Upwards of 40 line clearance tree trimmer safety stewards and safety committee members met for IBEW 1245’s annual “Keep the Clearance” Peer-to-Peer Safety Summit at the Sunrise Center in Vacaville on Tuesday, March 1, 2022.
Over the last six months, the number of safety stewards has more than doubled, thanks to outreach by safety committee members and IBEW 1245 line clearance tree trimmer business representatives. The members in attendance brought with them more than 528 years of line clearance experience from a cross section of employers, including Family Tree, Core Tree, Wright Tree, Mountain Enterprise, UTS, Trees Inc, Arbor Works, Nates Tree, Family, Loggers Unlimited, KDF, Wright Tree and TSU.
KTC Committee Co-Chairs JP Paredes, Steve Speak, and Javier Astorga opened the convening by leading the group in the pledge of allegiance, followed a minute of silence for our IBEW 1245 brothers who have lost their lives on the job.
Senior Assistant Business Manager Ralph Armstrong thanked the group for stepping up and assuming responsibility as safety stewards, underscoring their pivotal role in helping grow the safety steward program and strengthen our safety culture. He also shared the upcoming process for bargaining and the impact of SB 247 not only on higher wages, double time, and improved benefits, but also on the certification and training component that 1245 has been fighting for over decades.
IBEW 1245 Business Manager Bob Dean also joined the group, thanking each and every steward and committee member for their commitment and for standing up to advance safety.
“This peer safety program is the most important thing we do,” Dean said. He then invited questions and comments. Several stewards raised concerns about PG&E’s recent decision to revert from three-man tree crews to two-man crews, and Dean committed that he and Armstrong would address it with PG&E.
Business Rep Fred Aboud, 1245’s Peer-to-Peer Safety staff liaison, introduced guest speaker, Dr. John Ball, an arborist at South Dakota State University, who shared a powerful presentation entitled Arborist Safety by the Numbers.
According to Dr. Ball, across all industries in the United States, there are, on average, four work-related fatalities per 100,0000 workers per year. Among police and fire, that figure is 20 fatalities/100,000 per year. But among tree trimmers and pruners, it’s a staggering 60 fatalities/100,000 per year. Ball then delineated the top three causes of death in the tree trimming industry:
1) Falling from trees.
2) Being struck by a falling tree.
3) Contact with overhead power lines
Other causes of death included falls from a bucket, chipper incidents, traffic incidents, chain saws and hand saws. He completed his presentation with a critical message.
“Your most important mission any day is to show up to work tomorrow,” he said. “Arbor culture is a team sport.”
After a showing of IBEW 1245’s newest Safety Steward video, Steve Speak, a safety steward since 2014 and a safety committee member since 2018, shared his sentiments.
“First, we must take care of ourselves so we can go home to our families. KTC is a group promoting safe work practices and support to all of our members,” he told the group. “We don’t want to add any more names to the [In Memoriam section of that] video. Be your brothers’ keeper…It warms my heart to see this many tree trimmers together.”
“We do it not because a supervisor is standing behind you, but to get each other home at the end of the day. All of us lead by example,” Committee Co-Chair Javier Astorga added. “Character is doing the right thing when no one is looking. [We want to] get out there and talk with other union members and get them excited about safety, about taking care of each other.”
Safety Committee Members Steve Merchent and Willy Underhill talked about the role of Safety Stewards to document “close calls.”
“Close calls are unplanned events that could’ve resulted in an accident or incident, but didn’t,” said Merchant. “They are kept anonymous. Nobody gets in trouble. The way it works, we [committee members] call you once a month or more. You collect “close calls.” You have a form in your packet – you fill it out, date it, describe the incident, check off contributing factors on the back of the form. And share it with us. It’s all about communication.”
“The key is to report close calls so we can share them and minimize fatalities,” added JP Peredes, committee co-chair.
Safety Committee members Russell Gordon and Vance Myers reviewed the Duties and Responsibilities of a Safety Steward.
“It’s all about communication and building trust with our safety stewards,” said Myers. “The main thing is to look after each other, to slow down a bit, and to communicate with each other.”
Gordon added, “For us, it’s a choice to be here. Part of being a safety steward is to be a keeper and caretaker of each other. We’re taking responsibility to grow our safety culture.”
–Eileen Purcell, IBEW 1245 Senior Advisor