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Tree care workers face high risks and patchy safety regulations

On-the-job hazards come at tree care workers in Texas from all directions. They can get hurt or killed by falling from high places, getting struck by falling limbs, coming in contact with electrical utility wires or encountering problems with chainsaws or wood chippers. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration does not have regulations specifically for tree care workers. They work under rules developed for various occupations like loggers or construction workers. Although OSHA plans to create safety standards for tree workers, employers currently observe a patchwork of OSHA rules, state regulations and Arboricultural Operations--Safety Requirements.

Employers and employees can work together to promote workplace safety. Managers of a tree company could meet with workers to gather information about hazards and ideas for improving safety. Training should aim to inform workers about how to recognize power line dangers and use fall protection equipment correctly.

Employees should also make sure that their fall protection gear is in good condition and use it consistently. Furthermore, it's important to create a safety zone below each tree so that people do not wander into areas where limbs are falling. Everyone also needs to watch co-workers for signs of heat stress, which often sickens outdoor workers.

Even vigilant workers might experience an accident. A person hurt on the job could file a benefits claim for workers' compensation. Employers sometimes discourage this, however, because they want to avoid an increase in insurance premiums or questions about workplace safety. When a worker encounters barriers to benefits, an attorney could take action. The lawyer could prepare insurance paperwork, help the worker obtain a medical evaluation or challenge a denial from an insurance company.

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