Jim’s story: a tragic tale

We can’t tell you that thousands of people are injured every year doing tree work, nor do we want to. What we can say is that injuries from tree work are catastrophic. They are disabling, maiming and utterly life-changing.

SafeWork investigated 10 incidents in 2015, which might not sound a lot, but consider that three of those incidents were fatal and you’ll start to understand how dangerous the tree work industry is.

Consider the case of Jim (not his real name, but his story is very real). In his 20s, and employed in the tree industry, Jim was asked by his employer to fell a dead tree in sections. Before he arrived on site, the work method had been determined, meaning he had no say in how he’d approach the job. Jim obediently got to work, cutting sections of a huge tree piece by piece. And then . . . the tree fell – and so did Jim. From more than a dozen metres in the air, Jim fell, with the tree.

His injuries have been nothing less than catastrophic. He was rendered mute, and can only communicate via an electronic tablet. He can walk – but only for 100 metres or so, with assistance. He can eat – but only food that is mashed with a fork. He had a lengthy stay – of some months in an intensive rehab facility, and now is back living with his parents.

None of this was his choice.

We think that Jim’s story, and all the others like it, is a pretty good reason for us to focus on the tree industry.

Tree work services are a multi-billion dollar industry in Australia and include services like maintenance, pruning, felling, thinning and tree removal.

Falling from heights is one of the major causes of injuries in the tree work industry. As Jim’s story demonstrates, working from height is very dangerous and is one of our target areas in our six-year work health and safety strategy.

‘By 2022 we want no one to be seriously injured or killed by falls from height,’ said Peter Dunphy, Executive Director of SafeWork NSW.

‘An ambitious goal, but an achievable one for industries like the tree work industry.’

Injury and death from tree work is avoidable.

It means people like Jim – once a fit, young man who travelled the world with ease – can continue to live their lives without injury, and without constant care.

If you are in the tree work industry, watch our video safety alert for tips on working safety with trees, use our tree work guide to help you operate safety and avoid injury and conduct a self-assessment of your workplace.

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