By Michelle Werts
This week’s International Society of Arboriculture’s 2012 True Professional of Arboriculture is looking out for trees and the people around them. Rob Springer is one of the first tree worker evaluators (a tree-climbing specialist) in the Mid-Atlantic ISA Chapter and is a TCIA-certified tree safety professional.
Rob Springer’s love of trees began in the Boy Scouts. A forester who led many of Springer’s troop’s camping trips often impressed Springer with his ability to identify trees even after having dropped their leaves in the winter.
Springer has had the opportunity to work on historic properties with very old trees. One project involved an original ash tree planted by George Washington along the bowling green at his home in Mount Vernon.
“I personally have always enjoyed southern red oaks for their beautiful canopy, and they are a joy to climb. I remember climbing trees at six or seven years old, sometimes falling out and having the breath knocked out of me. And to think I’m at a point in my life where I am a safety and training coordinator for Bartlett Tree Experts.”
Springer is recognized as a leading safety expert on arboriculture in Virginia, speaking and conducting workshops on safety. When Virginia Occupational Safety and Health Administration (VOSHA) adopted a tree-trimming standard to address the number of fatalities and accidents among tree workers, he had the opportunity to work with VOSHA to help them better understand the industry’s equipment and safe work practices.
“It’s one of the most comprehensive standards in the country,” explains Springer. “In the past, if there was a fatality, the only recourse was a logging standard or construction standard, which doesn’t deal specifically with our work in arboriculture.
Springer is even known to incorporate the use of melons into his safety talks with arborists, something he says he borrowed from Don Blair, a respected ISA member and safety expert.
“I was trying to make the point that hard hats really work,” says Springer. “I used an axe handle and hit the cantaloupe. It went flying over everyone in the front row. Then, I placed a hard hat on the second cantaloupe and struck it hard with the axe handle, not even a bruise on the cantaloupe. That first talk was nearly 20 years ago, and even today, I have guys who come up and talk to me about that. It had an effect because at that time, some weren’t wearing hard hats or safety glasses. After that demonstration, they started using them.”
“Safety happens one day at a time and one hour at a time. There’s a lot of risk to what we do, so we have to manage that risk. That’s part of what makes this work challenging and interesting. We do something that a lot of people can’t do and aren’t willing to do.” –ISA and Rob Springer