Focus on Safety


Travelling Safely is More Than a Minor Detail

The demanding physical work of tree planting presents a variety of hazards, from musculoskeletal injuries to insect stings, dehydration, and sudden encounters with wild animals – and we don't mean other tree planters.

But travelling to and from and even within the planting block is in some cases the most dangerous time of all for tree planters. The rough and often remote routes into the planting area, and the various methods used to get planters in and out, are the sources of many hazards, and planting crews may be the least alert during these times -- especially at the end of an exhausting day's work.

Quite often, the vehicles that are used to transport tree planters are designed for use on pavement, with suspension that's a lot less forgiving on rough, winding forest resource roads. Passenger vans are known for their lack of stability. As the load increases, so does the potential for rollover.

Most companies have strict written policies on safe driving and riding in company vehicles. It's the driver's responsibility to follow those policies. Many of the rules are elementary, but that doesn't mean they aren't important. The driver needs to verify that all of the seatbelts are serviceable before the passengers are seated. The driver is also responsible for ensuring that all cargo is secure. Tools, equipment and flammable liquids must not be stored in the passenger compartment of the vehicle.

Driver fatigue affects many aspects of driving, including general control of the vehicle and reaction time. A driver with passengers needs to be alert and well-rested before taking on driving responsibilities, and must remain focused while driving. Drivers should always keep right and slow down, especially at bends in the road.

Many tree planting companies use all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) to deliver seedlings, supplies and personnel to the planting ground. The company's safety policy should clearly state who may use these vehicles, the training required before they may use them, personal protective equipment required for riders and drivers, and safe operating procedures. No one should operate an ATV unless they have received proper training and are wearing all the required personal protective equipment.

In especially remote or rugged areas, aircraft are often essential for the transportation of personnel, seedlings, equipment and supplies. There is one overriding rule: The pilot of the aircraft is always in charge and responsible for safe operations. Appropriate and approved personal protective equipment must be provided and used. Before air operations begin, planting personnel must be trained to approach and depart from the aircraft, load and unload the aircraft, safely handle sling loads from helicopters, and know and follow emergency procedures.

In some situations, people, seedlings and supplies are transported to the planting ground by watercraft. Employers are responsible for ensuring the operating safety of watercraft, as well as appropriate training for operators and passengers. In some jurisdictions, operators may be required to pass an approved operator's course and be licensed to operate certain craft. All personnel must wear approved flotation devices when operating or travelling in watercraft.

And finally there's the oldest form of human transportation – foot travel. On good ground such as sand or cleared areas, the going may be easy, but most of the time, tree planters are expected to work among rocks, deadfalls, slash, mud and other challenging conditions. A combination of good physical conditioning, ongoing warm-up and stretching breaks and prudent, attentive work habits will go a long way to preventing slips, trips and falls. Because ankle support is crucial, boots should always be laced up, even at the campsite.

Planters can easily become disoriented and even lost when planting in areas with restricted visibility. Planters should carry a compass and a loud whistle in their pack. In especially dense terrain, the buddy system should be used so that planters can check on each other's whereabouts frequently during the day.


Workplace Safety North, an Ontario health and safety association, has created, a comprehensive online health and safety training program for tree planters. For more information or to order the program for your workers, visit or contact Workplace Safety North at 705-474-7233 ext. 267 or 288. Also visit
Focus on Safety