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Chainsaw Wisdom
Arborist of the Future
Payback Time:  Mentoring the Next Generation

Over the years on tree crews, I’ve witnessed some situations on the job that I couldn’t keep to myself and I made the move to sound the alarm. In some cases, the feedback I gave lead to heated exchanges that created a tension that lasted for days, and in one case weeks. I can say with certainty that I have learned a thing or two of what not to do when it comes to getting a worker’s attention mid-task to communicate safety concerns. That said, such communication is vital in the environment we find ourselves doing work. It’s not a sexy topic that gets discussed at courses or conferences and many workplaces fail to provide training of any kind on how to communicate matters of safety up or down the workplace hierarchy. I’ve been the fortunate recipient of several such efforts from new and experienced workers that prevented time-consuming mistakes, and probable injury in a couple of cases. As crew leaders and supervisors, we must strive to be better at promoting feedback from new workers as well as processing and responding with appreciation for the feedback we have received.

How do you initiate dialogue to express your concern without drawing an angry response, a lengthy yelling match or worse?

  • Most importantly, stop the act (with a clearly audible “STOP” command, followed by the specific concern) if there is a clear and present risk to an individual or others’ safety or property. Too many workers have recognized the ingredients for an incident present prior to an incident occurring and chose to bite their tongues for fear of getting yelled at, or for the belief that the arborist at risk was aware of the dangerous conditions. The importance of preventing a serious injury by simply communicating a perceived danger should be discussed at your tailgate talks regularly.
  • If the act is relatively low-risk to workers now but poses a safety concern in the long term, avoid the point above and address your concern one on one in comfortable conditions shortly after the work is complete.
  • Remove emotion from your communication toolkit.
  • Provide defensible feedback. Defensible means a widely accepted source, typically a book of standards or guidelines. If you don’t know what or where those are, you are on shaky ground to deliver safety concerns regardless of your job title.
  • Every working day is for practicing the craft, and that includes building skills in effectively delivering and receiving safety-related feedback. As disappointing as it is that you can’t share this achievement on Instagram (#ratemysafetyfeedback?), your team will benefit from a changing culture in many ways. Positive workplaces attract positive people. Negative workplaces suck.
  • Consider outfitting your crew with hardhat-mounted communications to allow constant and detailed procedure discussion between workers. Your job productivity goes up, stress goes down, and the quality of information improves a great deal over the traditional shouting or hand signal methods.

 

- Gary Oaks

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