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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Arboricultural Association.

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Working to prevent accidents

Author:  Arboricultural Association
  06/03/2019
Last Updated:  06/03/2019

Simon Richmond, AA Senior Technical Officer

Many will remember the shocking news of the death of Alexander Kirkley early in 2016. Below Alex’s mother Janet describes how his family have been working to increase awareness and search for opportunities to improve safety for working arborists.

During the same period the Arboriculture and Forestry Advisory Group (AFAG) has also been exploring different options, including a research project to investigate the viability of chainsaw PPE for neck protection (concluding that the increase in heat stress, coupled with efficacy and other issues, would not bring a significant decrease in risk). At its most recent meeting in November, a new AFAG working group was established to work specifically on improving the competence of chainsaw operators undertaking ground-based and aerial tree work. One of the initiatives of this group is to explore the opportunities for insurance brokers serving the arb industry to collaborate and agree set standards for anyone carrying our tree work. There will be more information on this project in future issues of the ARB Magazine.

Janet Kirkley

As a family we decided that given the circumstances surrounding Alexander’s death we would work with the Arboricultural Association to try to reduce the number of avoidable accidents in that line of work.

The huge publicity after Alexander’s inquest took us by surprise but we very quickly realised that this could be used as a force for good. If people realised how dangerous the work was, surely it would concentrate their minds to think about what improvements could be made to make the job safer.

Alexander’s accident drew attention to what poor working methods looked like in the real world. Alexander himself was well trained, used the right protective clothing and equipment. He was an experienced climber who was very safety conscious.

Unfortunately the same could not be said for the contractor who was supervising the work. He was a one-man microbusiness who bought in arborists when the job required and paid them on a daily basis. This meant that the three men working that day did not really know each other and all of the basic written records were not kept. There was no information on Alexander’s health, medical status or personal details. The address of where the men were working was not recorded.

There is a simple way to stop this happening in future. If every arborist carried their personal and medical histories with them in a place that made them easy to find then the emergency services could give lifesaving care more effectively.

By putting several minds together we came up with the idea of attaching a pocket to the back of every climber’s helmet with that important information in it. The Arboricultural Association is hoping to make these pockets available at the ARB Show at Westonbirt in May 2019.

As well as this, AA CEO Stewart Wardrop and I met with Peter Aldous, my MP, in Portcullis House in Westminster at the beginning of December 2018. Peter’s constituency covers a rural farming area where the use of chainsaws is very common. He lives on a farm himself with an area of woodland where he uses a chainsaw. He is therefore very sympathetic to our aims.

As part of our discussion we thought it would be useful to talk to insurance companies about checking some documents before issuing insurance. This discussion is still in the early stages and may not bear fruit but it is definitely something worth considering.

In the future I would like to look at first aid kits and the things they contain. There is now a coagulant on the market which was developed by the Americans to use on the battlefield. The coagulant comes as a powder or can be bought as bandages. It lasts three years and can stop bleeding extremely quickly. If I was an arborist I would definitely make something like this part of the personal equipment that I carried around with me just in case the worst happened.


Article taken from The ARB Magazine Issue 184 Spring 2019. As a member you can view The ARB Magazine online, simply Log In and view the 'ARB Magazine' tab in your Account Area.