10 Ways to Avoid the Worst Tree Crane Accidents

Cranes are indispensable on tree work sites. Their different shapes, sizes, and configurations suit different jobs. While they can make tree work safer and more efficient, a crane is only as safe as its operator. The dangers of operating a tree crane without some level of training are infinite.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, cranes contributed to 818 fatalities in workplaces between 1997 and 2006. While acknowledging these fatalities, crane manufacturers maintain that cranes don’t fall over unless they’re operated incorrectly. According to them, crane fatalities and accidents are due to operators, riggers, and site managers mistakes.

What is a Tree Crane?

A tree crane is a crane that you would use in tree removal or maintenance. Traditional tree removal methods are often labor intensive and time consuming. The use of cranes reduces both job time and environmental impact.

Standards for tree work with cranes vary by location, state, province, and municipalities. A great place to start learning about crane use in tree care is by visiting the National Commission for the Certification of Crane Operators (NCCCO).

Why are Tree Cranes Susceptible to Accidents?

OSHA inspectors assess an accident at an equipment rental and repair company and say they could have avoided the death of a worker. Their findings indicated that the employer failed to follow manufacturer requirements.

It’s sometimes said that if a crane falls over, it’s the operator’s fault since he operates it. But crane safety experts reveal that much of the time, the client is at fault. Even the most experienced operator can cut corners to appear “cooperative.”

The most common cause of accidents is typically human error. Tree crane accidents happen because of:

  • Poor management/supervision
  • Lack of basic care
  • Little care given to safety
  • Lack of work procedures
  • Lack of knowledge/training
  • Taking short cuts
  • Insufficient information on site and load conditions
  • Arrogance, complacency, or bullying
  • Time/money constraints
  • Poor crane maintenance
  • Health issues while operator is using crane
  • Little or no testing and examination

Examples of Tree Crane Accidents


A tree trimmer suffered a fractured leg and the crane operator was trapped for more than an hour when a crane overturned in 02/7/2013. This happened after an attempt to lift a large tree section that they had cut recently. According to the local fire chief, the workers misjudged the weight of the tree they were trying to lift.

Dedham, Massachusetts

On the morning of 06/06/2016, an industrial crane fell and narrowly missed a home. Luckily the owners of the home were not present during the incident. Unfortunately, both the shed and garage on the property were damaged.

Avoiding Tree Crane Accidents

Unfortunately, crane accidents happen. Changing how we manage them is a way to reduce fatalities. Cranes are becoming more advanced and although technology has made it easier to control them, the risks still exist. It’s possible to reduce the chances of fatalities at sites by reviewing and understanding common causes of tree crane accidents.

You can avoid tree crane accidents by:

  1. Full area inspection and deflection levels management. If possible use extra support if your field level hazard assessment deems you need it
  2. Rigging loads by the book and not taking shortcuts. A 10 degree angle load or more should need to be adjusted
  3. Lifting in your crane’s weight limits; all rigging weight included. Do not include extra weight for any reason
  4. Engaging in proper operating procedures like regular boom inspection, flags to set boundaries, spotters with two-way radios, and protective equipment
  5. Checking with utility companies to note the locations of all utility lines
  6. Communicating effectively as a team. This is especially important when the operator can’t see the load he’s lifting
  7. Staying focused. Some work related accidents are attributed to lack of focus on the job. Difficult lifts for example need more focus. If you treat them like an average lift, it could cost you.
  8. Pre-planning for a job and actually assigning tasks. If you have a large crew on a job, not having a plan is the last thing you want to do.
  9. Maintaining equipment and training operators. You should also supervise assembly and the breakdown of your tree crane.
  10. Conducting emergency drills. What would you do if an accident happened? An emergency drill will prepare you and increase your chance of survival should an accident occur. You should offer first aid, shut down machinery, etc. during these drills.

Need for Insurance

Sizing up your risks is the best way to prepare and insure your equipment. It’s the job of your underwriter to determine the risks involved, and how much of a premium your client should pay. Ascinsure is a certified agent that can help you evaluate your client’s risks and get them the right coverage.

Ascinsure underwriters have over 30 years of experience. They’ve received awards including Best Practice honoree for superior program underwriting capabilities and standards from the Target Market Program Administrators Association (TMPAA). Visit Ascinsure’s website today.

Legal Disclaimer regarding content: This document/communication/message and its content is to be used only for general reference purposes. It summarizes certain publicly available information about the subject, but it is not legal advice, and Ascinsure disclaims any representation or warranty that the materials contained herein are complete and/or accurate. Ascinsure is not a law firm or accounting firm, and does not provide legal or accounting advice; you should engage your own lawyer or accountant if you have questions about these materials. Ascinsure does not deem this information and any attached or linked documents as a complete and thorough listing or overview of the topic, and does not recommend it be primarily relied upon. It only highlights some common issues and resolutions.