Palm Tree Worker Suffocated by Palm Fronds – Another Death in California

Posted on by Robert Harrison, MD


Lucas palm hanger 008
Firefighters removing worker trapped in palm tree. Photo courtesy of the LA County Fire Department.

On August 13, 2015, another worker was suffocated by palm fronds in California (see news report). This is at least the fourth similar fatality since the California Fatality Assessment and Control Evaluation (FACE) program (CA/FACE) program issued a report and video on this hazard in February 2014. The drought in the Western U.S. may have intensified the problem as lack of water has led to palm trees heavy with fronds, creating the potential to crush workers who are trimming the trees from underneath the palm fronds.

When a tree trimmer cuts or pulls on dead fronds, adjacent fronds or an entire ring of fronds may collapse and encase the worker. The weight of the fronds causes pressure on the worker’s chest and can lead to suffocation. In the cases identified through CA/FACE, the workers climbed up the tree and trimmed the fronds from the bottom up, placing themselves directly beneath the fronds. Neither the workers nor the supervisors were certified tree workers. They did not follow proper safety procedures or use the correct equipment. The workers were pinned by thick layers of dead fronds and suffocated to death.

To prevent additional deaths:

  • Only workers certified by organizations such as the Tree Care Industry Association (TCIA) or the International Society of Arboriculture (ISA) should perform or supervise palm tree trimming.
  • Proper work procedures and correct equipment should be used. Fronds should be removed by workers using an aerial device and wearing fall protection. Alternatively, workers should use climbing procedures that place them above the fronds.
  • Homeowners should hire tree trimming companies that have a current tree service contractor’s license (California State Contractors Licensing Board D49). Under certain circumstances, homeowners may be liable for worker injuries or deaths that occur on their property if they hire unlicensed tree trimmers.

More information including a video in English and Spanish can be found at California FACE Program Action Page – Preventing Palm Tree Trimmer Fatalities.

We would appreciate your help in getting the word out about this hazard to those working in landscaping or tree-trimming businesses.

Robert Harrison, MD

Dr. Harrison is a Professor of Medicine at UC San Francisco and Chief of the Occupational Health Surveillance and Evaluation Program at the California Department of Public Health.

The California FACE program is funded by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and is one of nine funded FACE states. Investigations conducted through the FACE program allow the identification of factors that contribute to these fatal injuries. This information is used to develop comprehensive recommendations for preventing similar deaths. For more information see the NIOSH website.



Posted on by Robert Harrison, MD

29 comments on “Palm Tree Worker Suffocated by Palm Fronds – Another Death in California”

Comments listed below are posted by individuals not associated with CDC, unless otherwise stated. These comments do not represent the official views of CDC, and CDC does not guarantee that any information posted by individuals on this site is correct, and disclaims any liability for any loss or damage resulting from reliance on any such information. Read more about our comment policy ».

    I really hope it is useful. Tree service can be really dangerous and I hope we will learn from our mistakes.

    As such cases are happening government should take some action or apply some safety rules for tree trimmers so that they can escape safely from palm fronds. The [company name removed] are searching for the safe way to deal with such issues.

    There are a lot of casualities for this type of workers especially in constructions. There are regulations about them. But death could not be avoided. It has been reduced though. But still have not reached zero yet monthly. So, if you think about not using any proper equipment for safety reasons, think again. The percentage of you being dead is quite high.

    Nice article about palm tree worker . I Really like this informative post . thanks for sharing with us . I agree with you.

    YEs it is very imformative article provide for all of us,but need to hire a professional to do Tree Trimming thanks for sharing with us.

    I simply wanted to thank you so much again. I am not sure the things that I might have gone through without the type of hints revealed by you regarding that situation.

    I have enjoyed reading the information about tree service. Really, entire discussion is more helpful and all the tips are more effective too. I am very glad to go through this kind of helpful article. Thanks for sharing a nice article.

    Hi Robert. This blog is very interesting and yes, When a tree trimmer cuts or pulls on dead fronds, adjacent fronds or an entire ring of fronds may collapse and encase the worker. Keep it up!

    I’ve done this kind of work my whole life (started when I was 12, im 31 now). Unless you have been trained and are experienced in the tree industry, DO NOT play with palms. Theres a reason why even professionals get the Willie’s when they have to trim a palm. For those climbers who are learning, do your research, ALWAYS WORK FROM THE TOP DOWN, check your tie and and give it a solid pull test with TWICE your body weight, and ALWAYS FROM THE TOP DOWN! not a single frong from the bottom. God bless and slay safe my brothers and sisters

    This kind of news really struck my heart. Sorry for the loss of our fellow tree service worker. As we do this work also, we this needs proper training and proper use of PPE.

    Thank you for this informative article about tree care. I hope there are a lot of arborist who could read this and be guided accordingly.

    The ISA doesn’t address this in the ISA study guide. That would be good because they do talk a lot about Palm trees in general.
    Next would be alerts on the internet placed where they can be seen by anyone for a short period from time to time.

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

All comments posted become a part of the public domain, and users are responsible for their comments. This is a moderated site and your comments will be reviewed before they are posted. Read more about our comment policy »

Page last reviewed: March 13, 2019
Page last updated: March 13, 2019