A grounded view

Departments - L&L Insider

Ben Tresselt has a lot of ideas for his term as chairman of the Tree Care Industry Association. That includes saving lives.

February 14, 2013

Baltimore – Ben Tresselt is not blind to the amount of deaths in the tree care industry. The new president of the Tree Care Industry Association, and president of Arborist Enterprises in Lancaster Pa., is well aware that too many people, both inside and outside the industry, die from trying to trim a tree.

“It’sappalling to me how many people we kill,” Tresselt says. “I’ll work beyond my chairmanship and afterwards to help us become much better at this. There is no sense that we are killing people.”

Lawn & Landscape had a chance to catch up with Tresselt at the Tree Care Industry Association EXPO in November and discuss how to improve safety and why being too macho hurts a company’s bottom line.

L&L: What are some issues you want to address as new TCIA chairman?

Tresselt: Safety. Safety, safety, safety. I’m going to continue on safety. We are still at an appalling rate of people dying doing what we’re doing. It happens not nearly as frequently inside the association members, but outside the association it happens at an appalling rate. And with people getting into this line of work, adding services that they don’t completely understand how to do safely.

It’s the landscape company that says, “Oh, we’re going to start doing tree care,” and they buy a chipper. And the next thing you know you have what’s called the “chainsaw on a stick.” I applaud them for trying to do that, but they really, really get into it way over their head very quickly. We are pruning trees. We are removing trees. We are not dodging bullets. We are not dodging grenades. We are not jumping over landmines. And we are killing people four, five, six, seven times what police and firemen are doing.

We’re not running into burning buildings. We’re not doing any of that stuff. But we’re killing people in this industry at an alarming rate. Accidents will happen. But, there are tons of ways we can prevent them. And, the very, very easiest way to prevent anything is just don’t do it. Walk away from it. And, that’s a standing order with every one of our crews. If they are ever in a situation, whether it’s an individual or a crew, in a situation that they’re not comfortable and they think it’s unsafe, they can stop and walk away from it. We’re going to regroup. We’re going to reassess and do it a different way, or we’re not going to do it at all.

L&L: What else would you like to do?

Tresselt: Build more face presence out there. One thing that we’re doing with the association is regionality. We’re trying to get regional coordinators to help, because we’re a national organization; we don’t have chapters like the ISA does. So, we’re building some regional presence.

And, again, that’s just to help us reach those that don’t get to see us. Again, being a very East-Coast-centric organization, we’re not really touching as many people as we could maybe in the Southeast or in Texas.

L&L: How can you attract new members?

Tresselt: It’s really a challenge, because a lot of the companies that could benefit the most from us are very small and there’s still some mystique or misconception out there that this is just for big companies. Just for the Bartletts, Daveys and Asplundhs. It’s not. It’s actually totally the opposite.

Their presence is very important, because they bring a lot for those (smaller) companies. I mean, as I was growing my company I always looked to them to help me with things. And, they’re very gracious. And you talk to the area guys and the managers and you can go to Robert Bartlett now and talk to him about things. And, they’re very giving.

There are not a lot of things that they’re not going to tell you. They may have something proprietary, but as far as running a business and getting guys to work, everybody’s got to do it.

So, there’s no sense in pushing people down, because you’re only pushing yourself down. And, the more you don’t lift people up, the more they try to drag you down. It’s always better to say, “Here we are. We’re open. We’ll help you.”

The challenge is that tree care mentality in general is very, very macho. There’s some gusto, and rightly so. I mean you don’t get anybody to climb 90 feet and try to hang on a half-inch rope without having some kind of gusto.

L&L: And with that gusto the tree company owner thinks “I’m going to run my business the way I want to run my business.”

Tresselt: Exactly. That is one of the challenges that we see between, say, landscape and lawn, where we envision them, and I say “we,” as the tree care industry.

They share a lot of their information, a lot of business information, and are very much more open than we are as an industry. I think it is that mentality of, you know, bravado – ‘Don’t tell me what to do. I can do this, blah, blah, blah.’ That’s all well and good, but when you hit the ground you have to let that go. You have to let that go, because it’s a business like every other business.

Be macho in the tree, because you need to, because you want to have a good ego. You want to be confident and want to do a good job.

But, when you hit the ground, you’re just a business guy and let’s open up because there are not a lot of big humongous secrets out there in the business.