Worker Protection

We envision a future where Georgia tree care companies train their workers adequately, provide proper insurance, and follow ANSI standards when carrying out the work.

One of the biggest goals of GFASTI is to enforce greater compliance with existing labor laws and tree care safety standards. In recognition of the danger, OSHA frequently targets the tree care industry for special training. Unfortunately, some segments of the industry are difficult to reach because of the informal structure of many of the companies. Some service providers appear with storms and disappear quickly, hiring and laying off workers as needed. Frequently the workers are paid “under the table” and lack employment records. They may pay diminished or no taxes and have no access to workers compensation benefits in the event of injuries. For companies that operate under the radar of government records, knowledge of safety requirements or training opportunities is often nonexistent.

Accidents abound in tree work. The typical fall victim was unsecured; the typical struck-by victim stayed in the drop zone; and the typical electrocution victim violated minimum approach distance and made contact through a conductive tool/object. Many of these accidents are preventable. All of these people deserve every protection possible to go home safe to their families. The stories below tell more that the numbers can tell.

The following stories illustrate the challenges facing tree workers in Georgia. In many of these cases licensing would have improved the outcome for the workers.

Improper Rigging Accident
On April 16, 2023 David Hernandez died from injuries sustained while tree climbing. He has working for an unknown person performing tree service in Mableton, GA and was struck in the head and torso when the tree top above him broke and landed on him. This occurred because David was using the tree top to support rigging for the tree that he was cutting. The owner of the house witnessed the tree top hit David, who was only 10’ off the ground at the time. The homeowner rushed out of the house to attempt to help David, and together with the crew was able to lower him to the ground. Though conscious, David was clearly non-responsive at this time. The homeowner urged the unknown person to bring David to the hospital, but this wasn’t done, and David never recovered full alertness. He died of internal bleeding and injuries several hours later in the truck. The unknown person was never identified as an employer and OSHA couldn’t relate the injury to a company in a trackable way.

  • If licensing laws were in effect, more operators would likely know how to identify and respond to first aid emergencies, including recognizing telltale signs such as non-responsiveness, and bring affected workers to receive medical attention. Persons would be dissuaded from doing tree work for hire without a license, and homeowners would likely understand that they should avoid unlicensed contractors.

Electrocution Accident
On May 13, 2024 Marvin Cifuentes was electrocuted by coming into contact with single-phase primary distribution line.  Marvin was a tree climber who utilized a steel-core safety (or “flipline”) as part of his work positioning gear, which is dangerous when working close to electrical hazards.   While working to remove and prune trees in Acworth, GA, he climbed into a tree to perform some pruning cuts and was in close proximity (likely within four feet) of an electrical conductor with a voltage of between 7,000 and 20,000 volts (the utility company declined to say the exact voltage).  Marvin removed several branches successfully and went to re-position his safety lanyard, which swung towards the power line and wrapped around it, instantly creating a pathway for the electricity to pass from the power line, through Marvin, and into the ground.  This electrical short likely killed Marvin within seconds, although the electricity continued to flow for nearly a half hour, until the utility company arrived to de-energize the line and emergency services could lower Marvin out of the tree.  Marvin had sustained serious burns post-mortem, and the prospect of his burning traumatized the crew and the many neighbors who witnessed this occurring.  During this process, the distraught crew attempted to climb close to Marvin and extinguish the flames that were engulfing him with a fire extinguisher, seemingly unaware that the continuous current flowing through him would continue to do him harm and could potentially affect any rescuers as well.

  • If licensing laws were in place, mandatory insurance for operators would likely assure a base-level of training for workers.  While it’s hard to guarantee a universal level of training, it’s unlikely that a worker with any formal training would have been unaware of the risk that power lines present to tree workers, or that workers onsite would attempt to enter an energized tree to perform a rescue.

Felling Notches Accident
On March 18, 2023 a tree crew working was working close to a homeowner’s property cleaning up storm-damaged trees for an HOA.   They were removing a very large Tulip Poplar and had removed everything except for the final section of the tree; which comprised the last 30 feet of standing wood.   The tree climber, Bernardo Cifuentes-Reyes, who had cut the upper portions, planned to cut the remainder of the tree to the ground.  After cutting the felling notch, he made the back-cut, but the tree didn’t go in the desired direction, heading instead towards an unintended second tree.  The climber remained close to the trunk as the tree went the wrong way, his escape route partly obstructed by a fence. Unfortunately, when the 30-foot trunk hit the other tree, it bounced back and fell off the stump, directly onto the climber.  The climber was pinned under the tree trunk and suffered grave injuries internally.  The crew panicked and used a chainsaw to cut the tree trunk off of Bernardo.  Their frantic cries caught the attention of the property owner adjacent to the HOA.  This neighbor ran over to find the climber, unconscious and now located just over the line on her property.  She began performing CPR while emergency medical services were contacted.  EMS had to access the worker through the property belonging to the woman performing CPR on the tree worker.  After a thorough evaluation, emergency medical services determined that the worker had died.  The tree climber was determined to be an independent contractor of the tree company hired by the HOA, and there was no way for the death to be attributed to an actual company beyond the “subcontractor entity” that was comprised by the deceased worker.

  • If licensing laws were in place, it would be more difficult for companies to use subcontractor agreements to employ people, meaning that each company would have a greater interest in providing training and incentives for safer behavior.  In this case it’s possible that the rules for felling notches or escape routes may have been followed if the company where the climber worked had a stronger interest in preventing accidents.

Limb Cutting Accident
On Saturday May 27, 2017, a local tree climber, working as a subcontractor, climbed into a large Red Oak in the backyard of a residence near Chamblee, Georgia. He set rigging lines and began to remove the tree limb by limb. A few of the smaller limbs were successfully removed, but when the climber positioned himself far out on a large branch that grew over the house he found himself in a tricky situation. The limb was curved such that when the limb was cut the rigging lines would pin him. Recognizing the risk, the climber asked for support from the ground crew. Owing to a mixture of inexperience and poor visibility, the ground crew installed the additional lines on the wrong place on the limb. When the limb was cut the ground crew was unable to pull the limb far enough to the side to keep the rigging lines from pinning the climber.

After being pinned by the rigging line the climber struggled for over a half-hour to regain consciousness. The ground crew, overcome with the gravity of the situation, was unable to react and lacked the training to recognize that the climber was in grave danger. They called 911, and after a lengthy process the emergency responders were able to safely lower the climber to the ground. He had, by this time, passed away from asphyxiation.

On this day a wife of 20 years became a widow and had to begin the adjustment of being a single mother to four boys. While the industry came together, helping with as much financial support as possible, things would never be the same.

ANSI regulations require that every crew consist of at least two people able to perform a rescue in the event of a stranded climber. But there is no enforcement of these rules in Georgia, and many companies openly disregard the need to adequately train their employees.

Electrical Danger
A private contractor promoted a bright new employee to crew leadership. Although hard-working and intelligent, he had minimal training and experience in the industry. One day in early March 2019 he was tasked with removing a tall skinny pine close to a power line. Not noticing the severity of the lean, the employee allowed the tree to fall into the power line, which caused the tree to begin smoking at the point where it touched the line. Lacking the experience to recognize the risk of electrocution, the employee walked over to attempt the pull the tree off the lines with a winch. New hires are required to receive training about the risks of electrocution. This employee’s training had been minimal and his advancement had been very fast, so he lacked the experience to recognize the hazard. As he reached for the tree, a more experienced employee stopped him, telling him that if he touched the tree the electricity in the power line would travel through his body and kill him. The employee pulled back a few inches from the tree, saving his life. Every year in Georgia tree workers die as a result of electrical hazards, many of them new to the business and lacking any training regarding the risks.