Tree Trimmer Electrocuted While Trimming a Tree

New Jersey Case Report: 94NJ066

Report Date: November 30, 1994


On May 6, 1994, a 22 year-old male tree trimmer died when he contacted a 220 volt power line while trimming a tree. NJDOH FACE investigators concluded that, in order to prevent similar incidents in the future, the following safety guidelines should be followed:

  • Hazard assessments should be conducted for each tree-trimming job;
  • A minimum clearance of ten feet must be maintained between the worker, equipment, and energized power lines to prevent inadvertent contact.
  • Trees should not be climbed when wet.
  • Employers should develop a written employee training program in safe tree trimming and hazard recognition. Their standard operating procedures should be in writing.


On May 6, 1994, NJDOH FACE personnel learned about this work-related fatality from the county medical examiner’s investigator. A site visit was conducted on May 19, 1994. Information for this report was derived from the OSHA file, medical examiner’s report, police report and interviews of the deceased worker’s employer and co-worker.

The victim’s employer was a tree trimming company that had been in business for approximately 7 years and employed five people at the time of the incident. The employer was a member of the National Arborist Association. The victim, a 22 year-old tree trimmer, was employed for three years by the company. He was a tree climber and crew supervisor. The company required a worker to have three years of employment with the company to climb trees. Workers with less experience functioned as groundmen.


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The incident site was the back yard of a house in a large city. The company contracted with the home owner to remove a dead 45-foot tree at the edge of the property line. Less than two weeks prior to the incident, a company representative visited the site in order to estimate the cost of the job. He gave the homeowner an estimate of the cost without explaining how the tree would be taken down.

On the day of the incident, work started at 8 a.m.. The victim and his co-worker, a groundman with four years experience and 1 1/2 years with the company, received their written assignments for the day. Apparently, the victim received verbal directions also. They went to the house where they were to remove the dead 45-foot tree. The two men inspected the tree and noted power lines running between the branches. The co-worker stated that the victim was wearing a climbing saddle, boots, spikes, hard hat with ear muffs for hearing protection, cotton gloves, and rain gear because it was drizzling rain. He climbed the tree with a chain saw (weight of saw unknown) and used a new rope to “crotch” (tie himself into) the tree. The groundman prepared the saws and his equipment for chipping branches. According to the co-worker, the climber planned to trim the branches on the side of the tree near the wires with the chain saw and, after the wires were free, to cut down the tree at the trunk. The lines were about three feet from the three-foot diameter tree trunk.

The victim cut two tree branches and the groundman took them to the chipper. As he worked, around 9:30 a.m., the groundman became aware that the chain saw was silent. He heard a buzzing sound coming from the power line and reports seeing the victim holding the power line with two hands, his back to the tree. The victim had contacted a single phase secondary power line that carried 220 volts of electricity.

The worker yelled for help and asked someone to call 911. A neighbor heard him and called for assistance. The worker also ran to his truck and phoned his employer to report the incident. Rescuers arrived quickly but the groundman (who was experienced with another tree trimming company) had already tied a rope around his waist and climbed the tree. He wore no climbing harness and no spikes. He jumped from a fence to the first branch. The victim, at this time, was free from the power line. The co-worker unhooked the victim’s chain saw, threw it down to the ground, and planned to use the rope to lower both of them to the ground. Police who arrived on the scene ordered the worker to come down from the tree.

After the power line was deenergized by the utility company, the victim was removed from the tree by rescuers who used the fire department ladder truck. He was taken to the local emergency room where he was pronounced dead.

Cause of Death

The medical examiner determined that death was caused by electrocution. The victim had burns on his right arm, left fingers, ankle and foot.


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Recommendation #1: Hazard assessments should be conducted for each tree-trimming job;

Discussion: Assessment of the tree to be trimmed and potential hazards for the trimmers should be conducted for each job. The assessment should be a two step complementary process. The person who estimates the job should also look for the hazards of cutting and climbing the tree, including the potential for contact with energized power lines. Those potential hazards can be incorporated in planning for the job and work assignments. The second step in the process involves the tree trimming crew at the site. They should conduct an independent assessment of potential hazards and postpone any job considered hazardous.

Recommendation #2: A minimum clearance of ten feet must be maintained between the worker, equipment, and energized power lines to prevent inadvertent contact.

Discussion: The victim contacted the energized power lines while he was working too closely to the energy source. ANSI Standard Z133.1-1988 requires a minimum clearance of ten feet for persons or equipment from energized power lines, unless that person is a qualified line clearance tree trimmer. On request, the local utility company will provide free line clearance tree trimmers to trim branches near power lines. After these branches have been removed, tree trimming companies can safely trim the tree or remove the remaining section of a tree.


Recommendation # 3: Trees should not be climbed when wet.

Discussion: Whether it contributed to this fatal injury is unknown, but wet tree bark may be slippery even in drizzling rain and could cause a climber to loose his balance. Wet branches may also contribute to electrical conduction.

Recommendation # 4: Employers should develop a written employee training program in safe tree trimming and hazard recognition. Company standard operating procedures should be in writing.

Discussion: It is recommended that a written, on-going training program be developed for safe tree trimming practices. Although employees were encouraged to attend seminars, trade events and meetings and use tapes from training organizations, an organized training program fosters consistency and documents the background and education of employees. Training should include the recognition and avoidance of electrical hazards as required by the ANSI Standard. The company’s operating procedures should also be standardized and put in writing.


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Sources of information for small tree trimming companies include:

The Committee for the Advancement of Arboriculture. This organization offers courses on basic and advanced tree climbing and other pertinent courses in tree safety and arboriculture. For information, contact David Shaw, Monmouth County Shade Tree Commission, P.O. Box 1255, Freehold, NJ 07728-1255. The telephone number is (908) 431-7903.

Local utility companies offer seminars for tree trimmers in avoiding electrical hazards.

National Arborists’ Association offers videos on safety and a manual titled “Tailgate Safety for Tree Care Professionals.” The address of the Association is The Meeting Place Mall, Route 101/P.O. Box 1094, Amherst, NH 03031-1094. The telephone number is (603) 673-3311.

NJ Department of Labor Consultative Service will provide free advice for business owners on methods of improving health and safety in the workplace and complying with OSHA standards. The telephone number is (609) 292-3922.


American National Standards Institute, Inc., ANSI Z133.1-1988 American National Standard for Tree Care Operations-Pruning, Trimming, Repairing, Maintaining, and Removing Trees, and Cutting Brush-Safety Requirements.

National Safety Council Data Sheet I-244-Rev. 84

NIOSH [1992]. NIOSH Alert:request for assistance in preventing electrocutions and falls during tree trimming. Cincinnati, OH: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, DHHS (NIOSH) Publication No.92-106.

The Committee for the Advancement of Arboriculture: Brochure of courses and seminars offered.


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Recommended Resources

It is essential that employers obtain accurate information on health, safety, and applicable OSHA standards. NJ FACE recommends the following sources of information which can help both employers and employees:

U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA)
Federal OSHA will provide information on safety and health standards on request. OSHA has several offices in New Jersey that cover the following counties:

Hunterdon, Middlesex, Somerset, Union, and Warren counties
Telephone: (732) 750-3270

Essex, Hudson, Morris, and Sussex counties
Telephone: (973) 263-1003

Bergen and Passaic counties
Telephone: (201) 288-1700

Atlantic, Burlington, Cape May, Camden, Cumberland, Gloucester, Mercer, Monmouth, Ocean, and Salem counties
Telephone: (856) 757-5181

Federal OSHA
Web site: icon

U.S. Department of Labor, Mine Safety & Health Administration (MSHA)

Federal MSHA regulates safety and health in metal and non-metal mines. The MSHA web site has a great deal of useful safety and health information including detailed reports on fatality investigations. New Jersey mines are under the jurisdiction of the Wyomissing, PA field office.

Telephone: (610) 372-2761
Web site: http://www.msha.govexternal icon

New Jersey Public Employees Occupational Safety and Health (PEOSH) Program

The PEOSH act covers all NJ state, county, and municipal employees. Two state departments administer the act; the NJ Department of Labor and Workforce Development (NJDLWD), which investigates safety hazards, and the NJ Department of Health and Senior Services (NJDHSS) which investigates health hazards. PEOSH has information that may benefit private employers.

NJDLWD, Office of Public Employees Safety
Telephone: (609) 633-3896
Web site: icon (Link updated 3/26/2013)

NJDHSS, Public Employees Occupational Safety & Health Program
Telephone: (609) 984-1863
Web site: icon

New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, Occupational Safety and Health On-Site Consultation Program

This program provides free advice to private businesses on improving safety and health in the workplace and complying with OSHA standards.

New Jersey State Safety Council

The NJ State Safety Council provides a variety of courses on work-related safety. There is a charge for the seminars.

Telephone: (908) 272-7712.
Web site: http://www.njsafety.orgexternal icon

Internet Resources

Other useful internet sites for occupational safety and health information: – The CDC/NIOSH Web site icon – USDOL Employment Laws Assistance for Workers and Small Businesses. icon – National Safety Council. (Link updated 11/17/2009) icon – NJDHSS FACE reports. – CDC/NIOSH FACE Web site


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New Jersey FACE Program

Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) Project

Staff members of the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services, Occupational Health Service, perform FACE investigations when there is a report of a targeted work-related fatal injury. The goal of FACE is to prevent fatal work injuries by studying the work environment, the worker, the task and tools the worker was using, the energy exchange resulting in the fatal injury, and the role of management in controlling how these factors interact. FACE gathers information from multiple sources that may include interviews of employers, workers, and other investigators; examination of the fatality site and related equipment; and reviewing OSHA, police, and medical examiner reports, employer safety procedures, and training plans. The FACE program does not determine fault or place blame on employers or individual workers. Findings are summarized in narrative investigation reports that include recommendations for preventing similar events. All names and other identifiers are removed from FACE reports and other data to protect the confidentiality of those who participate in the program.

NIOSH-funded state-based FACE Programs include: Alaska, California, Iowa, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Oregon, Washington, West Virginia, and Wisconsin.

This NJ FACE report is supported by Cooperative Agreement # 1 U60 OH0345-01 from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the CDC.

To contact New Jersey State FACE program personnel regarding State-based FACE reports, please use information listed on the Contact Sheet on the NIOSH FACE web site. Please contact In-house FACE program personnel regarding In-house FACE reports and to gain assistance when State-FACE program personnel cannot be reached.

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Page last reviewed: November 18, 2015