Treeplanting lessons learned from experience

Treeplanter Kelly, courtesy of the
National Portrait Gallery.
Photo credit: oursonpolaire on Flickr

Treeplanting is gruelling work, so it’s no surprise that treeplanters are prone to injuries. According to WorkSafeBC, planters’ repetive-strain claims alone cost more than $870,000 and 8,621 lost days of work between 2003 and 2007.

I’ve heard many stories from planters who finished their season with aches, pains, and more serious injuries. One is Michael Lien, who today works in the film industry, but in the past planted trees every spring for a dozen years.

One year, Michael finished the season with a herniated disc in his lower spine. He said the initial injury happened on the second day of the season — on a cold day in April, in treacherous terrain, when he was loaded with heavy bags. He stepped between two unwieldy logs, lost his balance, and felt the trunk of his body twist as he fell.

“I didn’t feel the pain fully until almost October. It was a really heavy season, and then my body settled, and it was phenomenal because I couldn’t sit,” he said, describing an excruciating pain that ran through his butt cheek, down his leg.

At first Mike’s doctor thought the pain would go away on its own, but it didn’t. He couldn’t return to school at Simon Fraser University because sitting was too painful. The pain kept him from sleeping, and he asked his doctor to investigate further. A CT scan revealed a herniated disc in his lower back and he needed an emergency surgery to repair it before it ruptured.

Thankfully Mike recovered well, jogging again four months later, and planting again the next spring. He started that next season with strong core muscles, and his company’s first aid attendant reminded him and his colleagues via e-mail to do certain stretching and strengthening exercises pre-season.

“My injury was definitely because I was this guy who was generally in pretty good condition but on a really cold day on the second day of the season, I took this big fall,” he said. “If it was two weeks into the season or three weeks in, I probably wouldn’t have hurt myself.”

For more information on fitness programs for treeplanters, see Tree-Planter.com – the online community for Canadian treeplanters, and the article “Ground Rules” in WorkSafe Magazine, July/August 2009.

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