Training... Or how to get fit to climb almost every day
Updated: Apr 21
Training for anyone is important - a proper training program, in any sport discipline, can make us fitter, stronger, faster and generally more effective.
Arboriculture is an interesting profession in that, for the most part, the training you receive is put immediately to the test, and the training often is utilized day-in day-out. This is quite different that, say, a fireman, who may (or may not) in their entire career storm a burning building. In fact, as industrial athletes, I feel our professions most resembles Mountain Guides- although, unlike them, we do not actually have an intensive, comprehensive, and required system of training. To put it bluntly, we have very highly trained guys, and we have Uncle Charlie with Pickup and Chainsaw, often bidding on the same jobs.
Nonetheless, as an arborist, each day we are working at height, running chainsaw in trees, felling trees or rigging out large heavy pieces, and generally utilising all of our skills to get trees (or tree parts) safely to the ground.
The fatality rates for arborists are sobering - every 1.5 days, in the United States and Canada, a person is killed doing tree work or logging. There is, however, something of a silver lining to this statistic - many of these are 'part-timers', or even exuberant homeowners. Nonetheless, even the most skilled and well-trained can make mistakes.
To this day, annually, I read Accidents in North American Mountaineering. It is a compilation and analysis of most critical sport, trad, ice and alpine accidents, and is an invaluable resources to climbers. Wouldn't it be great if we had such a formalized resource? Wouldn't it be wonderful if, like the ACMG (Association of Canadian Mountain Guides) or IMGA (International Mountain Guides Association) we had a formalized, structured and comprehensive training, licensing and insuring body for doing tree work.
While some organizations, like the excellent Tree Care Industry Association do keep records of accidents, it is, for the most part a murky affair. The Awakening Forum at treebuzz.com discusses arboriculture accidents, but most of the explanations for what went wrong are speculative, second hand and derived from lackadaisical reporting of local newspapers. Dead arborists, unfortunately, don't make national news. A frightening number of clients demonstrate the psychopathy that the would rather the 'cheapest price'- despite the obvious and higher likelihood that the cheap price could leave a fatality on their front lawn.
Training is critical. There are some organizations in North America that offer professional and specialized arboriculture and rope access training at a high level, and generally with a more practical and applicable angle then what is offered in post-secondary colleges. There is also the record keeping systems companies maintain, in-house training days, equipment safety inspection and maintenance, and various other steps and best-practices than a tree company can take in order to minimize the chances of injury, damage or worse on the jobs site.
At an individual level, what an arborist eats and drinks, whether they abstain from or indulge in alcohol or drugs (note: we have a zero-tolerance policy for ANY drugs, at any time), how well they sleep will all affect their performance and safety. How an arborist spends their off-time, and if they spend time completing structured training in useful disciplines like rock or ice climbing and other endurance sports can further improve their fitness, professional competence and resistence to fatigue and injury.
Mark Twight, a prominent American Alpine Climber in the late-eighties and nineties summed it up when he said that, fundamentally, training in alpinism serves the purpose of making you harder to kill.
I would extend that same training idea to the well-trained arborist.