to help them connect with governmental and other resources (e.g., trade associations, worker associations, and safety organizations) that can provide expertise and guidance on safe work practices (6). OSHA also has a guide for small businesses to help them be in compliance with OSHA regulations (7). Trade associations also are a useful resource for employers who conduct tree care, given the specialized nature of this work.

The findings in this report are subject to at least three limitations. First, the number of deaths reported to be associated with tree care probably is undercounted because of a reliance on inconsistent narrative information. Additional deaths associated with tree care might have occurred but were not identified through the CFOI analysis because of limited and vague descriptions of the event (such as "struck on head by falling tree limb," which did not necessarily occur as a result of a tree care operation). Second, rates of occupational injury death, which would support comparisons of risk with other types of work, could not be calculated because the numbers of workers who provide tree care is unknown and cannot be derived from national labor statistics, which are coded by industry and occupation rather than specific types of work. Finally, the information from fatality investigations on circumstances contributing to occupational injury deaths is from a small convenience sample, and although it provides illustrative information that is not available elsewhere, it is not meant to represent the universe of tree care occupational injury deaths.

NIOSH and others previously have made recommendations for preventing deaths and injuries associated with tree care and landscaping (5,8--10). Results from the analysis described in this report generally affirm those recommendations. Employers, regardless of establishment size, should seek out information on worker safety before initiating tree care operations, and should develop, implement, and enforce a comprehensive safety program that includes formal training in tree safety, fall protection, electrical hazards, machine safety, safety along roadways, first aid, and cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR). Worksite surveys should be conducted before each new job and daily, by a knowledgeable person, to identify workplace hazards and control strategies. NIOSH recommendations for safety during tree work include 1) wearing appropriate personal protective equipment; 2) always working in teams in visual contact with each other; 3) checking the condition of tree branches before cutting them, climbing on them, or tying off safety equipment; 4) inspecting equipment before each shift and removing damaged equipment from service until repaired; 5) maintaining minimum distances from power lines as specified by OSHA**; and 6) prohibiting the use of conductive tools and equipment near power lines (5,9,10).

Acknowledgments

This report is based, in part, on contributions by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor; and DF Utterback, PhD, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, CDC.

References

  1. US Department of Labor. Advanced notice of proposed rulemaking (ANPR) for tree care operations. Federal Register 2008;73:54118--23.
  2. Poulin Buckley J, Sestito JP, Hunting KL. Fatalities in the landscape and horticultural services industry, 1992--2001. Am J Ind Med 2008;51:701--13.
  3. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Bureau of Labor Statistics handbook of methods. Washington, DC: US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics; 2007. Available at http://www.bls.gov/opub/hom/homch9_a1.htm.
  4. CDC. Fatality assessment and control evaluation program: FACE program. Cincinnati, OH: US Department of Health and Human Services, CDC, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health; 2003. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2003-146.
  5. CDC. Comments of the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health in response to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) advance notice of proposed rulemaking for tree care operators. Docket no. OSHA 2008-012. Cincinnati, OH: US Department of Health and Human Services, CDC, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health; 2008.
  6. CDC. Safety and health resource guide for small businesses. Cincinnati, OH: US Department of Health and Human Services, CDC, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health; 2003. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2003-100/2003-100b.html.
  7. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Small business handbook. Washington, DC: US Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration OSHA; 2005. Available at http://www.osha.gov/Publications/smallbusiness/small-business.pdf.
  8. New York State Department of Health. Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE): tree-work fatal injury facts. Troy, NY: New York State Department of Health, Bureau of Occupational Health, New York FACE Program; 2006. Available at http://www.health.state.ny.us/environmental/investigations/face/facts/logging.htm.
  9. CDC. NIOSH alert: request for assistance in preventing falls and electrocutions during tree trimming. Cincinnati, OH: US Department of Health and Human Services, CDC, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health; 1992. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/92-106.html.
  10. CDC. NIOSH fact sheet: fatal injuries among landscape services workers. Cincinnati, OH: US Department of Health and Human Services, CDC, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health; 2008. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2008-144.

* 2007 data are preliminary. Final 2007 data are expected to be released in spring 2009 and will be available at http://www.bls.gov/iif.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics provides the NIOSH Division of Safety Research with a special research file for analysis through a memorandum of understanding. The CFOI data analyzed by NIOSH include data for New York City for 2003--2007 but not for previous years.

§ Cases were selected for initial review if 1) the decedent was coded as working in the tree services and ornamental shrubs industry (for 1992--2002, Standard Industrial Classification Manual, 1987 Edition, code 0783); 2) the decedent was coded as working in the landscaping services industry (for 2003--2007, North American Industry Classification System, 2002 Edition, code 56173); 3) the injury source was wood chippers (Occupational Injury and Illness Classification System (OIICS) source code 3231 and secondary source code 3231) or a tree (OIICS source code 587); or 4) the case narrative contained the keyword "tree" with the trunks of the following keywords: "fell," "trim," "prune," "landscape," "removal," "excavation," or "care." The initial review excluded cases in which the decedent was coded as working in the logging industry (1992--2002, Standard Industrial Classification Manual, 1987 Edition, code 027; for 2003--2007, North American Industry Classification System, 2002 Edition, code 1133) or coded as a logger (1992--2002, 1990 Bureau of Census occupation classification system occupation code 613; 2003--2007, 2000 Standard Occupational Classification occupational code 45-4020).

States apply through a competitive process to receive funding to conduct state-based FACE programs. Since 1990, a total of 22 states have had cooperative agreements with CDC for varying periods.

** US Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Standard 29 CFR part 1926.416. Electrical. Available at http://www.osha.gov/pls/oshaweb/owadisp.show_document?p_table=standards&p_id=10717.

TABLE 1. Number and percentage of occupational injury deaths associated with tree care operations, by selected characteristics of the worker and employer --- United States, 1992--2007

Characteristic

No.

%

Total*

1,285

100

Sex

Male

1,274

99

Female

11

1

Age group (yrs)

≤24

145

11

25--44

563

44

≥45

571

44

Race/Ethnicity

White, non-Hispanic

870

70

Black, non-Hispanic

114

9

Hispanic

216

17

Other, non-Hispanic

85

7

Employment type

Self-employed

486

38

Work for pay or compensation or other

752

59

Other or not reported

47

4

Establishment size

1--10 employees

733

57

11--49 employees

109

8

≥50 employees

108

8

Not reported

335

26

Location of injury

Private residence

568

44

Farm

136

11

Industrial location

87

7

Recreational place

26

2

Street or highway

151

12

Public building

22

2

Other places§

295

23

SOURCE: Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, 1992--2007.

* Percentages for certain characteristics might not add to 100 because of rounding.

Includes work in family business, volunteer, off-duty police, and type of employment not reported.

§ Includes mines, residential institutions, outdoor locations, and not reported.

FIGURE. Number of fatal work injuries, by race/ethnicity and year --- United States, 1992--2007

Number of fatal work injuries, by race/ethnicity and year --- United States, 1992--2007

The figure above shows the number of fatal work-related injuries, by race/ethnicity and year, in the United States during 1992 through 2007, based on data from the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries for that period.

Among whites, the number of such deaths was 41 in 1992, 41 in 1993, 53 in 1994, 34 in 1995, 63 in 1996, 72 in 1997, 45 in 1998, 57 in 1999, 71in 2000, 68 in 2001, 66 in 2002, 53 in 2003, 61 in 2004, 41 in 2005, 59 in 2006, and 45 in 2007.

Among Hispanics, the number of such deaths was 6 in 1992, 11 in 1993, 6 in 1994, 9 in 1995, 10 in 1996, 7 in 1997, 11 in 1998, 11 in 1999, 10 in 2000, 13 in 2001, 28 in 2002, 13 in 2003, 12 in 2004, 26 in 2005, 20 in 2006, and 23 in 2007.

Among persons of other racial or ethnic groups, the number of such deaths was 5 in 1992, 5 in 1993, 5 in 1994, 4 in 1995, 5 in 1996, 5 in 1997, 11 in 1998, 8 in 1999, 8 in 2000, 10 in 2001, 6 in 2002, 14 in 2003, 18 in 2004, 10 in 2005, 10 in 2006, and 10 in 2007.

SOURCE: Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, 1992--2007.

TABLE 2. Number and percentage of occupational injury deaths associated with tree care operations, by event circumstances --- United States, 1992--2007

Circumstance

No.

%

Total*

1,285

100

Injury event

Contact with objects and equipment

595

46

Struck by or against

546

42

Caught in, compressed, or crushed

49

4

Falls

441

34

To lower level

434

34

Exposure to harmful substances or environments

180

14

Contact with electric current

174

14

Transportation accidents

65

5

Highway accident

---§

---

Nonhighway accident

34

3

Pedestrian

27

2

Other/Nonclassifiable

---

---

Primary injury source

Machinery

88

7

Chippers

38

3

Parts and materials

103

8

Power lines

79

6

Persons, plants, animals, and minerals

548

43

Trees and logs

540

42

Structures and surfaces

418

33

Floor or ground

406

32

Tools or equipment

63

5

Powered hand tools

24

2

Vehicles

56

4

Highway vehicle

33

3

Other sources

9

1

Activity

Trimming/Pruning

569

44

Felling

300

23

Clearing/Removing

114

9

Operating machinery

81

6

Topping

39

3

Not specified

182

14

SOURCE: Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, 1992--2007.

* Percentages for certain characteristics might not add to 100 because of rounding.

Coded according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics' Occupational Injury and Illness Classification System. This is a hierarchical system; indented text reflects data that is part of a group.

§ Did not meet the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries minimum reporting requirements.

Coded based on narrative review of record.

Use of trade names and commercial sources is for identification only and does not imply endorsement by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


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Date last reviewed: 4/22/2009

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