Trees, Sawdust and Safety

August 05, 2021 | Blog
company safety

An excerpt from the No Accident podcast series

A well-known philosopher once said, “If you need a bit of perspective, climb a tree.” Ok, so the philosopher was Winnie the Pooh, but it’s still a great line. And maybe it makes you think about the people who climb trees for a living. Arborists.

Did you know, arborists are one of only four professions in the US that require a certification test audited by an outside group? In case you’re wondering, the other three professions are doctors, attorneys and engineers.

Joe Tommasi is an arborist. And he’s also the Vice President of Safety at Davey Tree Expert Company, a tree services, grounds maintenance and environmental services company serving the residential, utility, commercial and government markets across the US and Canada. Joe started his career though, almost 50 years ago, climbing trees as a member of a utility line clearance crew in New York. As he described it, he has “sawdust in his blood.”

When you’re climbing 40, 50, 60 feet in the air or more with the bonus of doing that around high voltage utility wires, it’s no wonder that safety is integral to who Joe is, just as it is integral to everything about the industry he’s worked in his entire career.

From the office to the field, safety is an expectation that employees, managers, businesses and even clients expect when they do business with Davey. “There is an expectation that many of our clients — particularly our larger ones, but certainly individual homeowners — want nothing but a quality job executed well, and that there’s been no harm done to anyone in the course of that work,” Joe says on this episode of No Accident.

Do you think Safety has become a competitive advantage for Davey?

“I think it has. I think it’s integral to our industry today, particularly as, as contractors for other entities. People have become much more safety-conscious, security-conscious across the nation, across the world, as we live our lives today. It’s just become that much more of a focus.

I think if you’re not running a safe operation or are attempting to do it, and I don’t claim perfection, we are a continuous improvement process. We are seeking safety excellence, but I can’t claim we hit it every day in every way with every person, but it’s certainly something as a company that has helped us grow over time because people recognize we are taking it as a value and moving it forward into our daily work.”

What do you think is the biggest change over your career in how the safety role is viewed within a company?

“I think there was a mindset in many cases, that safety was the responsibility of the safety department. I think that was probably the case in most industries. I know it was within ours. And that actions just happen. It’s just natural. Things are going to occur. You can try to minimize it, but it was somewhat the nature of things, and that trying to control for it was the safety department’s responsibility or the safety person’s responsibility.

But over time, the people that were doing the work had a broadening of their thought process and understanding. I think we have to reach out more to try to share the support message with individuals and the ownership of the safety process with the operating people.

And the [operating people] had to be willing to take that responsibility on. To shoulder the safety program as integral to their supervisory and managerial responsibilities.”

Joe Tommasi is retiring after 40 years in Safety and so we asked if there was anything he would have done differently, looking back over this career.

That’s a tough question. I say to people, I wear a hardhat and not a halo. I’ve made my share of mistakes and I’ll make some more before the day is out. I don’t claim perfection just because I carry the position and the responsibilities.

I think when you’re doing this type of work, you can always second guess yourself. If you’re dealing in a safety sense, with a physical environment, you’re going to have a significant event or events over time. And the first time that you have to deal with something like that, I think it marks you. You start to question then and there, ‘if only I had done X, maybe that person, that given day wouldn’t have done Y and Z that resulted in that tragic event.’ I think it’s fair to look introspectively and question whether or not you gave it your all, but I think it’s a mistake to go down that road too far.

We don’t have any magic wand. There’s no safety dust out there. And I don’t have the hand of God to reach out and pluck somebody out of harm’s way when they’ve already made the decision or failed to make a decision that would protect them in a given setting.

To hear more about Joe Tommasi and the Davey Tree Expert Company’s approach to safety, check out the interview on the No Accident podcast.

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