Tree Work Safety

Small Farm and Gardening Safety and Health Series
Agriculture and Natural Resources
S. Dee Jepsen, Associate Professor and State Safety Leader, Agricultural Safety and Health, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering
Jeffery Suchy, Graduate Student and Lecturer, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering

Tree felling and trimming can present a number of risks including electrical hazards, falls, and being struck by branches and trunks. Felled branches can also cause damage to nearby trees or structures. Farmers and gardeners must be aware of these potential hazards. It is important for them to know their limitations in completing this work safely versus knowing when to hire a professional.

Overhead Power Lines

While trimming tree limbs, workers must always be aware of electrical power lines. They must always assume a power line is energized unless confirmed otherwise. Most high-voltage power lines are not insulated. Serious injury and possible electrocution can occur when contact with power lines is made. Indirect contact with noninsulated high-voltage power lines can also lead to shock and electrocution. It is possible for the current from these lines to “jump” between the power line and the worker or the worker’s equipment, even if contact is not made. Only experienced workers should trim trees near power lines. They should check with the local utility company before completing this work to discuss de-energizing, grounding or shielding the power lines. Utility companies will often complete this work free of charge or for a small fee. The cost is minimal compared to damaging the line or causing injury or death.

a non-insulated or high voltage power line and an insulated power line

Here are the procedures to follow to decrease the risk of injury: 
• Perform a hazard assessment of the work area around the tree.
• Always check for overhead power lines before felling trees or trimming limbs and branches.
• Check with the local utility company.
• Stay at least 10 feet away from power lines.
• Never use a metal ladder to trim tree limbs near power lines.

Felling and Pruning

Properly felling a tree involves cutting the tree in such a way that it falls in a desired direction and eliminates or minimizes damage to adjacent trees and structures. To fell a tree safely, the immediate and surrounding area around the tree must be considered:
• Perform a hazard assessment of the work area to determine the felling direction and the potential impact on the surrounding area. Note if the tree is leaning in any direction, as this will affect the direction it falls.
• Be aware of weather conditions, especially wind.
• Be aware of broken or hanging branches and if the tree is leaning against other trees, as branches may fall and leaning trees may spring back and cause injury. Branches and tops of dead trees may break off during felling.
• Know where others are located. Nonessential bystanders should remain well out of the felling area.
• Provide a safe retreat path for the logger to escape while the tree is falling.
• Use rope lines to help guide the tree in the desired direction.
• Make sure the tree has completely fallen and is not hung up on adjacent trees or is not held off the ground by limbs.
• Use eye, face, hand, foot and leg protection.
Pruning involves removing dead, damaged or undesirable branches and limbs. Hazards are similar to felling and may include the additional risk of being struck by falling objects:
• Have someone on the ground to act as a spotter, if possible.
• Always make sure that other workers and bystanders are not below, before trimming.
• Perform trimming from the ground whenever possible. If climbing the tree is necessary, use a professional arborist.
For additional information, reference these fact sheet numbers within the Small Farm and Gardening Safety and Health Series:
• Personal Protective Equipment (AEX-790.1–AEX790.7)
• Electrical Safety (AEX-790.20–AEX-790.22)
• Tool and Equipment Safety (AEX-790.29–AEX-790.40)


• Tree Trimming and Removal Safety Tips. Washington, DC: United States Department of Labor, OSHA, 2007.

Reviewer: Kent McGuire, CFAES Safety and Health Coordinator, Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering