Tree care workers have one of the nation’s most perilous jobs, and the danger could grow as climate change increases the risk to trees from major storms, diseases, insects, drought and fire, experts warn.

Better training and safety in tree care operations are essential, according to researchers from Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.

Every year, about 80 tree care workers die and at least 23,000 chainsaw-related injuries are treated in U.S. emergency rooms.

Many of those injuries stem from poor training and equipment, according to Rutgers experts who have studied risks to tree care workers since Hurricane Sandy in 2012. In the last month, the northeast and mid-Atlantic states have gone through four nor’easters resulting in further widespread tree damage from heavy snow.

“There is a popular misconception that tree removal is low-skill work, but nothing could be further from the truth,” researcher Michele Ochsner said in a university news release.

“Handling storm-downed trees without injury to people or property involves an array of technical skills and knowledge of how different species of trees respond in different seasons and weather conditions,” she explained. Ochsner formerly worked in Rutgers’ School of Management and Labor Relations.

She and her colleagues found that workers employed by tree care experts and licensed arborists were more likely to receive health and safety training and to use protective gear than those employed by other companies not part of the professional industry network.

The investigators also found low rates of training and use of personal protective gear among Spanish-speaking day laborers in the tree care industry.

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has no specific safety and health standards for tree care workers. Instead, employers must follow general standards outlined by a network of national, regional and state groups, according to study co-author Elizabeth Marshall. She is an environmental and occupational epidemiologist at Rutgers School of Public Health.

“Our interviews with tree care workers revealed a number of recommendations to plan ahead for major storms,” Marshall said.

“For example, companies and municipalities should ensure equipment is well-maintained, employees are properly trained in their native language and provided with personal protective equipment,” she said.

“Consumers should work with a licensed tree care professional to identify damaged or improperly planted trees and remove dead trees and limbs before the next big storm. Then, they will be ready when bad weather arrives and trees come down,” Marshall recommended.

The study was published recently in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

More information

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration has more on the tree care industry.