Las Vegas Sun

April 19, 2019

Currently: 72° — Complete forecast

Why Palm tree trimming can be fatal


• Palm trees should be trimmed about once a year.

• Hire licensed tree care companies. Nevada doesn’t offer a state-certified arborist license, but it does issue landscape contractor licenses. Homeowners also should ask to see a company’s business license and proof of liability insurance.


Number of people nationwide who died while trimming or pruning trees in 2013, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Two people in Clark County have died since December trimming palm trees. Clark County Fire and Rescue has performed three palm tree rescues over the past 18 months.

The issue isn’t gusty winds or dangling power lines. The most common cause of death involving palm trees is suffocation.

A dangerous job

When workers cut palm tree fronds from below rather than above, loose fronds can pile up inside the tree instead of falling to the ground. That can create an avalanche effect that causes the fronds to collapse on the trimmer, trapping and potentially suffocating him.

Fronds can weigh hundreds of pounds each, and when they collapse, their combined weight can be as much as one ton. Just a few fronds can immobilize a climber and force his body against the palm trunk with hundreds of pounds of pressure. Much of that force lands on the climber’s head, forcing his chin into his chest, limiting his ability to breathe.

The problem is serious enough that the California Department of Public Health produced a video last year outlining the risks and proper procedures for cutting palms. The Los Angeles County Fire Department responds to at least six deadly palm tree incidents each year.

Cutting corners

Most palm tree incidents involve untrained homeowners or unlicensed tree trimmers. Workers and homeowners can risk their lives when they forgo best practices to save time or money.

Trimming costs per palm can vary widely ­— from as little as $20 or $30 to as much as $100 or $150 — but unlicensed workers generally charge less.

If a worker is uninsured and gets injured, homeowners can be liable.

The right way

Tree trimmers should be trained and certified by a recognized organization, such as the Treecare Industry Association or International Society of Arborculture. Workers who aren’t certified should be supervised by someone who is.

Ideally, trimmers should use a bucket truck or other aerial device with fall protection equipment to allow them to trim while staying out of the range of falling fronds.

If a bucket truck isn’t an option, workers should follow industry climbing practices, which call for trimmers to remain above, rather than below, palm fronds.

Join the Discussion:

Check this out for a full explanation of our conversion to the LiveFyre commenting system and instructions on how to sign up for an account.

Full comments policy