OSHA Tree Care Operations Regulation – What You Need to Know

Jessica CoferBlog

In 2006, the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA), a trade association comprised of 2,300 tree care firms and affiliated companies, petitioned OSHA to promulgate a standard/ regulation specific to tree care operations. OSHA’s rulemaking process consists of seven comprehensive steps and extensive research/ impact studies prior to a regulation being imposed on an industry.

There were significant events which occurred in 2020 that created momentum towards this rule making process. At this point it is not a matter of “if” a tree care operations regulation will exist, it is a matter of “when.”

Where We Are

First, let’s take a look at where we are as an industry. Currently, arboriculture/ tree care is tracked under the North American Industry Classification System (NAICS) code of 561730 Landscaping Services:

This industry comprises (1) establishments primarily engaged in providing landscape care and maintenance services and/or installing trees, shrubs, plants, lawns, or gardens and (2) establishments primarily engaged in providing these services along with the design of landscape plans and/or the construction (i.e., installation) of walkways, retaining walls, decks, fences, ponds, and similar structures.

Interesting to note the surrounding classifications according to the NAICS: Sector 56 of the NAICS  consists of Administrative and Support and Waste Management and Remediation  Services:.

5617 Services to Buildings and Dwellings:  This industry group comprises establishments primarily engaged in one of the following: (1) exterminating and pest control services; (2) janitorial services; (3) landscaping services; (4) carpet and upholstery cleaning services; or (5) other services to buildings and dwellings.

561720 Janitorial Services

561730 Landscaping Services (includes Tree Care / Arborists)

561740 Carpet and Upholstery Cleaning Services

What does this mean for the arboriculture industry?

“The NAICS coding was originally designed to harmonize industry so we could compare economic function trade between Canada and Mexico via the NAFTA Agreement,” says Ed Carpenter, NATS CEO. “But because we don’t have strong advocacy for the trade, we don’t have structured apprenticeships, and we have low barriers to entry into the trade.

The result?

OSHA’s Preliminary Initial Regulatory Flexibility Analysis (PIRFA) “has found that the tree care industry has a high rate of fatalities (estimated at 1 in 1,000 tree trimmers). This fatality rate is nearly 30 times higher than the national average for all workers (reported at 3.5 per 100,000). Accordingly, OSHA is considering a potential tree care operations rulemaking to address the hazards that can be associated with work in this industry.”

“According to research conducted by OSHA, arboriculture is currently the most dangerous occupation in the U.S. !!,” adds Ed.

“Here at NATS, we are working tirelessly to change that – to improve safety performance and bring training to people in a coherent and competent manner so that not only does compliance to OSHA regulations improve, but human performance improves as well.”

Back to TCIA’s petition to OSHA to regulate the arboriculture industry. The process has already moved through Stage 1 – Making the Decision: Conducting Preliminary Rulemaking Activities. Stage 1 typically takes 12 to 36 months to complete.

What is Happening

After Stage 1 comes Stage 2, which is where we are now as an industry. Stage 2 is Developing the Proposed Rule; the 14-step stage takes between 12 and 36 months to complete.

From its preliminary research, OSHA has determined that 350,000 employees employed at 53,000 companies will be impacted by this new Tree Care Operations regulation. According to Ed, this is the first time the industry has been assessed by OSHA to estimate just how many people are in the industry.

“That is a massive population that will be impacted by the regulation once it is introduced to the industry,” says Ed.

Part of Stage 2 is to conduct a review process, as required by the Small Business Regulatory Enforcement Fairness Act (SBREFA). In addition, it is in this stage that peer reviews of health effects analysis, preliminary risk assessment and preliminary economic analysis come into play. And this is where you can get involved.

Get Involved

One way that you can ensure the OSHA regulations proposed to effect the arboriculture industry are appropriate and effective so that we all stay safe is to get involved in the process. In Stage 2, you have the opportunity to share your voice about the work that you do, and how regulations may effect you, your business and the trade as a whole.

If you are part of a small business, contact OSHA directly to get involved in the process, and to review PIRFA resources. Or, you can contact NATS or TCIA for more information.

“It is going to take a Team of Teams to address the challenges ahead and improve the safety performance of the tree care /arboriculture industry as a whole. We are merely part of a combined effort,” says Ed. He also suggests helping out with your local International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) chapter and on safety committees. “Reach out and get involved,” he encourages.

Where We Are Going

After Stage 2 comes to an end, there are still another five stages to complete before the process is finished. That’s a minimum of 32 months to upwards of 78 months, or two and a half years to six and a half years before OSHA regulations are finalized and implemented. Though that seems far off, keep in mind that the work that is being done is focused and deliberate, and will impact our industry for decades to come.

Additional Resources

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