A palm tree waits patiently to drop a coconut on an unsuspecting Canadian Snowbird.

5 Ways Trees Can Kill You

And they look so innocent, too.

There are numerous threats to human safety from the Animal Kingdom which people are aware of in our region. These dangers range from mosquitos with a bad case of West Nile Virus (watch out for sneezing skeeters!), to maniacal deer that leap out of ditches for a quick game of “Chicken”. Surprisingly, the risk we face from critters is equaled by an unexpected source; the potential harm that comes from a seemingly innocent-looking killer; the noble tree.

Not a lot of people realize the lovely ornamental oak they host in their yard can seriously injure or even kill them. The reality is, though; as beautiful and environmentally- friendly as trees’ PR spokespeople claim they are, these naturally-occurring, sturdy wooden structures present multiple hazards to human life. Being even slower than zombies, one doesn’t often think of trees as being particularly treacherous, but consider all these ways you can be attacked by these seemingly non-threatening life forms.

Them’s the Breaks

Whole trees, or just large limbs falling on people (usually during wind storms) account for a surprising number of injuries and fatalities. The probability of dying from sudden, flying tree parts in our region is about 5 people out of a million per year. This may not sound like a whole lot but it means the odds are good about 20 Albertans will perish from this peril annually. 

Though wind-borne branches do represent a credible threat to passersby, on the plus side, Western Canadians are fortunate not to have the scourge of palm trees cluttering up their climate; dropping deadly coconuts on poor unsuspecting cross country skiers. Tropic-bound snowbirds should be warned, however, death by coconut may be rare but accounts for more fatalities per year than shark attacks, worldwide.

Legends of the Fall

Another tree-related hazard is falling out of one, much like iconic Rolling Stone, Keith Richards did while on vacation in Fiji in 2006, which resulted in a fractured skull. Although this threat can be easily dismissed by maybe, you know, not climbing trees, this seemingly simple solution is not as effective as one might think.

Most homeowners with arboreal growth in their yard will eventually find it necessary to trim the highest boughs. Many opt to do the work themselves, rather than incur costs from a professional tree service company.  The combination of lack of safety knowledge, incorrect use of, or non-use of, fall-arrest protection devices and nonprofessional- grade climbing and trimming equipment is a recipe for disaster.

Although having untrained amateur “branch managers”, working at height is a potential risk; even training is no guarantee of complete safety. According to Google, the incidence of experienced arborists falling out of trees appears to be a common occurrence. The fact that arborists spend more time in trees than most of us (apart from aging rockers, apparently) accounts for this statistic.

On the up side, statistically, you still have a better chance of being hit in the head by a falling coconut than by a plummeting amateur arborist or aging rocker.

They’re Hiding Something

Trees also represent a major public health and safety risk if their leaves and branches obscure traffic signs, rail signals or oncoming traffic at road intersections and level crossings.  If you’re the proud owner of a tree that is found guilty in playing a part in a serious accident, it won’t be the tree that gets sued.  Only dedicated, ongoing efforts to manage such obstructionist plant life can eliminate this extremely serious liability exposure.  

Trees Love Power

 Or so it seems, given their limbs often appear to be reaching for overhead electrical lines like an amorous suitor trying to embrace their latest crush. When sap-filled branches contact high voltage wires, sparks are bound to occur.  Therefore, it is imperative to implement an ongoing maintenance routine to keep branches the proper distance from wires.  To paraphrase the Georgia Satellites, “Don’t give me no lines and keep your limbs to yourself.”

Trees are Made of Flammable Wood

 Trees are probably humanity’s oldest source of non-solar fuel and represent a very real danger of bursting into flames if they are too close to electrical or heat sources.  A stand of dead trees may be seen as an accident waiting to happen from lightning, sparks from vehicles or maintenance equipment, or a carelessly discarded cigarette. Knowledgeable removal and diligent maintenance around the base to minimize sources of ignition like dead grass and fallen leaves are a must.

Though the idea of killer trees may sound somewhat amusing, the reality is that tree ownership brings with it a responsibility to consistently perform due diligence to set aside the inherent risks. It is recommended that only knowledgeable, professionally-certified tree trimmers and workers perform the maintenance to save yourself, your family or your business from tragedy and the accompanying legal complications that may result.