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Healthwise: is tree climbing a viable long-term career option?

Richard Tregoweth - Monday, April 08, 2013

Regular Treetools Blog readers will have noticed a total lapse in posts over the last month. That's because a total knee replacement took a lot more out of me than I first imagined.

No matter how rare you think your particular ailment might be you are bound to come across plenty of others with the same condition. Consequently, over the last few weeks I have heard a lot of stories about knee problems!

Three score years has taken its toll on my knee and that is to be expected. But what is really alarming is the number of young arborists I have spoken to, while recuperating, with serious knee issues and other osteo-muscular complaints.

'Staunch' attitude not good for your health

The numbers are such that one has to question the viability of tree climbing as a career option if by age 35 your knees, shoulders, elbows and hips are blown out.

The silly thing is: it does not need to be like that!

Most of the today's tree climbing equipment, systems and configurations were developed to reduce fatigue and long-term disability. The short-term efficiency gains make them a worthwhile investment if only for that reason.

And yet, many individual climbers and arb companies continue to resist modern equipment and techniques.

Perhaps you can understand the motivations of a young climber, proving his worth, by 'muscling' his way through a job. Being 'staunch' and 'manning-up' is part of the kiwi psych regardless the fact you'll be physically knackered at an early age.

And there are plenty of company owners, who went through this very 'system' themselves, who continue to put the health of workers in jeopardy by repeating the procedure, like some sort of military right-of-passage "I got through it, so can you!".

Is there a career path for 'older' climbers?

Attend any arb conference and you'll hear plenty of rhetoric about 'the arb profession' and the careers arboriculture offer young people, both male and female.

In certain aspects of the industry that might be true but at the sharp end, it appears the bodies of our climbers and the ground crews are taking a beating - everyday.

Over the years Treetools has come across a few 'older' aerial arborists ie 50+ years of age.

In many cases these 'gentlemen' climbers have already adopted newer, energy-saving techniques to extend their tree climbing life but in some instances we see genuine freaks of nature, guys genetically predisposed to the rigors of tree work.

The term 'career' suggests a full working life in your chosen industry - not a 10-year window of activity, on not-so-flash a wage, before completely rooting yourself.

Experience tells me, if you have indications of osteo-muscular problems at age 25 you'll definitely be in for some reconstruction later in life - and that is not something to be taken lightly.


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