photo courtesy of Reddit – /r/WTF/
“You have your way, I have my way.
As for the right way, the correct way, the only way – it does not exist.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche
Good day friends, today I want to talk to you about climbing and production tree work. Sound good? Ok, let’s begin.
Today you are going to learn the master key, the grand secret of tree work. This will probably change your life. Pay attention now, we’re going to move fast. Here it is –
Safety, safety, safety, safety, safety, safety.
Safety, safety, safety. (Safety, safety).
And just so we’re clear… SAFETY!
I hope you learned as much from that as I did. This concludes the lesson, carry on with your day.
Climb safe, Work safe, Read safe.
Meow let’s all get out there and just be safe. OK?
Wait. Let’s start over. First of all, some definitions:
1. protected from or not exposed to danger or risk;
2. in other words, a utopian condition continually strived for, but impossible to attain, due to the nature of… reality.
Safer, Safer-er, Safest, etc.
1. illusory and subjective concept with no endpoint; these terms are therefore to be defined as: undefined.
1. a small but vocal minority of people in this trade, usually (but not exclusively) encountered online, who feel the need to validate their own superior knowledge by continually pointing out how things could have been done “safer” and “safer-er”. Unofficial Motto: “Nobody moves, nobody gets hurt”.
First of all, I work in the private sector. I run my own tree service. What little money I make from this enterprise helps to put food on the table. In other words, my production at work matters. I have to get stuff done to get paid. I can’t take 2 1/2 days to get a tree down. We don’t have guys with white hats standing around. I don’t work for a city, or a municipality, or “hydro”. If you do, mazel tov. I have more friends in the industry who have left the private sector than those who have stuck around. They leave for the better pay, the benefits, the pension, and all the other perks. I get why they leave. I don’t hold it against them, and I’m not envious of their position. Why do I stick around in the private sector? I stick around because I value freedom more than security. Being my own boss affords me a freedom that my friends elsewhere simply don’t have. I set my own schedule, I choose my own customers, I make my own way. I say all of that to give you some context for where I’m coming from.
I may take a lot of flack for this article from the Safety Police and others in the “industry”, but this is a subject that needs to be addressed. This is something that a whole lot of people think about, but it is politically incorrect to talk about. I care about safety as much as the next guy, but make no mistake, nobody cares more about your own personal safety than you do.
What is Safety?
I care deeply about safety. I want nothing more for myself or my employees than for all of us to be able to go home at the end of the day intact. But make no mistake, the reason that we all come to work each day is not to “be safe”. Sorry if you’ve been told otherwise. No, the reason that we all come to work each day is to get shit done.
I believe that safety in terms of a production arborist has a lot more to do with how you interact with others, rather than how you interact with yourself. Once you know the rules of the game, only you can define what is “safe” for yourself. If I’m on a ground crew and I get hit without warning by a big chunk of tree, what does it matter that the climber who sent it down was using 2 lanyards, both with a 540 wrap, and 2 climbing lines “for redundancy”?
There is a strong correlation between a climber who exhibits good personal safety and also works hard in a team setting to watch out for other’s safety. But correlation does not imply causation. Again, nobody cares more about your own personal safety than you do.
I want to introduce a concept that seems to have been lost on most institutional teachers and trainers, as well as the infamous “safety police” that lurks online. That is the concept of “safe enough”. We must make allowance for “safe enough” because things could ALWAYS be “safer” and “safer-er”.
If you are a trained and competent climber and you want to spur up a tree with just a lanyard and no climbing rope belay, then go ahead. I’m not going to put my Safety Police hat on and lecture you on how you could be “safer” or “safer-er”. The important thing here is to be “trained and competent”, and this means knowing the what-ifs, knowing what you are trying to avoid. You need to understand the rules and why they are there, before you can break them. As long as you know what a kickout is and how to avoid it by keeping your weight on the spurs and lanyard, then spurring with just a lanyard is “safe”. Old-timers used to actually refer to their lanyard as their “safety” – i.e. the lanyard is what makes spurring safe. Would you be “safer” with a secondary, backup lanyard? Probably. Would you be “safer-er” by setting a climbing rope from the ground and belaying as you ascend? Yes, you would be. But just because you choose not to, that does not make spurring with just a lanyard “unsafe”. Do you see the difference? The Safety Police would have you believe that if something is even a bit less than “safer-er” then it must be “unsafe”. This is a false dichotomy, because climbing trees is inherently unsafe.
At some point, there must exist a “safe enough”. We must make allowance for “safe enough” because at the end of the day, we do actually need to get up there and get the work done. If the one and only situation in which we can say that we are really, truly safe is when we stay at home and lie in bed, then we have a serious problem. Not only that, but couldn’t I argue that if you are “safe” at home in bed, you would be “safer” at home in bed with a helmet on? Wouldn’t you be “safer-er” if you moved your bed down into the basement in case of tornado? What about hurricanes and floods? Raging wild fires? Bed bugs?
Safety is an illusion. You can NEVER be perfectly, well and truly safe. We are climbing living organisms, natural systems that could fail at any time, while swinging around on little nylon ropes with running chainsaws for God’s sakes! This is not a safe thing to do!
Concept: Minimum Effective Dose (M.E.D.)
The Safety Police are always obsessed with “safer”, but what does that even mean? This is a game that has no endpoint. Water boils at 100°C (212°F) – that is the minimum effective dose for boiling water. At any given time, water is either boiled, or it isn’t. Bringing water up to 150°C does not make it “more boiled”. (Borrowed from “The 4-Hour Body” by Tim Ferriss.)
When you work on a crew, safety is everybody’s job. You need to work as a team: everybody looks out for everybody else. Does that make it a “safe” situation? No. Tree work is dangerous. Driving to work every morning is dangerous. But we still have to get to work. So, we apply the minimum effective dose of safety to our driving.
- seatbelts, brakes, airbags, not texting, paying attention, etc.
- would we be “safer” wearing helmets and full body harnesses like in Nascar? Yes, we would. Would we be “safer-er” if we never drove faster than 30 mph? Yes, we would. Could I keep going with this analogy? Yes, I could go on for quite some time. My point is, we have agreed on a certain base level of safety precautions, and at some point, we just have to put our faith in Providence, hop in the car, and get to work.
Please don’t take any of this the wrong way. I am certainly not condoning any behaviors that we can all agree are unsafe. I simply need you to understand that tree work is not about safety. It’s about work. Of course we strive for safety in the execution of our work, but the reason that we come to work is not to “be safe”. Learn the rules of the game. Learn how to get the work done in the best and safest way possible. Just don’t be delusional about why we do what we do. Going back to our driving analogy, we could argue on the interwebs about what is “safer-er” all day long, but arguing does not get us from point A to point B… driving does.
Climb high, Work smart, Read more. Oh, also, be safe (seriously).