Mark Chisholm STIHL spokesperson and expert arborist
Being a professional arborist and a homeowner gives me some insight into what safety hazards are around the yard and what to do to reduce risk. The hard part is identifying what needs to be done, determining what you can do on your own and what you should not attempt to do yourself. If you follow some of my advice here, you‘ll help reduce the number of tree problems around your home while keeping out of harm’s way.
Plant and Prune Responsibly
The most common homeowner maintenance tasks are simple to tackle. Spring brings new growth to plants that surround your home, and if you’re like most of us, you planted or inherited trees that are close to the house. Having branches that are too close to your home and roofline is not ideal. Why, you ask? Moisture can build and cause mold and mildew to grow when shade is in abundance, and airflow is minimized.
The solution? Grab your hand tools and pole pruner and suit up in the necessary personal protective equipment (PPE) and get to work. What you should look to do is prune encroaching branches back to a safe distance each year so your pruning cuts remain smaller rather than letting the tree grow multiple seasons and then having to make a much larger cut. Your trees will thank you for your diligence.
Conduct a Health Screening
When the leaves start popping out, trees begin to reveal their health status. That’s the perfect time to walk around the yard and assess what is doing well and what is struggling to leaf out. Dead trees or tree sections are much better to tackle sooner rather than later, because as a tree dies its fiber becomes less flexible. This increases the difficulty in predicting its strength and level of risk. A side effect of this is that a tree becomes more expensive to have a professional remove it the longer you let it sit.
Learn When to Call in the Experts
Alternatively, there are some times that it truly is best to call in a pro. If you have not had extensive training to work at height, don’t. One rule we follow in the world of tree care is never work at height unless you are secured properly. Make sure you wear a fall arrest harness in an aerial lift or an approved work positioning harness for climbing. This rule I wholeheartedly support and follow.
The same holds true for working near electrical lines and conductors. The general rule is never work within 50 feet of a conductor unless you have been trained to work in proximity. Just to further reinforce this, I will let you know the cold hard truth is that one of the leading causes of tree worker fatalities is, in fact, electrical hazards. To work safely around them requires enrolling in an Electrical Hazard Awareness Program (EHAP), becoming First Aid and CPR Certified and then performing an aerial rescue under the supervision of a trainer. This is how serious of a risk electricity can be and how much respect it deserves.
I’m all for tackling work around the yard provided you follow the recommendations in the user guides that come with all power equipment. Those recommendations are there to help keep us safe and to help us use the equipment in a manner that will support a long lifespan for that equipment. It will also help you to figure out what protective equipment you should wear while using the equipment. It’s what we professionals do and you should too!