On the cutting edge of safety: New research for protecting urban arborists

As someone who grew up in a logging family in Rivers Inlet, then worked in silviculture and urban forestry, Kwantlan Polytechnic University student researcher Shawn Michaels has been around dangerous equipment for most of his life. After almost losing a leg on the job, he was inspired to improve the protective clothing arborists rely on to guard against injury.

"I kept my leg because of the ballistic nylon cutter pant I was wearing," Shawn says. "I realized how vulnerable I was to an upper body chainsaw injury the very first time I spurred up and roped into a tree to cut it down 14 years ago. A mistake with a chainsaw could be life-changing — even fatal. It inspired me to think of ways to protect arborists at work."

Urban arborists face a variety of unique risks and hazards, such as working on busy roads where they are at risk of being struck by vehicles.

WorkSafeBC Innovation at Work Research grant

Shawn began to develop a protective jacket as part of his university undergraduate program at the Wilson School of Design. In 2018, Shawn applied for a WorkSafeBC Innovation at Work grant. Receiving the grant allowed him to move the project forward, with the assistance of his supervisor, KPU faculty member and ergonomist Dr. Dan Robinson.

Early phases of the research included prototyping and fit testing, as well as interviews with industry experts. Next steps were to acquire rated textiles for prototyping and design development of a protective jacket. The jacket uses woven Kevlar and other textiles that are flexible, light enough to allow the wearer to remain as cool as possible, and exceed standards for visibility. Michaels is now preparing to build 12 samples for destructive testing, in accordance with ISO standard 11393.

The work revealed some surprises. First, no one in the world seemed to be manufacturing upper-body chainsaw protection when Shawn’s research began. And second, while forestry is such an important industry in British Columbia, the province has not been at the forefront of developing protective gear for chainsaw operators.

"WorkSafeBC has facilitated one of the greatest opportunities of my life," Shawn says. "I carefully use the peer review feedback on our proposal as a guide whenever possible —the ‘keep it simple' advice has been so helpful."

WorkSafeBC 2019 Research Priorities

Research Services supports occupational health and safety research through a competitive grant program and other initiatives. For 2019, we are continuing to focus on emerging issues. Visit to review our research priorities and to learn about upcoming funding opportunities.

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