High wire act

26 Aug 2022

Citycare Property’s Christchurch-based arborist team is currently undertaking a safety line clearance contract for local lines network distributor, Orion. The work includes maintaining clearances of 2.6m around and below the power lines and 3.6m above, to ensure trees are kept free of the lines, providing an uninterrupted supply of power.

Gavin Kelly, Citycare Property's Trees Supervisor, has made a career out of arboriculture

“We've got two trucks operating as part of the works – the smaller, 12.5-metre Altech EWP (elevated work platform) is doing all the trimming underneath the lines and the larger 18.5-metre over-centre is doing all the high stuff over the lines,” says Trees Supervisor, Gavin Kelly. “The goal is to set up and maintain the proper clearances to stop any sort of flickering of the lights due to brush or debris coming into contact with the lines.”

The team was pictured here clearing lines within the Highfield Substation zone, essentially working from Burnham Military Camp through to Kirwee – an area that takes in around 4-5000 households.

The Citycare Property Arborist Team clearing trees from power lines within the Highfield Substation zone as part of a contract for local network distributor Orion.

Always doing the job safely

Given that the team routinely works not only at height but also around power lines, safety is paramount and they have a three-pronged approach — training, technology and proper safety equipment.

Anyone on the team who is working at height or as a safety observer, has gone through the requisite training, with refresher courses ensuring their qualifications remain up-to-date. Each team member working at height has an appointed safety observer on the ground whose primary role is to communicate with the person in the bucket and to make sure they’re keeping their safe operating distances from the power lines.

In order to do this, the team uses headset comms technology, which allows them to keep in constant communication.

For the Orion contract, three crews were working concurrently. The headset technology provides for point-to-point contact between team members at all times, allowing conversations between all three crews at the same time, or each team can switch to an individual channel. They even have noise-cancelling capabilities to cut out the noise of the machinery.

The technology is also an invaluable training tool as it allows supervisors to talk team members through the exercises as they’re carrying them out. And also just in terms of basic communication, simple things like backing a truck, checking in with how team members are getting on, do they need a hand.

Because the team works around power lines, it is essential that they are kitted out with the correct, arc-rated PPE to ensure that if there ever was a flashover, they're not going to suffer serious burns or injuries. This covers their shirts, jackets and pants, which are also chainsaw proof, and they also wear chainsaw proof boots as well — all designed to guarantee that in a worst-case scenario, we achieve the best outcome.

The Citycare Property Arborist Team clearing trees from power lines within the Highfield Substation zone as part of a contract for local network distributor Orion.

Investing in our people

Currently, the team includes three apprentices who are going through the 12-month training programme, at the end of which, they will be up to a level three standard. This will allow them to work around power lines.

Gavin adds, “We train these guys from pretty much ‘green as grass’ and have them up in buckets working at height around power lines in what is a relatively short period of time. I think that in itself is quite an amazing achievement, and hopefully we can make it a career for these guys.”

One member of the team looking to make a career of it is Tatum Tipu, who joined the team four years ago as a temp and who now is an integral member of the team — as well as its only female member.

When I first started, I had just come back from being in Japan for six months and I didn't even know what an arborist was. But I really enjoyed the work, so when Gavin offered me a full-time job, I took it,” says Tatum.

“What I enjoy most about my job is being outside, as well as my crew, the banter and the laughs. I also enjoy just being able to just smash down the trees — not something a female would usually do, but I enjoy it.

“The biggest factor keeping me here at Citycare Property, is that I’ve got amazing supervisors and managers. Being in quite a male-dominated world, it’s great that they understand me as a female and also culturally, as well. I can go to them for anything and everything and they’re there to support me, no matter what it is — you don't get that in too many places, that support and help. That’s why I've stayed this long and will continue to stay with Citycare Property.”