by Graeme McMahon
For many years I have recognised the shortfall between training outcomes and operational requirements. To bridge that gap I’ve successfully introduced training and mentoring into my company. Despite qualifications paying lip service to an impressive range of variables there are limited ways for an employer to demonstrate that employees are ready for the rigours of tasking.
Prospective tree workers enter the industry via a number of pathways; they can be self taught, seek employment with a contractor or in our modern day attend a training course. Most become competent with methods they conduct regularly.
Unfortunately working successfully in small trees does not guarantee safe transfer to large trees or complex problems. The same can be said when working in pine forests. It doesn’t guarantee successful transfer to mixed species or alpine forests. Unless a person is exposed to regular work they won’t develop experience with it.
As tasking becomes more complex and the ability to conduct the work safely become skill dependent, it spreads the performance within the industry. One reason for this spread is that operators are making estimations of bias, weight, lengths and of the hidden integrity of tree structure. That ability is not the same for each person. Some may be incapable to make consistent safe decisions and their exposure needs to be limited. Production pressure further spreads the industry.
Experience aids a more consistent guess. If unsure, competent operators engage techniques that accommodate for that uncertainty. It is difficult to regulate those choices. Despite the best intention of comprehensive training packages they can only deliver entry level outcomes, essentially void of experience.
The development of Codes of Practice and guidance material has assisted in finding common ground within the industry. There appears general consensus within industry that there is a gap between the practical tree climbing qualifications and becoming operationally competent.
The Horticultural Training Package was devised. The package broadly included all aspects of tree work including methods rarely engaged in general arboriculture. The advanced climbing and removal qualifications now contained skills and techniques not usual on most worksites.
The lack of suitable venues and time has the effect of “watering down’ these training outcomes to utilizing contrived situations and discussions during training. Trainers are not required to be experienced in those functions but rather only hold that qualification.
The other issue is that only specialised sectors of industry approach the work requiring the high level skills and techniques. Thoroughly training all participants to the advanced range of variables is impractical. Risk exposure increases when a person applies techniques they rarely perform or never have performed despite the qualifications held.
Waiting for near misses (if they are reported) or accidents to trigger an audit or training is near sighted. Many feel threatened by the concept of auditing. If correctly introduced it becomes the process working with employees and contractors to correctly prepare for tasking. Participants can be deemed acceptable, require mentoring on the job or not acceptable for that tasking and require more core training.
This is best conducted on the site where that work is programmed for a contract. In this way work continues despite some inefficiency by the audit process. Contrived and simulated environments rarely yield sound outcomes. If the venues are not available such an audit is unrealistic as is training.
It ought to be accepted that some people are just not suited to complex tasking.
Training and mentoring
We are being engaged on a more regular basis to assist contractors and their crews enhance their skills. Many find they and their crews have limitations in forest types, scale of works, “comfort zones” or specific skills. I work with the climber in the tree and Angus works with ground staff. Together we conduct and coordinate the works as normally. Tree felling is conducted in the forests specific to proposed work.
This style of coaching is most beneficial to tree workers partially experienced in techniques and have reached stumbling blocks to continue extending their abilities. Elements like size of trees, comfort zones, introducing unfamiliar methods and ground crew limitations respond well to this assistance.
Such coaching is most effective in small blocks so participants have time to continue work alone and consolidate their learning. This also is cost effective for the contractor.
Heavy emphasis is put on chainsaw operation and tree felling during contact time as these core skills have avoided the attention they deserve.
We now are formalising this service to the industry.
The simple skill of tree felling becomes a pivotal element of safety when transferring that skill off the ground and more so alongside assets. If a climber struggles to perform the felling of trees on the ground the probability of performing well up a tree is greatly reduced.
An underlying theme through all the following units is the appropriate application of site safety.
- CONTROL OF WORKSITES,
- HAZARD CHECKLISTS,
- TOOLBOX MEETINGS,
- RECORDING OF NEAR MISSES AND INCIDENTS
- MIXED SPECIES (NO CLEAR LINE OF FALL)
- ALPINE SPECIES (CLEAR LINE OF FALL)
- ALPINE SPECIES (NO CLEAR LINE OF FALL)
- MATURE TREES (INCLUDING BOARDS AND TREE JACKS)
- FIRE KILLED AND BURNING TREES
- LONG TERM FIRE KILLED TREES
PLACING PULL LINES ON TREES TO BE FELLED, MACHINE ASSISTED TREE FELLING
SINGLE ROPE TEQUNIQUE
ADVANCED RIGGING (NOMINATED METHOD ONLY)
NATURAL CROTCH RIGGING
BRACING UNSTABLE TREES FOR CLIMBING
The method of assessment is conducted by observing the individual or crew. Attendees requiring too much basic information or correction to basic equipment use are recommended to return to be trained and assessed by the usual Registered Training Providers (RTO) as it is of limited value being coached in that material while conducting operational work.