In our South Florida service area, a typical landscape includes palm trees. And these seemingly innocuous trees can be deadly. Deaths among palm-tree trimmers result from things you might not suspect: suffocation, falling, crushing, and broken necks.
Fronds on palm trees can weigh well over a hundred pounds each. When they are cut from the bottom up, which places the trimmer directly under the fronds, the fronds don’t always fall to the ground. They often get lodged inside the tree and suddenly collapse all at once, pinning the trimmer against the tree with hundreds of pounds of pressure, much of which is directly on the trimmer’s head, forcing his neck to bend and pressing his chin against his chest. The horrible results are asphyxiation, a broken neck, or being crushed to death.
Another tricky thing about palm trees is that dead fronds are not attached to the tree itself even though they look like they are. They are actually attached to other fronds. When they are pulled or cut, the entire ring of fronds to which they are attached can come loose and plunge on top of the trimmer.
Heavy frond rings collapsing also endangers anything the rings fall on like cars, landscaping, other personal property, pedestrians, and pets.
Most injuries and deaths involve untrained homeowners and unlicensed tree trimmers attempting to prune palm trees, according to the Las Vegas Sun.
According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, two people in the Las Vegas area died in December of 2014 and in January of 2015 while they were trimming palm trees. Both were asphyxiated and crushed by collapsing frond rings.
Three palm-tree rescues had been performed in the Las Vegas area during the 18-month period between July of 2013 and January of 2015, according to the Las Vegas Sun.
In September of 2012, NBC News reported the death of 35-year-old Roberto Garcia, a tree trimmer in Los Angeles who was buried in palm fronds 30 feet above the ground. He was an experienced tree trimmer, but neither he nor any of the crew members working with him had a tree-trimming contractor’s license. Garcia used a ladder to climb the 50-foot palm tree and began pulling off dead fronds from underneath the frond ring. When the ring suddenly collapsed, it pinned him against the trunk and suffocated him before first responders could reach him. He was literally buried in the collapsed ring of fronds. (Sources: California Department of Public Health; nbcnews.com)
According to the CDC, another worker was killed in a similar accident in August of 2015 when he was suffocated by collapsing palm fronds in Ventura County, California, making it the fourth similar fatality in California since February of 2014.
The Los Angeles County Fire Department responds to about 6 palm-tree accidents every year, prompting the California Department of Public Health’s FACE program (Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation Program) to make a video about the proper way to trim palm trees and the risks associated with this trimming.
- Always have palm trees pruned by licensed professionals who have the right equipment, know proper safety procedures and practice them, and are licensed and certified in safe palm-tree pruning.
- Look for certification by accrediting organizations like TCIA (Tree Care Industry Association) and ISA (Society of Arboriculture).
- Make sure the company has an up-to-date license and insurance. Homeowners can be liable for injuries and deaths that happen on their property.
- Companies should use a bucket device, an aerial device with fall protection, or climbing practices that allow the trimmer to work above the fronds, all of which allow trimmers to avoid working underneath frond rings that may collapse.
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