A Guide to First Aid for Arborists

While it’s always best to avoid the need for first aid by preventing accidents in the first place, working as an arborist comes with inherent risks. Each day that you climb trees and use dangerous equipment, you are essentially navigating a hazardous job site which could result in human injury or property damage.

Figures from the HSE show that 60 people died as a result of tree work activities between 2000 and 2013 and many more suffered life-changing injuries. The majority were associated with chainsaw operations. It might also surprise you to know that tree workers have a higher injury rate than construction workers.

Many, many times, accidents can be avoided by taking the proper precautions in terms of risk assessment, working practices and the appropriate PPE. That being said, it’s important that the appropriate first aid is on hand should the worst happen.


What Every Arborist Should Have In Their First Aid Kits

Work-related injuries in tree surgery and arboriculture can range from minor cuts and burns to something as severe as amputation. The revised British Standard for First Aid Kits, which was introduced in 2012, details the required content of first aid kits according to the size of your team and the hazard level of your working environment.

1. Trauma First Aid equipment

Trauma first aid is to address major and life-threatening injuries. In these cases, you need to be able to help your colleague stay alive until an ambulance reaches your site or until they are taken to a hospital.

The exact items and quantities of what you carry will depend on the size of your team and the potential risks you have identified, but typically you should include items such as

  • Military-grade field dressing to stem any bleeding and prevent wounds from getting infected
  • Items needed to handle trauma and severe blood loss, such as a trauma wound dressing and celox gauze.
  • safety whistle,
  • Rescue and folding knives
  • Trauma shears/scissors to cut away clothing if required
  • First aid book or leaflet

2. Personal First Aid Kit for chainsaw workers

With chainsaw-related accidents ranking as one of the top causes of workplace injuries, according to The Arboricultural Association (AA), any chainsaw user - whether working on the ground or in a tree - must always carry a personal first aid kit.

Essentially this must include a large wound dressing and a personal safety knife to allow the user to cut ropes free if needed in an emergency, and in addition, will usually include some or all of the following:

  • Bandages and dressings
  • Sterile eyewash pods
  • Plasters
  • Sterile wipes
  • Face shield
  • Disposable gloves
  • First aid leaflet

This kit is all packed inside a small pouch which is compact enough to be carried by the chainsaw user at all times and can be attached to a climbing harness if required.

It’s a legal requirement that an arborist’s first aid kit should always be readily available. Compared to trauma kits, first aid kits are for non-fatal injuries incurred during working hours.

3. General or Team First Aid Kit

In addition to the above, the team should have ready access to a supply of standard first aid equipment, which should also account for items that are specifically needed for tree work, such as:

  • Blood stoppers/compression bandages – Plasters and gauze pads are not going to be of much help with serious injuries so compression bandages are an important addition to any arborist’s first aid kit.
  • Folding cervical collars – For neck/cervical injuries, c-collars can help protect a victim’s c-spine until medical help arrives.
  • Basic first aid materials – The Red Cross has an extensive list of basic supplies every first aid kit should have, including compress dressings, adhesive bandages, antibiotics, antiseptic wipes, foil blankets, eye wash, breathing barrier, scissors, gloves, gauze pads, thermometers, and tweezers.
  • Personal items – On top of well-stocked first-aid kits, you should also have various emergency personal items, including phone numbers, flashlight/headlamp, a charged phone, sunscreen, insect repellent, and whistles. You should also download trusted first aid apps on your phone, like the Red Cross First Aid app, so you will have easy access to expert advice while in the field.
  • Tie strap – Also called cable ties, tie straps are used to let the employer or safety officer know that the first-aid kit has been used recently, prompting a re-stocking or re-checking of supplies.

Maintaining First Aid Kits

When an injury occurs, you need to be able to treat others quickly and efficiently without the additional panic brought by lack of medical supplies. It is a legal requirement in the UK, that a team working in a high-risk job site should have one large first aid kit per 25 employees. In addition to legal minimums, it’s obviously important that you carry out a detailed risk assessment and include specific first aid items to address the risks to which your team may be subject.

Train your team and make sure everyone is updated with first aid techniques and aerial rescues. Check your kits regularly for any expired or used items. Replace those immediately and verify that you have all the supplies needed.

Regardless of the risk assessments that took place in order to minimise risks, outdoor work is dangerous and accidents can and do happen. First aid kits are therefore a crucial last line of defence. However careful you are, having the right first aid kit for the work in hand can make the difference between life and death.