Are You a Professional Arborist? If so...

January-February 2008

IN MY TRAVELS, a common discussion with arborists involves their frustration of not being understood. They often mention that those in government, clients and suppliers (generally the public at large) do not really know what an arborist does. A usual comment is that people tend to assume an arborist is little more than a contractor with a chain saw. Apparently the arborist is viewed superficially without appreciation for the full depth of knowledge and skill that is required to be a true expert of the trade.

Admittedly, I was once very guilty of this shallow perception. In my ‘past life’ of selling the landscape association’s insurance plan, we allowed arborists to participate. Arborists were viewed similarly to a landscaper simply because both had trucks and equipment as well as performing their work on green material. My limited view changed dramatically after reading Dr. Julian Dunster’s book, Arboriculture & The Law in Canada. This book revealed many of the unique risks and nuances that affect arboriculture. Special attention to the many ‘arboriculture exclusive’ concerns suddenly became a key focus of mine.

Today what surprises me is that many arborists, often the same people who complain that society doesn’t understand what they do, similarly view themselves superficially when reviewing their business risks and insurance protection. Instead, an arborist should attempt to appreciate the actual depth of risk affecting their business. This depth goes much further than just considering issues such as vehicle accidents, equipment theft or the liability potential from injury or damage that might happen during felling work.

Within the past few issues of the Ontario Arborist, the emphasis of this column has been placed on errors and omissions risks that can affect the tree service business. It is satisfying to report that many in the trade are now better recognizing these issues. For those who have not yet taken the time, as the volume of your work slows down with the season, review your risk exposures and insurance coverage. Give careful thought and consideration to errors and omission matters.

As professional arborists, recognize yourself as an expert relied upon by the public. Be sure to note that you are relied on for both qualified advice and opinion in response to questions asked by clients as well as recommendations and warnings about hazards the client hasn’t inquired about. Consider legal responsibilities that are beyond the obvious. Ask your insurance advisor to carefully review the full scope of a tree service and to explain the limitations of commercial general liability insurance, especially the exclusion relating to professional expertise. Ask for a quotation to have errors and omissions coverage added to your insurance protection. Ensure that this covers the broad exposures of bodily injury, property damage and financial harm.

Although the risk of errors and omissions and the affecting legal principles are not new, much has evolved in recent years. Most significantly, societal (courts and clients) attitudes now have a higher expectation from those that are hired (paid or unpaid) to provide ‘qualified expertise.’ Matters that would have been swept aside twenty years ago might now involve serious litigation.

So, let’s return to the question: Are you a professional arborist? Is your answer, “Yes, I am an arborist possessing specialized knowledge, skills and experience,” then acknowledge that and be sure to review and consider the liability risks that could affect you. While the public might be ignorant of the full scope of arboriculture, arborists should protect themselves accordingly as being ‘professionals.’

— Scott McEachern, Program Executive, TREESURE provided by: Hugh Wood Canada Ltd.,

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