You may have the best tools in the world, and even if you’re using them carefully, you could end up inadvertently injuring yourself. Injuries can lead to down-time, which cuts into your paycheques. Learn about some of the common injuries that planters suffer, and how to minimize those risks.
If there’s one truth about tree planting, it is this. When the season ends, you are going to be in rough shape. You’ll have lost a significant amount of weight, you’ll have scratches and cuts all over, and you’ll be extremely sore and tired. It is also true that your body will be in great shape. You could probably go out and run a marathon in work boots and finish with a respectable time. However, planting does not exactly enhance your skills as a long-distance runner.
At the end of a season, you’ll probably want to crawl into bed to sleep for four days straight. Aside from general exhaustion, there are a lot of minor injuries that may be common throughout your season. At the start of a season, most planters are out of shape. Roughly 80% of them feel motivated to start some fitness plan in the pre-season. Some start with regular time on a treadmill, or follow the Fit To Plant program if they are keen. A lot of them do not follow through. When the season starts, they’ll regret that they are not in better shape. They will be in good company.
The best thing that you can do to minimize injuries is to spend some time on minor physical conditioning in the four to eight weeks before the season starts! As we wrote on this blog earlier, it does not have to be a huge investment of your time. Even an hour of brisk walking on a treadmill each day will make a huge difference in how you feel during the first week of the season! Add in some minor simple workouts for your arms and upper body, plus some healthy eating, and you’ll have a significant advantage over many of the other planters. Even if you follow a simple workout regime in the pre-season, it is* still possible to get injured once you start planting. But don’t let that stop you! Most of the injuries happen to the couch potatoes.
The biggest group of injuries that happen are RSI’s or Repetitive Stress Injuries. These are injuries like tendonitis or tenosynovitis. They happen when you are exercising part of your body for the first time in a while before your body is ready for it. Common problems are swelling of the forearm or wrists, and sometimes even in the fingers or the back of the hand. It is more likely that you’ll get these injuries if the affected areas are cold when you start your season. The only realistic way of mitigating these potential injuries is to ease back into planting.
Many companies will have short work days for the first week or so to let planters get back into shape slowly. It is common for crews to only work for five or six hours a day for the first three days. Then they start with eight-hour days for the next shift, then slowly ramp up to nine or ten hour days. Short shifts at the beginning of the season (three days on, one day off) also help minimize injuries. Companies may then move to four-day shifts after a few weeks, once the planters are in better physical condition.
Most of the people who get tendonitis are experienced tree planters. They are the ones who are money hungry after a long winter without work. They are the ones who mistakenly think that they can plant just as fast at the start of May as they did at the end of July the previous year. They are the ones who think, “I did not have problems with tendonitis last year, so I am not worried about it now.” They try to put in a few thousand trees on their first day back to work and damage themselves. It is important to ease back into planting at the start of a new season! Inexperienced planters do not usually have tendonitis problems. They are learning how to plant, so they are only planting a couple hundred trees each day at the start, which isn’t enough to aggravate a case of tendonitis.
Another common type of injury at the start of the season is sunburn. Planters who have been inside all winter forget how pale their skin has become. The hot sun on a clear day in late April can cause a sunburn just as easily as it can on a hot day in mid-July. If your skin is not already tan, you are more likely to burn. Wear some sunscreen at the start of the season until you are sure you are past the point of risking a burn. The areas that are especially important to cover with sunscreen are the back of the neck, the top of the ears, and the tip of the nose.
A related injury comes from heat stroke. By July, you may be planting long days on exposed blocks with temperatures over thirty degrees Celsius. It is possible to get a case of heat stroke at much lower temperatures. To avoid it, wear a hat with a broad brim that keeps the sun off the back of your neck. Wear sunscreen, and drink lots of water. If you ever start experiencing muscle cramps, you are probably low on salt. It is good to add some to your meals in camp, and drink some electrolytes when possible. To re-emphasize, drink lots of water. Do so even when you do not think you are thirsty!
Slips and falls are another major source of injuries throughout the season. Sprained ankles, puncture wounds, cuts, and abrasions are all common among planters. One key way to minimize risks of falls is to make sure you have proper footwear with ankle support. Make sure your footwear has a sturdy sole with sufficient traction.
Here are some more tips to avoid slips. Be careful when you are walking on rainy days, or on wet slash and logs. Don’t run around the block. Wear long pants and long sleeves to minimize cuts. Anytime you get cut or poked by a stick, make sure you clean it out well and dress it at the first opportunity to keep it clean. An astonishing number of planters fall victim to long-term infection from simple cuts that they do not keep clean. This mistake leads to weeks of antibiotics.
Accidents on the block are inevitable. However, around 80% or more of accidents can be prevented by following the advice mentioned above. Start slowly at the beginning of the season. Wear the proper protective clothing. Use a sunscreen. Don’t run around on the block. Drink lots of water. They all sound like simple pieces of advice, and they are. If you follow them, you’ll drastically reduce the number of minor injuries that you are forced to deal with.