Riding The Hook

Matthew J. Stull, Crane and Crane Operations Expert

Tree services and cranes often overlap in day-to-day work. With the use of cranes becoming more common at tree sites, one question continues to arise and is in constant debate: Is it legal for a Qualified Arborist to be hoisted into a tree in order to access it? This recurring question arises with good reason since it is one of the greyest areas when using a crane to remove trees. 

First, let me explain what is being asked. The question is really asking if a trained, experienced tree cutter can directly tie to a crane hoist line and be lifted into a tree by the crane.

Both tree services and crane companies often quote different rules and different interpretations. That’s because prior to June 2021, OSHA did not have regulations regarding this type of work.  Instead, OSHA had exempted tree work in Subpart CC and had a patchwork of standards they used from the OSH ACT. 29 U.S.C.§654(a)(1) (General duty clause) and the OSH ACT sections 5(a)(1).

So back to our question:  Is it legal to hoist a qualified arborist with a crane into a tree to access it? From the crane operator’s point of view, the answer will most likely be and should be NO. They would be citing OSHA (1926.1431(a) Hoisting personnel), which basically prohibits hoisting personnel with a crane if there’s another, safer way such as aerial lifts, bucket trucks, or even ladders. An employer would have to demonstrate there is no safer way to perform the work in order to be hoisted by a crane and, even then, they still would have to be in a certified personnel platform (Man basket).

Tree services will almost always say YES, it is allowed and will reference ANZI Z133.1-2006 in favor of their argument. ANZI Z133.1-2006 states, 

“a qualified arborist may be hoisted into position utilizing a crane if the arborist is tied in with an arborist saddle and secured to a designated anchor point on the boom or line. The following procedures shall be followed when an arborist is to be lifted by a crane…” 

This goes on to 12 subsections that describe the necessary equipment and proper procedures that must be used. 

However, On June 24, 2021, OSHA canceled their August 21, 2008 instruction CPL 02-01-045, The Tree Care Directive, and provided new enforcement guidance for their Compliance safety and Health Officers (CSHO’s). Among these new requirements is OSHA 29 CFR § 1910.180(h)(3)(v). This requirement prohibits hoisting an individual on the crane load or hook. This requirement applies even though the standards for Arboricultural Operations ANSI Z 133-2017, §5.7.11 allows the hoisting of personnel into a tree. It is important to note that an employer’s reliance on ANSI standards alone is not a defense for violating OSHA.  An employer may claim that it is impossible, or not feasible, or simply presents a greater hazard to the employee if they were to comply with OSHA’s new standard. The burden of proof rest with the employer. It would be a lengthy process to prove and if alternative measures for accessing the tree exist, it will be very difficult to validate doing this. 

Conclusion

The answer to the question is it legal for a qualified arborist to be hoisted into a tree in order to access it, is NO. In short, OSHA trumps all other regulations, including ANSI.  Furthermore, you can not use a crane to hoist an arborist, qualified or otherwise, into a tree. Simply stating the tree isn’t safe to climb is no longer a valid reason. Too often, many tree services used this unchecked excuse to speed up the job completion time, putting profit over safety. Rarely is there not enough room to accommodate another piece of equipment that will allow them access to the tree. It is dangerous to lift personnel by a crane, and doing so needs to be done as safely as possible. OSHA has made an attempt to eliminate this hazard, and while every scenario can’t be foreseen, their new directive is pretty straightforward.

 

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