ARB APPROVED…. IS IT WORTH IT?
What are your thoughts on the Arb Association? Have you looked into it? Or have you been Arb Approved and left them or think that the idea of being an Arb Approved Contractor is pointless?
Personally, I always thought it was a little pretentious and ‘Ooooo look at me. I’m Arb Approved and have a big sticker on my van to prove it’. But I’m still driving a scruffy van, and the standard of my tree work is no better than any other tree surgeon near me. That was my opinion for about 20 years of my tree surgery career.
Like most tree surgeons and young arborists, starting out, I worked my socks off. I became a pretty decent climber through learning from my mistakes and near misses and scraped by with my limited knowledge of trees, pests and diseases.
In my experience, it takes a certain kind of personality to not only pursue a career in tree surgery but stick at it and make it work. It’s a physically demanding job and at times, can be mentally hard. If you end up expanding and employing people, then you’re in for a tough old career. We are trained arborists and not company directors, HR managers, H&S experts etc.
No offence intended, but us tree surgeons are generally hard workers and not normally the academic types. As for me, once the typewriter and fax machine were replaced with mobile phones and computers, the office became hell on earth and for the next 10 or so years, my chosen tree surgery career was not so enjoyable.
Also, around this fax and Motorola brick phone era, there was very little, if at all, any health and safety, and what the hell is a RAMS? Even the larger building companies and international companies we were working for hadn’t even mentioned a risk assessment. I remember the first time I was asked for one by a tree contractor working for a utility company…
‘Oh yes, of course, we have risk assessments’ I had replied, lying through my teeth, trying to hide my panic. There was no google back then, so where was I going to get one of those?! All my tree surgeon friends are as dopey as I am and didn’t use them either!
Let’s skip the next ten years of struggling through, using the most basic of basic risk assessments and times have dramatically changed within the health and safety industry. I had progressed from being a local tree surgeon with two men doing mainly domestic work, to employing eight arborists and working for some international companies undertaking all aspects of tree surgery covering the East of England. This was all now making my life very stressful as my office skills had not progressed in the slightest, and all I ever wanted to do was do what I was good at and enjoyed… climbing trees.
I was tendering for work and winning on price, but, was not getting a look in due to my RAMS. My RAMS were ok, but now we were getting asked for policies and accident records… what the hell was going on? I couldn’t keep up with it, and I was at the end of my tether.
“I think I am going to scale back down to a team of three tree surgeons, a van and a chipper and stick to domestic tree work and the odd builder who still doesn’t care about Health & Safety,” I had thought. ‘This has got to be easier’.
At this point in my business, I had a very nice contract with a utility company who had seen me through the last recession, and we had both had a good working relationship. If I jacked this in, then I would be laying arborists off and would be taking a massive hit on income and would need to buy a smaller house without a yard, probably causing the same amount of stress potentially. This, along with potential work with another international company (who were then starting to provide us with more work), meant that I had some serious decisions to make in the near future.
Then there was yet another spanner thrown into the works…‘We will shortly only be able to use Arb Approved tree contractors’… COME ON!!!!!
Now for me, this is where my life took a pleasant turn.
Around this point, my son joined the Company and had been working for the Company for about two years. He was a chip off the old block and going to make an excellent little tree surgeon. Fortunately for me, he didn’t take after his old man in the brains department and was quite a clever lad, and, being a millennial, wasn’t scared of a remote control.
‘Come on Dad lets go Arb approved; we can do it’.
Decision made (gulp), I don’t even like the Arb association. I don’t get it, I never had, but, ‘oh well’, it seems it must be done.
Then I had to call my mentor and close friend since the beginning of my career in tree surgery, Reg Harris (Urban forestry BSE). ‘Come on Reg what’s this AA stuff all about, how do I sign up?’.
I can’t lie, it all seemed very daunting at first, and the number of criteria to pass before becoming Arb Approved sounded endless. It was then that I was introduced to Paul Elcoat (Elcoat Ltd), the nicest guy ever! He made my son and I feel instantly relaxed and confident that we could do this and that it wouldn’t be anywhere near as difficult as we previously thought. It was going to be a lot of work, yes, but he was there to support us the whole way.
Now, you can get your criteria from the AA and work through it yourself, but for me, the thought made me sick, and I think I would probably still be working through it now, six years on.
We employed Paul’s services on Reg’s recommendation, and this proved to be a very wise move. Paul would visit us for a day, discuss the steps and requirements needed and would then leave us with a list of tasks to complete, most of which we would do quite comfortably, leaving the odd task incomplete for whatever reason but felt like we kept up quite well.
RAMS, policies etc., yes it seemed endless, but once it was complete, we knew all we had to do was read it, understand it and keep up with it, updating it when necessary and work to the standards we were going to tell clients we were working to.
One part of my tree surgery background that I was a bit concerned about was my knowledge on trees. Not so much above the ground, as I knew more than I thought I did, and my Latin was ok. Anatomy of a tree and biology was something I never really had time for in the past, so I wasn’t sure what was going to be needed.
To become Arb approved, the tree surgery company should show a good level of Arb knowledge but by no means are expected to be of a consultant standard. It was, however, crucial to showing willingness and wanting to update and further your knowledge. This seemed as essential to the AA.
Just over a year on from Paul’s help we had passed our assessment with flying colours thanks to Paul and Reg’s constant support leading up to it.
So, now I am THAT guy with the new sticker on his van (lol) – no scruffy vans here though, I hasten to add.
My next issue, and this may not be the case for other tree surgeons, was that I’m a natural-born worrier, so… I am now up to an extremely high standard of health and safety and undertaking tree surgery at the highest of standards. For the next six months, I was questioning everything I did and everything that I said to customers, worrying if I was getting anything wrong and that the AA were going to take my certificate away…. Stupid, I know, but there you go.
I got over this however and was extremely happy with what my son and I had achieved. We were determined to keep this status forever.
At first, we didn’t seem to be receiving any enquiries through being Arb Approved, but slowly and inevitably, they started to come in. Even though the enquiries were not flooding in as we had hoped, we did notice when discussing our new client’s tree surgery requirements, that once we mentioned being an Arb Approved tree surgery contractor, the questions started coming and the professionalism seemed to shine through, making our Company seem more appealing.
We have since achieved our ISO accreditations with the help of Paul Elcoat again, and this has really opened some doors for us.
We have well and truly secured our existing contracts and have been contacted by some larger development companies looking for a tree surgery company with all the relevant Health and Safety requirements.
I am going to say, for me, it took two years to settle into the paperwork side of things before things felt like they were not getting on top of us, and we kept forgetting things. Yes, we still miss things, but that’s what we pay Paul for, to keep us top of our game.
I can’t say I have ever looked back.
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