Safe Work Australia releases updated WHS guidance for tree work

Monday, 24 April, 2023 – 12:45

Safe Work Australia recently released updated guidance for managing the risks of tree work including lopping, pruning, trimming, repairing, maintaining and removing trees and vegetation as well as ground operations such as wood chipping, stump grinding and root pruning.

The new guidance(link is external) updates the previous guide to managing risks of tree trimming and removal work, and the most significant changes relate to duties around managing the risk of falls when accessing trees and when to consider providing an additional backup safety line for single-rope access systems.

The guide provides practical guidance to assist duty holders, primarily PCBUs, to manage risks to health and safety associated with tree work.

Duty holders include arborists, tree surgeons, tree loppers, vegetation management workers, horticulturalists, gardeners, general tree workers, landscapers, builders, developers and others involved in the arboricultural or vegetation management industries, as well as those who climb trees for other purposes including scientific or environmental undertakings.

“The first thing you must consider is whether a risk can be completely removed from the workplace,” the guide said.

“When planting trees, select a species and a planting location that eliminates the need to later undertake tree work. For example, do not plant tall growing trees underneath overhead electric lines. To eliminate the risk of a fall, complete tasks on the ground.”

Substituting the hazard for something safer can also be an effective control measure.

“For example, using a handsaw or electric saw instead of a chainsaw to eliminate a noise hazard,” the guide said.

“To minimise the risk of a fall, provide a fall prevention device, such as an elevating work platform, to gain access to a tree rather than climbing the tree.”

Workers, including supervisors, should also complete relevant competency-based training before undertaking tree work.

Most tasks carried out in tree work are covered by national qualifications developed by the arboriculture industry.

“Practical tree work, including working at height in trees, is a dangerous process that should only be carried out by people assessed as competent against the relevant national qualification,” the guide said.

The level of supervision required will depend on the level of risk and the experience of the workers involved.

High levels of supervision are necessary where workers are expected to follow new procedures or carry out difficult and critical tasks.

“You should ensure supervisors of tree work have the necessary knowledge, skills, and experience to competently supervise the work. This includes competency in preparing work plans, inspecting and maintaining equipment, and monitoring and reviewing the effectiveness of control measures,” the guide said.

“There are a number of recognised qualifications available for anyone who wants to work in the arboriculture industry.”

The changes to the guide ensure consistency across Safe Work Australia’s guidance on managing the risk of falls, and the updated guide name reflects more commonly used industry terminology.