Tree risk management policy

Trees are part of the natural environment. The National Parks and Wildlife Service manages hazardous trees in parks to keep visitors, workers and park neighbours safe.

Red Point picnic area, Jervis Bay Marine ParkTrees are living organisms, and their condition changes over time. Sometimes a tree can become hazardous to people in parks because of its age, health, history, species, location or other factors.

The National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS) manages hazardous trees systematically across the wide range of ecosystems in parks. NPWS aims to ensure risks to the safety of park visitors, workers and neighbouring landholders are as low as practicable, keeping in mind the many benefits trees provide people, wildlife and the environment (including their value for habitat, carbon sequestration, natural shade and cooling, air quality filtering and visual amenity).

Principles

  1. NPWS has a duty of care to manage and, where possible, to minimise the risks from hazardous trees to people in parks and to neighbouring landholders.
  2. NPWS manages tree risk within the agency's risk management framework and consistent with the Australian Risk Management Standard AS/NZS ISO 31000:2018.
  3. NPWS manages tree risk consistent with the objects and management principles of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974, and with other NPWS policies and procedures (including the Visitor Safety Policy and Fire Management Manual).
  4. When managing hazardous trees NPWS prioritises the protection of life, consistent as far as possible with the protection of the natural, cultural and social values of parks. The protection of property, including park infrastructure, is also an important consideration but is secondary to the protection of life.
  5. NPWS must reconcile its responsibilities for visitor and worker safety with the reality that it is not possible to eliminate all risks from trees in natural areas.
  6. NPWS manages tree risk as part of its regular park management activities - including identifying, assessing and treating hazardous trees.
  7. NPWS focuses on tree risk management in high use areas where exposure is greatest for workers and visitors (e.g. camping areas, picnic areas, visitor centres or work depots).
  8. Regular tree inspections are an important risk management tool. The frequency of inspections depends on local conditions and available resources.
  9. NPWS generally uses qualitative risk assessments to manage hazardous trees. NPWS has not adopted a quantified tolerability level for tree risks across all parks.
  10. NPWS maintains records of hazardous trees and its management responses.

Policy

  1. NPWS's approach to tree risk management is based on:
    • systematic identification of hazards
    • realistic assessment of risks
    • consideration of the full range of options before determining a management response.
  2. The resources NPWS allocates to tree risk management may vary between places and over time. Resourcing for tree risk management reflects:
    • the significance of tree risk relative to other risks
    • other management objectives within a park or Branch
    • NPWS's capacity to respond to identified tree hazards.
  3. NPWS adopts a strategic approach to tree risk management where practical. NPWS will:
    • record information about hazardous trees in priority areas (such as high visitation precincts with identified high risks) and regularly inspect hazardous trees or areas with hazardous trees
    • consider tree risk during visitor precinct planning and before doing development works in parks
    • consider providing formal arborist training for workers where there are clear benefits for managing tree risk, to complement on-the-job training from experienced staff who have thorough knowledge of local conditions and hazardous tree characteristics
    • consult arborists or other experts when required
    • consider developing tree succession plans for highly modified areas in parks
    • involve the community in tree management, particularly where significant changes are proposed in parks.
  4. NPWS records information about tree risk management consistently within and across Branches. NPWS must document the processes of:
    • assessing tree hazard and exposure hazard
    • determining a management response
    • implementing the response
    • developing a program at the NPWS Area level for managing tree risk, including monitoring tree hazards and recording the management response.
  5. The NPWS Tree Risk Management Procedures provide details on documenting tree risks and management responses.
  1. As an employer, NPWS owes a duty of care to workers and contractors to minimise tree risks through appropriate active and on-site management responses.
  2. NPWS manages tree risk consistent with the NPWS Visitor Safety Policy, which states that while NPWS has a duty of care to park visitors, it manages, but cannot eliminate, risks in parks. This means park visitors must take some responsibility for their own safety.
  3. NPWS does not owe a duty of care to warn park visitors of obvious tree risks, but does owe a duty of care to visitors when:
    • the tree risk is foreseeable to NPWS
    • the risk is not insignificant
    • a reasonable person (if aware of the risk) would take precautions.
  4. Once NPWS has identified a high tree risk and determined an appropriate management response, NPWS must then implement that response.
  5. The National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 (section 156C) excludes NPWS staff from personal liability for anything done or omitted to be done in good faith for the purpose of exercising functions under national parks legislation. Consistent implementation of the Tree Risk Management Policy and Procedures will support NPWS meeting its duty of care and the legislative requirements for exclusion of personal liability.
  1. NPWS aims to identify hazardous trees strategically through regular inspections of high use areas. Where possible, NPWS should inspect trees before times of high visitation.
  2. NPWS also identifies hazardous trees through business-as-usual field operations, following severe weather events such as storms, and on advice from park visitors or park neighbours.
  3. The NPWS Tree Risk Management Procedures provide detailed guidance for staff on tree condition assessment and reporting.
  1. To determine an appropriate management response to an identified tree hazard, NPWS considers:
    • exposure hazard – i.e. the exposure of visitors and staff to the hazardous tree (e.g. tree location, how long people spend in the vicinity)
    • tree hazard – i.e. physical characteristics of the tree (or community of trees) including the age, species, health and structure of the tree
    • the environmental impacts of management responses (particularly impacts on biodiversity and cultural values)
    • available resources, including funding and trained staff, and management capacity to manage all risks (e.g. will it divert resources from another risk management activity?)
    • the impact of management responses on park management, including on visitor opportunities and experiences (e.g. will the response require the removal of a significant number of camping sites?)
    • the cumulative impact of management responses on trees, resources and park management that may occur over time and across visitor areas, parks and geographic regions
    • relevant plans or standards
    • community views and expectations.
  1. During fire operations, firefighters need to be continually looking out for hazardous trees and to mitigate tree risks. NPWS and other firefighters in parks use the mitigation options set out in the NPWS Fire Management Manual and Procedures for Managing Hazardous Trees on the Fireground.
  1. NPWS has several options for managing hazardous trees, including:
    • accepting the risk (e.g. by warning visitors of the risk through signs and published information rather than doing tree works)
    • managing the tree hazard (e.g. by pruning, other works or in some cases removing the tree)
    • reducing the exposure hazard (e.g. by directing visitors away from a hazardous tree or trees, by not carrying out planned works near the tree, or by relocating or redesigning visitor areas)
    • reducing both the tree hazard and the exposure hazard.
  2. A hazard warning may be the most appropriate response and will be considered before options involving physical tree works. NPWS must take care to ensure any verbal warnings are consistent with written warnings.
  1. Where appropriate and feasible, NPWS will consult stakeholders before undertaking significant or controversial tree risk management actions.
  2. It may not always be practical for NPWS to consult stakeholders about tree risk management options, particularly if the risk is immediate and severe.
  3. Scarred and carved trees have specific cultural heritage significance. NPWS will follow statutory assessment and approval processes and consult Aboriginal stakeholders to determine an appropriate management response for scarred or carved trees.
  1. If park neighbours are concerned that a tree growing on NPWS-managed land poses a safety risk, they may contact their local NPWS office.
  2. An appropriate management response for addressing tree risk to neighbours may involve managing the tree hazard (by conducting tree works) or choosing to tolerate the risk if the risk is principally only to minor infrastructure such as driveway or fences or is assessed to be low.
  3. If a neighbour disagrees with NPWS's initial assessment or proposed management response, they may choose to engage an arborist for advice. In some cases, it may be appropriate for a neighbour to make a reasonable contribution to the costs of mitigation works.
  4. NPWS will manage any tree fall events on a case-by-case basis and informed by the Neighbour Relations Policy.
  1. All NPWS field staff should receive basic tree hazard awareness training every 12 months. This training should include discussion of local environments and case studies.
  2. NPWS may consider providing or arranging advanced training for some staff to act as regional experts in tree risk management. NPWS Branches should maintain a list of staff holding appropriate qualifications.
  3. All NPWS staff involved in incident management and firefighting should receive regular training in dynamic tree risk assessment and management responses.
  4. NPWS does not expect staff to carry out tree risk management responses for which they have not been trained, or which unduly increase risks to their own safety.
  1. NPWS may engage arborists or other suitably qualified tree management contractors to:
    • confirm the conclusions of staff where a tree hazard appears to require a significant management response
    • advise whether treatment (i.e. not removal) could reduce the tree hazard so that trees can be retained
    • do specialised tree assessment or tree care tasks
    • provide independent assessments of significant trees
    • supplement staff resources.
  2. Arborists must not determine the management response to a tree hazard. NPWS staff are responsible for determining an appropriate management response. This process involves considering a range of factors (see How does NPWS manage identified tree hazards?) in addition to any information provided by arborists.
  3. In accordance with Australian Standard AS 4373-2007 and SafeWork NSW's information on Tree Work (Arboriculture), suitably qualified and experienced arborists must perform any tree work involving climbing.
  4. In some cases, NPWS may be justified in employing arborists full-time or may support an existing worker to become a qualified arborist.
  5. Arborists (or other contractors) engaged to assess hazardous trees or perform tree works must meet the requirements set out in the NPWS Tree Risk Management Procedures.
  1. Workers' exposure to hazardous trees is a reality of working in outdoor areas. However, NPWS managers, supervisors and staff must always look for options that minimise the risk to workers from trees.
  2. Work activities in potentially hazardous areas (e.g. firefighting, hazard reduction burns, storm clean-up) must account for tree risk in safety planning processes (e.g. through Job Safety Analyses, Incident Action Plans or specific checklists developed for the activity).
  3. The NPWS Procedures for Managing Hazardous Trees on the Fireground provide further guidance on mitigating tree risk to staff during fire operations.

Policy first adopted 1 April 2007
Policy last updated 9 October 2019

Scope and application

This policy applies to all lands acquired or reserved under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 (NPW Act) except for lands reserved under Part 4A of the Act (unless the Board of Management for those lands has adopted the policy). However, NPWS staff can use the policy as guidance in their dealings with Boards of Management.

Objectives

This policy aims to:

  • Support NPWS's goal to protect human life and provide for an injury-free workplace.
  • Outline an approach to managing tree risk that is simple, cost-effective, systematic and able to be applied consistently across the broad range of landscapes and ecosystems managed by NPWS.
  • Ensure NPWS manages tree risk consistent with the objects and management principles in the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974.

Definitions

Exposure hazard means the exposure of visitors, workers, volunteers and neighbours to hazardous trees, which contributes to the consequences of an event.

Hazard means anything that has the potential to cause harm to visitors, workers, volunteers or park neighbours.

Park means a reserve gazetted under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974, including a national park, nature reserve, historic site, Aboriginal area, state conservation area, karst conservation reserve, regional park or any land acquired by the Minister under Part 11 of the Act.

Risk is a measure of the probability and severity of an adverse effect to health, property or the environment.

Tree hazard means the physical condition and characteristics of a tree or part of a tree which contribute to the likelihood of an event (injury or death), including the age, species and tree health.

Accountabilities

There are no accountabilities (i.e. approval responsibilities) for NPWS staff in this policy.

See the NPWS Tree Risk Management Procedures for specific accountabilities.