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Owen Tree passed a two-day surprise OSHA inspection cited only for an expired fire extinguisher

By Tamsin Venn

On Monday morning, June 24,Randy Owen, president of OwenTree Service in Attica, Michigan, was in for a surprise. A Michigan OSHA inspector walked in the door of the company and announced he was there for a safety inspection. After two days of investigation, the only citation issued was for an expired fire extinguisher, which Owen replaced by the next day.
“The first day, he went through our records and office and OSHA 300 forms, and then he checked on employee training, talked to some of the employees, saw one our mechanics - we have three fulltime mechanics. He wanted to see two tree crews. Nobody was local, so we gave him addresses, and he went and saw them and inspected their trucks. That took him about an hour on the crews. That was fine.
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“Next day, he wanted to talk to an applicator and see an applicator truck and a tree trimming crew with climbers, and that was about the end of it,” says Owen.
Owen credits passing his surprise inspection with flying colors to several factors. Those include TCIA Accreditation, use of CTSPs (Certified Treecare Safety Professionals), and the communication TCIA provides to help his 70-employee company be safer and more professional.
To Owen, safety at his company has always been important. He worked in the field, on utility line clearance, before starting Owen Tree Service.
“Coming out of that background, operationally I understood how the crews work and are efficient, and to me safety is an important thing. Are we perfect? No, but we try awfully hard, and we still have to be productive.”
One key operational tool is granting his crews a right of refusal to do a job they have been assigned.
“They can leave the site, they’re not questioned, they’re not intimidated, and we try to find out why they felt uncomfortable - if the job was hazardous, beyond their skill levels. I had a crew last week, they wanted off the job. We took them out and put in another crew. We don’t question the men on that. That’s unusual for a company to do,” says Owen.
Another key tool is the “near miss” Monday meeting, a safety discussion on what went wrong (or right) in the field the week before.
“The reality is you’re going to have the near misses in every job, but you don’t want to call them that. I can have my top guy make a mistake, and he’ll actually talk about it… that took three or four months to get the crew to do that, and that’s a major step. Now I think they share that among themselves. ‘Oh that’s a good one for Monday morning,’ they’ll say. I think they’re embarrassed about it, but at least they’re sharing it. Then people don’t make the same mistake twice.”
Another tool that helped make him “OSHA ready,” according to Owen, was a session, “Safety as a Profit Center,” he attended at TCI EXPO.
“I understood what they were saying. I took that to heart and we implemented the suggestions. Safety glasses, hearing protection - saves you in insurance. Our company makes safety gear readily available including poison ivy wipes on the counter,” he says. He also went through the TCIA Accreditation process. “We did all the things that were necessary, we just didn’t have it documented, so it wasn’t all that hard to get in order,” says Owen.
Also, participation with TCIA membership and in the association is critical. After one year in business, Owen became a member of TCIA. They were tree workers, but needed help with the business side of it, he explains.
“Other members will help you out, provided they’re not in direct competition. The sharing is very good with the membership,” he says.
“We just do everything we can, the right to refusal, to avoid getting the job done at all costs. We don’t have cowboys. Cowboys may be high-production workers, but they’re not team players; they’re prone to accidents and property damage and some of these people put up with it,” he says.
“It’s not one thing but a lot of different things that make safety work. We have to work on it constantly. I’m the first one to say that. I don’t think you can ever have perfection in that,” Owen adds.
“There are a number of things that led to his success with OSHA,” says Peter Gerstenberger, senior advisor for safety, compliance & standards at TCIA. “One is the process of Accreditation.”
Owen Tree was accredited by TCIA in 2004, becoming the first company in Michigan and the second in the nation to do so. Re-accreditation is required every three years, so OTS has reaccredited twice and is coming up on its third re-accreditation.
“The whole process culminating in the on-site audit and applying the safety standards by our industry and applicable OSHA standards and scrutinizing a company from that standpoint, would uncover any compliance weakness the company could have. The Accreditation process is the best thing he could have done to prepare himself for that,” says Gerstenberger.
“He has a couple of CTSPs, one primary one who oversees the safety in the company. Randy has a major vested interest in maintaining the quality of his people. He has delegated a lot of responsibility to his CTSP, so that person is qualified to address that kind of thing,” says Gerstenberger.
“Randy’s and his company’s willingness to network, to stay connected in the industry, to learn from mentoring, to learn from peers and colleagues, that helps to fine tune the business and make sure it is as safe and professional as it can be. Randy and his people are very plugged in, very participative in our industry. That goes above and beyond the Accreditation process,” he adds.
Gerstenberger explains OSHA’s relationship to the tree industry: The job of Michigan OSHA’s compliance, education and training division is to be a liaison to industries and to act in a consulting role, to help the business correct problems.
“Randy’s visit from OSHA was from enforcement. They’re on a witch hunt. The philosophy and mindset is that the employer is guilty until he proves himself innocent, so that it’s their job to find things wrong. To go through that thorough investigation and to come out with nothing more than expired fire extinguishers is pretty significant,” says Gerstenberger.
The TCIA Accreditation process is a program where the company follows a 63 - point checklist, according to Bob Rouse, TCIA’s chief program officer and staff liaison to the Accreditation Council. Currently about 165 TCIA members are accredited.
“There’s a lot of redundancy built into it, so a company that is accredited, when OSHA shows up, it would be expected that all those ducks are in a row that day, and OSHA will be looking for that documentation as well. We can’t cover every single thing that a company might come across, but we concentrate on the big things in arboriculture. The 63-point checklist is a blueprint for a model tree care company,” he says.
Robert Good, president of Good’s Tree Care Inc., Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, is a member of the TCIA Accreditation Council, a five-member board that meets twice a year to review the standards. We asked, does Accreditation make a company OSHA ready?
“Absolutely. Because the checklist is based on what you need to pass OSHA standards. You have to really pay attention to that checklist,” says Good. The Council makes changes according to new OSHA standards, such as recent new ones for crane use.
“One of the big safety standards is how we enter a tree with a crane. The importance of that is these regulations change, it’s an ongoing document. Accreditation really helps the smaller company keep up with the practices of the bigger companies.
“It’s a huge commitment. It really sets the companies apart that are accredited from those who are not,” he adds. Good’s company of 31 employees was accredited in 2005 after Good made a decision to be brought up to the same standards as his bigger competition.
“That was really important to me,” he says.
“It’s very unsettling to go through a surprise OSHA inspection. The fact that Owen had no violations is unheard of in t he industry,” Good says.
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This article is an excerpt from the August 2013 Issue of Tree Care Industry Magazine
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Owen Tree Service provides tree, lawn, and landscape services to the following cities and towns:
Genesee County, Michigan:
● Burton
● Davison
● Flushing
● Goodrich
● Linden
● Otisville
● Clio
● Fenton
● Gaines
● Grand Blanc
● Montrose
● Otter Lake
● Flint
● Genesee
● Lennon
● Mt Morris
● Swartz Creek
Lapeer County, Michigan:
● Almont
● Brown City
● Columbiaville
● Imlay City
● Metamora
● Peck
● Attica
● Clifford
● Dryden
● Lapeer
● North Branch
● Sandusky
● Hadley
● Mayville
● Otter Lake
● Silverwood
Macomb County, Michigan:
● Armada
● Clinton Twp
● Grosse Pointe
● Macomb
● New Haven
● St Clair Shores
● Centerline
● Detroit
● Grosse Pointe Farms
● Ray
● Sterling Heights
● Chesterfield
● Eastpointe
● Grosse Pointe Shores
● Memphis
● Romeo
● Utica
● Clinton
● Fraser
● Grosse Pointe Woods
● Mt Clemens
● Roseville
● Warren
● Harrison Twp
● New Baltimore
● Shelby Twp
● Washington
Oakland County, Michigan:
● Auburn Hills
● Bloomfield Village
● Ferndale
● Leonard
● Orion
● South Lyon
● Berkley
● Clarkston
● Franklin
● Madison Heights
● Ortonville
● Southfield
● Beverly Hills
● Clawson
● Hazel Park
● Milford
● Oxford
● Troy
● Bingham Farms
● Commerce Twp
● Highland
● Novi
● Pleasant Ridge
● Walled Lake
● Birmingham
● Davisburg
● Holly
● Oak Park
● Pontiac
● Waterford
● Bloomfield
● Detroit
● Huntington Woods
● Oakland
● Rochester
● West Bloomfield
● Bloomfield Hills
● Farmington
● Lake Orion
● Oakland Twp
● Rochester Hills
● White Lake
● Farmington Hills
● Lathrup Village
● Orchard Lake
● Royal Oak
● Wixom
St. Clair County, Michigan:
● Algonac
● Casco
● East China
● Harbor Beach
● Lexington
● Peck
● Allenton
● Clay
● Emmett
● Harsens Island
● Marine City
● Port Huron
● Berlin
● Clyde
● Fair Haven
● Jeddo
● Marysville
● Richmond
● Brockway
● Columbus
● Fort Gratiot
● Kimball
● Memphis
● Sandusky
● Capac
● Cottrellville
● Goodells
● Lakeport
● North Street
● St Clair
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