No Hardhats for Tree Planters (#2)

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Scott Chisholm (March 1, 2004)

(Former Tree Planter and Company Owner. Now Safety Consultant and Auditor)

I have a real problem with planters having to wear hardhats.

In some regions, on some contracts, with some companies, treeplanters are required to wear hardhats. Usually, it’s a client imposed requirement. Sometimes planters have to wear hardhats when they are planting near trees or residual patches, while in other cases planters have to wear them anytime that they are planting.

I’ve heard the arguments for wearing hardhats. The primary reason is protection from falling timber – particularly if the wind happens to pick-up. There is a certain amount of logic to this that may not immediately be apparent. You see, after logging has occurred, the remaining trees in the cutblock and on the periphery are not accustomed to the winds that they will be exposed to. Technically speaking, they are not “wind firm.” Okay, so trees falling on your head is a hazard – albeit about as unlikely to happen as winning a 649 jackpot.

I have also heard that the hardhat will help protect planters from the sun. You know, wear a hat when you’re working in the sun.

Now, here’s what I have to say about hardhats

Hardhats are a bad idea for treeplanters because they cause, or are contributing factors to, a significant number of disruptive and potentially harmful incidents every year. I have found two key types of events that happen regularly when planters are required to wear hardhats:

Type 1 – Heat Induced Stress

Hardhats trap heat and prevent evaporation causing treeplanters to overheat when they wear them. This results in mild to severe heat stress which includes symptoms such as loss of energy (mild to extreme), headaches, vomiting and dizziness.

Type 2 – Falling because of hardhat

Hardhats are not designed for treeplanting. The strapping system combined with the high centre of gravity makes them very unstable when bending over to plant. All too often, the planter’s hardhat will fall off. No big deal, right? Actually, the incident and accident reports (discussed below) show that all kinds of people have fallen over trying to catch their hardhat as it falls. In these reports, planters have sustained injuries from minor first aid events, such as cuts and punctures, to a few cases where planters were injured to an extent that prevented them from planting for days, weeks, even the rest of the season.

Lesser Extent Injuries

Headaches from heat and over tightening the strapping system to prevent slippage.
Neck strain from supporting the weight of the hardhat while bending over and from being forced to assume an awkward neck position while bend over (pictured).
Heat rashes from “sweat bands” on strapping system.

Cost of Hardhats

Morale – Treeplanters know that hardhats don’t make sense, they are uncomfortable and they present a risk.

Production – Lost production through injuries, overheating and discomfort.

What makes me some kind of authority?

Aside from planting a bunch and running a company for 5 years, I’ve also conducted numerous third-party health and safety audits for a fist full of companies. During these audits, I have the unique privilege of pouring over years worth of incident and accident reports and interviewing hundreds of treeplanting company employees. When you add up my combined exposure, I’ve likely seen the planting of 250 million trees from a safety-guy perspective.

What should be done?

Well, I’m doing what I can to get the message out. I’m running this news article and sending it to every treeplanting company, mill representative and industry association I know of, or more correctly, have email addresses for. You, however, can also join the cause. Talk to your company. Talk to the mill representative. Help present the facts.

If worst comes to worst, and if you really feel like you are being put in an unsafe position, you do have the right to refuse unsafe work. In doing so, your company should generate a report to the client who imposed the rule. You’ll likely miss some planting, but you’ll be heard.

I’ll start a new thread in the Message Board (link bottom left navigation). Please let your experiences and observations be heard – be them for or against hardhats for treeplanters.

Picture notes: although this is a good hardhat picture, the planting technique is very awkward. Can you spot the problems?

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