A landscape contractor was on a ladder trimming trees at a residential care home for the elderly when he lost his footing and fell six feet to the ground. The body of the man, who had been working alone at the time, was discovered the next morning after customers noticed his truck still parked nearby. Evidence at the scene suggested that he died from a neck injury as a result of the fall.
In another incident, a campus arborist was hospitalized with a concussion and other injuries after falling 20 feet through the skylight of a building while trying to remove a tree that had fallen against the structure. Authorities said that the arborist had been through fall protection training and was using the proper safety equipment. Because of the concussion, he could not remember the events leading up to the fall.
These two incidents are among the many fall-related injuries and deaths that occur within our industry each year. From 1992-2007, some 1,285 workers died while performing various tree care and maintenance tasks. And 441 of those deaths were the result of falls, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (April 24, 2009).
Statistics compiled by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) show that 176 workers in the landscape services industry died from falls to lower levels from 2003-2006. According to a NIOSH fact sheet entitled “Fatal Injuries Among Landscape Services Workers,” landscape services workers are more likely to die as a result of falls to a lower level (22% of the fatalities from 2003-2006) than U.S. workers overall (12% of the fatalities during that same period).
NOTE: This free fact sheet, NIOSH Publication No. 2008-144, can be downloaded in English from www.cdc.gov/niosh/docs/2008-144/pdfs/2008-144.pdf and in Spanish from www.cdc.gov/spanish/niosh/topics/jardineria.html.
NIOSH, which makes use of public data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, also notes that the rate of non-fatal injuries due to falls to a lower level is greater among landscape services workers (13.1 per 1,000 full-time employees from 2003-2006) than among U.S. workers overall (8.8 per 1,000 full-time employees). “Landscape services” workers perform such tasks as landscape and irrigation installation, lawn care, tree removal, general landscape maintenance and snow removal.
David Snodgrass, president of Dennis’ Seven Dees Landscaping in Portland, OR, says there are many hazards workers in our industry face that can result in falls. “Our jobsites are on uneven ground,” he points out. “Our crews are digging holes and coming across hoses, other obstacles and rough grade. If you’re operating in a wet climate, the soil may be slippery where you’re digging. If someone isn’t paying attention, there is the risk of getting hurt.”
Falls to lower levels can be even more hazardous than falls on the same level, Snodgrass notes. “We operate a lot of equipment that crews need to climb into. It’s often metal, and they may have muddy boots and are climbing onto wet, slippery surfaces. Just getting into a piece of equipment and climbing out can be dangerous.”
Other common ways falls occur within our industry include:
• Jumping on and off trucks or trailers
• Climbing up and down ladders and working from ladders
• Performing tree care work (climbing the trees or working from ladders or aerial lifts)
• Stringing holiday lights on tall trees, buildings or other high places
• Installing and maintaining green roofs
“The construction of green roofs is now becoming very mainstream in the landscape industry,” Snodgrass says. “It has really become a mainstay for new construction. So all of a sudden we’re working with cranes. We’re up there on the roof bringing in soil, putting in irrigation, and planting and maintaining the rooftop.”