Tree climbing

What you need to know

The Work at Height Regulations 2005 do not ban climbing work but for all tree work involving work at height employers have a duty to plan the work and select appropriate work equipment make it as safe as possible.

The Regulations say that climbing work with a personal fall protection system - ropes and harness - can only be done if:

  • A risk assessment has shown that the work can be done safely while using that system
  • The use of other, safer work equipment (eg mobile elevating work platforms) is not justified
  • The user and a sufficient number of available people have received training specific to the task, including rescue techniques.

What you need to do

The main climbing techniques in tree work are either:

  • Work positioning, eg changeover climbing using a harness, friction knot and climbing line); or
  • Rope access and positioning, eg footlocking or single rope technique (SRT).

In the tree, where possible, the system should be securely attached to two load-bearing anchor points. Each anchor point should be strong enough to support the climber, work equipment and any foreseeable loading.

Work positioning systems should only be used if there is a suitable backup system for preventing or arresting a fall. If the backup system includes a second line, the user must be connected to it. If it is not reasonably practicable to have a backup system, you need to make sure that the work positioning system doesn't fail – for example by:

  • Training
  • Using properly chosen equipment
  • Choosing reliable anchor points
  • Following industry and HSE guidance
  • Correct use of tools.

Rope access and positioning should only be used if there are at least two separately anchored lines - one the working line and the other a safety line. The user must be connected to both lines using a suitable harness. The working line should be equipped with a safe means of ascent and descent and have a self-locking design to prevent the user falling if they lose control. The safety line must be equipped with a mobile fall protection system connected to, and travelling with, the user of the system.

In rope access and positioning a single rope can be used if a risk assessment has shown that the use of a second line would entail higher risk, and appropriate measures have been taken to ensure safety.

HSE has worked with the industry to clarify what is deemed reasonably practicable as to whether two climbing lines and anchors should be used resulting in the publication of the ICoP for Arboriculture Treework at height and associated Technical Guide 1 Technical Guide 1: Tree Climbing & Aerial Rescue.

  • When load bearing supplementary anchor points are used
  • How the work position should be organised to minimise the risk of the system failing

Find out more

For further information on aerial tree work see also the following pages

You can also find out about appropriate techniques for common tree work tasks in HSE's research documents:

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