The Illusion of Safety: Safe vs. Safer vs. Safer-er

Muggs

Well-Known Member
#1
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. (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.
- TreeMuggs

Meow let's all get out there and just be safe. OK?

(sarcasm implied...)

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Wait. Let's start over. First of all, some definitions:


Safe

/sāf/

adjective

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.

/sāfər/

adjective

1. illusory and subjective concept with no endpoint; these terms are therefore to be defined as: undefined.


Safety Police

/'sāftē pəˈlēs/

noun

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".


Context

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.

Safe Enough

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.


Conclusion

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).

- TreeMuggs
 
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FreeFallin

Well-Known Member
#2
Great writing, it is an entertaining and thought provoking read.

So I am wondering if there is a baseline of things we can agree are "unsafe". Like using your neck as a lanyard attachment point. And then say - as climbers it is our responsibility to continually learn as many different "reasonably safe" ways to perform the job, and then in each situation balance speed and effectiveness while choosing the safest method we have learned so far.

I don't know just playing with ideas.
 

treehumper

Well-Known Member
#3
This is just so much rationalizing that good enough is fine. Your analogy, seatbelts, airbags, etc... all modern steps taken to make driving safer developed because what was didn't make things safe enough. Now, is that safe enough? Since people still die due to preventable causes then the answer is no. That's what has led to things like back up cameras, blindspot warning, ABS, autonomous driving.... Imagine if the airline industry thought this way?

The notion that I go to work to get shit done... uhhhhh... No, I go to work to earn a living... as in what I do after work. So, going to work is a means to an end not the end itself. If I can get this shit done in a way that better assures I go home to that life alive and whole then that is the way to go. As in all things, are we at the pinnacle of understanding and knowledge or, is what we know today good enough for all the tomorrows to come?

So despite your essay, the answer is no we are not safe enough. It's like doing your best. It's only your best today, tomorrow you can do better. What that means is a whole host of measures not just one narrowly focused on production. The funny thing is that when we add more dimensions to our work then we increase the value of that work and thus the earnings we can derive from it. The job then becomes matching that value to clients who share that value and will thus pay the price for it.

Without getting into the other dimensions, here's why our clients will pay for safer and safer-er: they don't value people dying or being severely injured on their property. Their lawyers and insurers will tell them the same thing.

Safety police are not so idealistic to think that we can make this job absolutely safe. Yes, living is inherently risky but we apply our learning, knowledge, experience, and foresight collectively to derive current baselines of safe enough. In our industry, we agree as to what is unsafe and create a set of rules, some as shalls others as shoulds, and that's the Z-133. It is a continually developing document, build on what has gone on before and what we can see coming. Those are a pretty good set of rules for our game today. It forms the basis of training for the workforce in the aspect of how to work in a way that reduces the risk of not getting shit done. Tomorrow is another day, with new parameters and new tools that we can apply to our jobs that make us more productive and safer.

Both are necessary because both go to our bottomline. While you may never experience an accident, just as many drivers, when it happens, the cost far outweighs the savings of not having adopted those safer-er practices. That's experience speaking, btw.

Yes, nobody cares more about my personal safety than me but, as you've noted, this is a team effort and as such creates an interdependence. I don't operate in a bubble of personal safety but in an ecosystem of safety for all who enter the work zone. As such, I can't be the only one, all must work to that level of safety. It is just as unproductive for one person to fall short of those expectations as it is for them to slack on the job.

Every industry is striving to create predictability whether it is in production or safety or markets. That's why we see investment in safety. It creates more predictability in all the costs associated with workplace injuries and fatalities.

Take the time to talk to Dr. John Ball and review the industry's performance year over year. He'll shed some light on the whole issue of safer and safer-er.
 

moss

Well-Known Member
#4
Risk management. Period. That's what we do if we want to survive. There are smart things to do to maintain a baseline of improved safety: wear a helmet, use a rope, don't fall out of a tree, use your saw smartly etc. But it comes down to understanding potential risk and managing it to an acceptable level for the worker and their team. If you understand the risks you are taking and think and act in a way that manages those risks. You could free climb naked and get it done. Safety rules are to create a minimum context to operate safely, they do not make anyone safe, they give a tree worker a chance to be safe. A tree worker has to understand and manage the constantly changing risk variables they are facing every day in order to have the opportunity to go home at the end of every day.
-AJ
 
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Muggs

Well-Known Member
#6
That TED talk actually inspired this. I watched it a couple of years ago. He actually made that talk up on the spot, he hadn't prepared for it. He tells the whole story about that in his interview on the Tim Ferriss podcast.

This little rant of mine was 10 years in the making. I'm not rationalizing anything. Treehumper, maybe your clients pay you 'so you can get a paycheck', but mine do not. They pay me to do tree work, thus, the reason that I come to work each day, is to do tree work. No work, no paycheck. I can't sit in my truck in a client's laneway and 'be safe' and expect them to still pay me. Not sure where the confusion sets in there.

It is my contention that the very existence of the safety police online deters most (most!) people in this trade from sharing and participating in forums like this. I have thought that for a long time.
 
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Pelorus

Well-Known Member
#7
"Safety" or "working safely" takes on a different perspective (different animal altogether) depending on whether you are working with others of similar competency, vs managing employees.
Being self-employed, I'm willing to expose my physical body to risks that would be unacceptable to ask somebody else to do. Am example would be climbing and piecing down sketchy or dead trees. I know and accept the consequences of rolling the dice. Photo below of dead white pine inaccessible to crane / aerial lift
IMG_1060.JPG
 

flyingsquirrel25

Well-Known Member
#8
That TED talk actually inspired this. I watched it a couple of years ago. He actually made that talk up on the spot, he hadn't prepared for it. He tells the whole story about that in his interview on the Tim Ferriss podcast.

This little rant of mine was 10 years in the making. I'm not rationalizing anything. Treehumper, maybe your clients pay you 'so you can get a paycheck', but mine do not. They pay me to do tree work, thus, the reason that I come to work each day, is to do tree work. No work, no paycheck. I can't sit in my truck in a client's laneway and 'be safe' and expect them to still pay me. Not sure where the confusion sets in there.

It is my contention that the very existence of the safety police online deters most (most!) people in this trade from sharing and participating in forums like this. I have thought that for a long time.
I would contend that the “safety police” in many instances are pointing out the set rules that are in place, that “base line” you were talking about originally. Rob is right that base line is out ANSI Z. Hard hats, chaps, one handing and the like, all rules laid out to protect our industry. As an owner operator I can “choose” to follow them, and as an employee the employer is required to train you to that standard. Safety comes down to the end user though.
It is also important to note the role our inter web has on our interactions with each other. Before, those knuckle dragging guys that have zero people skills, and in actuality have a hard time existing in society without copious amounts of xyz, now have a voice to be heard world wide. Maybe great tree guys, but certainly not the best vocabulary and for sure not knowing how to use words to influence people. Guys that know enough about safety, but not enough about people.
We do need “safety Police” in this world, otherwise there would be no one to help these self taught guys get up to speed, safely. It’s the delivery of constructive criticism, and the receipt and reasonable acknowledgment of that information that will advance our industry.
 

moss

Well-Known Member
#9
Mike Rowe (Deadliest Jobs) has a couple of thoughts (and a good TED talk) on the subject.

https://www.google.ca/amp/s/amp.cnn.com/cnn/2014/10/29/opinion/mike-rowe-workplace-safety/index.html
"When we start to believe that someone else is more concerned about our own safety than we are, we become complacent, and then, we get careless", Quote from Mike Rowe. I have no idea what he is talking about. Every tree worker knows they are the primary caretaker of their own safety. Mike can get off the rails at times. He's hinting at "nanny state" political ideas, nothing to do with a tree worker's actual practice of managing risk in the workplace. If this is a discussion about OSHA and regulatory overreach, that's something else, now so politicized it's barely worth getting into.
-AJ
 

moss

Well-Known Member
#10
And my last critique of Mike Rowe's ideas about safety... another Mike quote:

"Making money is more important than safety -- always -- and it's very dangerous in my opinion to ignore that."

Complete false equivalency, total bait. Making money is making money. Managing risk and working in a way so as to minimize the opportunity for injury or death is a completely separate concept at the workplace. Anyone who says "I will now do something that is so risky that I really don't know what the outcome is, because I need to make money right now", is a total idiot, and will likely suffer serious injury or death in the span of their career. Reality is 99% of professional tree workers are not idiots and don't think that way.

I think it's clear that the majority of tree work accidents occur when people are unaware of the risk, ie: ignorance. If you don't know what the risks are you can't make a plan of action with the expectation of a good outcome. The classic examples all over Youtube are "Man falls while cutting tree limb with a ladder leaning against it", "Man working in a tree electrocuted when he contacts power lines", on and on. That's ignorance of risk.
-AJ
 
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Muggs

Well-Known Member
#12
I certainly don't agree with everything that Mike says either, but I do like that particular talk. Also, I could watch those ladder videos on Youtube all day long...

"It's not what you don't know that kills you, it's what you know for sure that ain't true" - Mark Twain
 

Pelorus

Well-Known Member
#13
Making money is making money. Managing risk and working in a way so as to minimize the opportunity for injury or death is a completely separate concept at the workplace.



Are they seperate concepts? They are totally related. Money is the end product; the justification, the outcome of work. The degree of risk of injury/death inherent in that work should be reflected in the amount of money earned.
Treework that involves greater risk is priced higher than pruning semi-dwarf apple trees in Bob's orchard.
 

DSMc

Well-Known Member
#14
......Treework that involves greater risk is priced higher than pruning semi-dwarf apple trees in Bob's orchard.
Not in my world. I charge exactly the same hourly rate, per man hour for anything I do. I charge for my knowledge and skill. Adding a surcharge for a perceived danger diminishes both.

It is how most other professionals work as well from brain surgeon to plumber. There are companies however that charge what they can "get away with" and justify that for various reasons, like drug companies. Not a fan of that mentality.
 

Pelorus

Well-Known Member
#15
Not in my world. Adding a surcharge for a perceived danger diminishes both.

In my world, the client who ignores a hazard tree (in some cases for literally years) is gonna pay more for my services because I'm going to be exposed to greater personal risk as well as the greater chance of a potential insurance claim for damage to that client's home / property.

Personal integrity and reputation living in a small town = me not gouging or overcharging customers.
 

deevo

Well-Known Member
#16
In my world, the client who ignores a hazard tree (in some cases for literally years) is gonna pay more for my services because I'm going to be exposed to greater personal risk as well as the greater chance of a potential insurance claim for damage to that client's home / property.
Personal integrity and reputation living in a small town = me not gouging or overcharging customers.
Couldn’t agree more ! Plus makes it a lot more UNSAFE for us to be working on
 

Pelorus

Well-Known Member
#18
Not a well thought out plan? Huh?
Does the military, Coast Guard, police, border security, firefighters, doctors without borders, etc. have any choice not to expose themselves to injury...(regardless) "if the money is good enough"?
Certain jobs carry inherent risk.
 

FreeFallin

Well-Known Member
#19
Military and several other jobs like on oil rigs, do provide workers with hazard pay as an incentive to take on positions with higher risk...

That's all, back to listening mode. This is a good conversation and potentially could make me safer-er...er.
 

treehumper

Well-Known Member
#20
Mike Rowe (Deadliest Jobs) has a couple of thoughts (and a good TED talk) on the subject.

https://www.google.ca/amp/s/amp.cnn.com/cnn/2014/10/29/opinion/mike-rowe-workplace-safety/index.html
For openers, its "Dirty Jobs", not Deadliest Jobs.
Its funny that we argue that it's a choice between money and safety yet, when they are linked and safety leads money the money does in fact follow. For all sorts of reasons that I can't list but I will put up a link to a presentation by Paul O'Neill, CEO of Alcoa. First an article from Business Insider about the impact of a safety first attitude and how it led to the Quintupling of net income and record profits. That's increasing net income 5 times. This was a failing worldwide company with shareholders to appease, 40.000+ employees and a truly dangerous workplace. Read the article. http://www.businessinsider.com/how-changing-one-habit-quintupled-alcoas-income-2014-4


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