Archive for September, 2013

Standard Operating Procedures or Guidelines

Thursday, September 26th, 2013

This presentation was given by Dwayne Neustaeter at both the Western Chapter and the ISA Annual Conferences, and he would be happy to visit other chapters to present his findings on Standard Operating Procedures in the future.  Printed by SCA Today – August, 2013 

Does your company have policies and procedures?

Do you have a checklist or document that simply and concisely shows how your organization meets industry standards or best practices?

Standard Operating procedures and guidelines provide a detailed and specific explanation or list of how your staff performs various work activities, especially ones where no industry standard exists, such as static single rope work positioning.

The difference between policy and procedures is that they are generic, the same is true for industry standards like ANSI or CSA, they are there to serve as a guide but do not provide detailed specifics in implementation. Standard operating procedures or guidelines are unique to a company or organization. Industry standards and governmental regulation are developed by committee and are therefore inherently generic. Standard operating procedures should be developed by the people who are doing the work; everyone who is part of the organization should be part of the development of SOP’s or SOG’s.

Many people ask for a copy of an SOP or SOG that is already developed; this is where the process could begin to break down. I am not saying that we need to re-invent the wheel, but as we all know many aspects of tree work have subtle variances and nuances; a company’s SOP’s and SOG’s are where these are to be noted or documented. A well-developed SOG or SOP well explain or identify the variations in technique and/or implementation that is unique to your organization. Make it your own!

Some of the history of SOP’s and SOG’s lies with the fire service, and I believe there some unique similarities between tree work and firefighting. The most obvious is the unique nature of fire: every fire has its own way of burning, no one structure fire is the same as any other, there are far too many variables that can come into play. In tree work, the tree is our fire: every tree is unique, no one tree is the same as any other. Another similarity between the fire service and the tree industry is geographic and local variation. In the fire service, building construction and type carries dramatically within a geographical location; the same holds true for trees. Even trees of the same species will have vastly different wood characteristics in different parts of the country or geographical region.

With nothing to work from, fire departments needed to develop some guidelines and procedures to help everyone learn from other’s experiences and provide some type of proof that they were operating in a safe and reputable fashion. Firefighting is a work environment that is very difficult to be assessed or understood by inspectors or investigators, the same is true for the tree care industry. When there is a fatality, the questions start to get asked and generally tree care companies are not prepared and do not have the documentation that can explain or show that they were working to meet safety and due diligence requirements. In these cases, it is simply not enough to provide certifications and credentialing. Ask anyone who has had to experience and live through the death of an employee.

In learning about and researching this topic, I found that there are some distinctions made between SOP’s and SOG’s. The following is an overview of both as I understand them.

Standard Operating Procedures:

1.   Document how your organization performs certain work activities, and your compliance with current industry standards or legislation,

2.   Have been developed by everyone involved in performing those activities,

3.   Address prioritized high risk work activities your company or organization performs; and are

4.   Specific and detailed and include industry standard references regarding specifications.

Standard Operating Guidelines are:

1.   Similar to operating procedures, but exist solely to provide guidance where no industry standard exists.

I know that the terms are often used interchangeably and not everyone bothers to make a distinction of one from the other. I also know that companies who want to be prepared for the day a ‘bad’ accident arrives are developing more refined work procedures like SOP’s or SOG’s. The evidence is in the fatality statistics we all hear about, and that alone should be enough to show that we need to do everything we can to ensure the safety of our workforce. It is incumbent on all of us involved in this business of arboriculture.

The following is an example of a SOG I have worked on; remember to make your SOG or SOP your own. The best way to develop your own is to have all workers involved play a key role in the development of your organization’s SOP’s or SOG’s.

Tree Climbing Standard Operating Guideline -2013

Static or Single Rope Tree Climbing Systems – SRT

I.      Tree climbers are workers who are competent in the establishment of tree climbing systems, from equipment selection to implementation.

II.      Tree climbers must have all necessary Personal Protective Equipment, including: hard hat, eye protection, and appropriate footwear.

III.      All climbing equipment must be Industry approved.

IV.      Each tree to be climbed is risk assessed and inspected for strength and stability, specifically the root system and tie in locations.

a.   Trees to be climbed are to be visually inspected and, when deemed necessary, further assessed by being sounded with a mallet and/or field pull tested, prior to selecting tie in location.

b.   Tie in locations must be visible from the ground prior to ascending. If tie in locations are not visible, a lower visible tie in location must be selected and or alternate ascent methods, such as spurs, utilized.

c.   Tie in locations must be a minimum diameter of 6 inches and climbing lines must be attached to these tie locations in such a way as to minimize drifting or sliding of the line away from the stem or along the branch.

d.   Tie in locations must be on branches that have strong, more open ‘U’ shaped attachments not narrow or tight ‘V’ shaped.


V.      An approved climbing line is installed onto a selected temporary anchor point location in the canopy of the tree and one end of the climbing line is anchored to the base of the tree being climbed.

VI.      The temporary anchor point is field tested by performing pull and load tests.

VII.      Approved connecting links, cordage and harnesses are selected and knots and hitches are tied, dressed and set to establish a static suspension climbing system.

a.   Approved cordage with termination knots or eye splices is used to tie a climbing hitch to the static line with approved connecting links.

b.   A dynamic climbing system (as described in DdRT) connects the climber to the climbing hitch and static line with approved connecting links and pulleys.

c.   An ascending device is attached to the lead of the static line below the climbing hitch d.   Climbing aids and tethers are attached to the ascending device

VIII.      The climber ascends in the static suspension climbing system and then repositions to a dynamic working system to conduct work activities.

a.    The repositioning to a dynamic system can be done by establishing a new temporary anchor point or by spiking the static line just below the static climbing hitch and working off of the dynamic system attaching the climber to the static line; however the static suspension system is primarily used for entry only into tall tree canopies.

IX.      All work is performed with the climber tied in at all times, and when operating saws the worker shall be double tied.

X.      Whenever feasible during ascent, the climber shall utilize a lanyard or secondary climbing system as a back-up.

XI.      In the event a climber has to establish another temporary anchor point it must also be inspected and assessed prior to use, and the temporary anchor and climbing system must be load tested prior to use.

XII.      Tree climbers climb smoothly and avoid unnecessary shock loading that can be generated by swings or falls, this is achieved by keeping all lines tensioned and slack free at all times and by employing the use of a work positioning lanyard whenever possible, especially when using saws.

XIII.      Tree climbers shall not climb above their temporary anchor points or climb horizontally or away from the temporary anchor point to where their climbing rope angle exceeds 45 degrees from the perpendicular axis of the temporary anchor point.

I trust this has expanded your knowledge and has helped you understand the differences between certifications, industry standards, legislation, operating procedures and guidelines. The most challenging and rewarding aspect of developing these type of documents is getting all workers participating and involved. Though this requires the investment of resources like time, the benefits of getting everyone talking about how they do things and with what kind of tools and equipment include not only the reduction of accidents and injury, but the process of development and implementation helps build morale, and improves workers’ knowledge and understanding of their position. Really, it is a win-win investment.

Dwayne Neustaeter is the current President-elect on the SCA Board, and is also the President of Arboriculture Canada, an organization focusing on meeting the training and education needs of arborists and those in related industries. Dwayne’s background and experience complement his current activities of instructing, program development, and qualification testing in the field. He instructs training programs and seminars on safety and a wide range of skills for arborists around the world.