Tree Risk News

  • 2021-06-06 3:54 PM | Admin (Administrator)

    We're updating all our publications from Tree Risk-Benefit Assessment & Management to Tree Risk-Benefit Management and Assessment.


    We thought we'd gotten past looking at tree risk through the eyes of an Arborist, rather than a Duty Holder, with v5.0 of the Strategy. This is where creating a flowchart helped reveal that the most valuable risk management asset is Passive Assessment by anyone. Not Active Assessment by an Arborist.

    A 5 yearly Active Assessment isn't being topped up by Passive Assessment, as we used to propose. Passive Assessment is being carried out all of the time, day in day out. It's being topped up by Active Assessment in zones of high confluence every 5 years.

    Well, in the process of completing our work helping the Tasmanian Government manage their tree risk, David was asked whether we could produce a summary to explain what VALID is about. It's for the strategic decision-makers, they explained.

    "'What is VALID?', does that", David said.

    "In 'What is VALID?', the first picture is of a woman looking at a VALID likelihood of failure decision in the Tree Risk App. That's an Active Assessment at a Detailed level", they replied.

    "That level of investigation is not the first thing in the minds of Tasmanian Government decision-makers when it comes to adopting VALID's approach to Tree Risk-Benefit Management, is it?"

    They're right.

    Hence the upgrade and the new, 'What is VALID?'

    Tree Risk Management & Assessment | What is VALID?

  • 2021-05-24 11:38 AM | Admin (Administrator)

    Jeremy Barrell’s Arb Magazine version of his journal article has been posted by the Arboricultural Association, on their website, as a 'Legal Update' - it's not a legal update, it's an opinion piece by an Arborist.  It's had some Duty Holders and Arborists ask us about where his binary, ‘High’ or ‘Low’ likelihood of occupancy approach sits with VALID's likelihood of occupancy categories.

    To recap. The heart of the article is three legal cases cherry-picked by Jeremy Barrell, where Jeremy acted as an expert, and are Jeremy’s interpretations of these cases where Jeremy’s evidence was a key factor.

    When we first went through the article, we were disappointed to find it appeared to be less about reasonable, proportionate, and reasonably practicable tree risk-benefit management (which is surely what the Courts and Coroners are after).  And more about setting out what Jeremy expects to contest when he's employed as an ‘expert witness’. 

    Jeremy Barrell Tree Risk Management Article

    Back to the binary ‘High’ v ‘Low’ likelihood of occupancy.

    VALID’s likelihood of occupancy categories are based on log base 10, like the Richter scale uses to measure earthquakes. If we show the likelihood of occupancy to scale as 10 x 10 canvases, and set High at the centre, we can compare VALID’s and Jeremy’s likelihood of occupancy categories.

    Likelihood of Occupancy | Tree Risk Management

    Jeremy Barrell Tree Risk Management | Likelihood of Occupancy

    Jeremy’s High occupancy spans 4 Richter Scale orders of magnitude with a range of ×10 000!

    Or, another way of looking at it.  A Richter scale 4 earthquake is categorised the same as a Richter scale 7 earthquake.

  • 2021-04-26 8:23 AM | Admin (Administrator)

    In the previous post we looked at VALID's Goldilocks Likelihood of Occupancy canvases to explore categories that are not too wide, and not too narrow, that are just right.

    This Likelihood of Occupancy canvas is useful to examine tree risk management and assessment decision-making at the High Court in the UK’s landmark Poll v Bartholomew Judgment.

    Poll v Bartholomew - VALID Likelihood of Occupancy

    In Poll, a motorcyclist was seriously injured by a falling Ash stem. The Judge found for the Claimant because the tree was ‘High Risk.’

    In their reports, the Claimant’s expert said the tree was ‘High Risk’ and the Defendant’s expert didn’t mention any level risk. Yet in their Joint Statement, the experts agreed the tree was a ‘Medium Risk.’

    Naturally, the experts' opinions left the court scratching its head.  The court had to ask them to produce a Second Joint Statement to define what they meant by High, Medium, and Low risk, and what risk the tree posed.

    In the Second Joint Statement, the experts told the court the tree was ‘High Risk’. However, they concluded the risk was high after they'd assessed the Likelihood of Occupancy for a minor country road at 50%, when in fact it was 1%. The experts overvalued the occupancy by a whopping factor of 50. This gaffe was so enormous the tree was in fact a ‘Medium Risk’ and not a ‘High Risk.’

    The Judge would’ve found for the Defendant if the tree was a ‘Medium Risk.

    Poll v Bartholomew | Expert Evidence - Likelihood of Occupancy

  • 2021-04-26 8:01 AM | Admin (Administrator)

    In the Scale of the Problem we saw the overall risk from branches and trees falling is so extremely low we need a microscope to see it.

    Tree risk spectruem

    The only sensible way to measure risks that go this low is to use a logarithmic scale.  It turns out the Goldilocks logarithmic scale for tree risk that’s not too narrow, and not too wide, that's just right is log base 10.  Just like the Richter Scale is for measuring earthquakes.

    So far so numberwang. What does that mean for you?

    Well, when it comes to Likelihood of Occupancy decision-making, the advantages of log base 10 are obvious when drawn to scale.  There’s 5 colour-coded Likelihood of Occupancy categories in VALID.  If we centre High, then you can only see a bit of the heel of Very High.  Nearly all of it’s off the screen.  You can make sense of Moderate but you can barely make out Low.  And you can’t see Very Low at all.

    Tree Risk-Benefit Management & Assessment | Likelihood of

    So, the first decision a Validator makes with Likelihood of Occupancy is what 3 categories can’t it be?  Which 3 make no sense?  Once calibrated this is an effortless decision. Then it comes down to one of two. Usually, which one is the most obvious because they're huge canvases.  If in doubt you go for the higher one.

  • 2021-03-29 7:49 AM | Admin (Administrator)

    We regularly use visuals to convey both the context of tree risk and how you can measure it. Recently, we shared a post with Professor David Ball's quote that the prospects of reducing the risk below the current level were comparable to finding a microscopic needle in a gargantuan haystack.

    To help convey that finding a microscopic needle in a gargantuan haystack simile further, we've had a play around with illustrating the tree risk context using coloured spectrums.

    In the graphic, the top spectrum shows the reality of tree risk to scale. We know that compared to other everyday risks we readily accept, the overall risk to us from branches or trees falling is extremely low. Our annual risk of being killed or seriously injured is less than one in a million. At this scale, we can't see the amber and red risks. We'd need a microscopic.

    If we take the risk spectrum to a scale where we can just make out the risks that we're trying to find and manage, we have to overvalue the base-rate risk by a factor of more than 1000.

    Tree Risk Management | Tree Risk Spectrum
  • 2021-03-13 8:01 AM | Admin (Administrator)

    Taking the 'defect' out of tree risk-benefit assessment

    Has been published in the spring edition of the Arboricultural Association's Arb Magazine. You're welcome to download a pdf copy by clicking the link above.

    Here's the introduction to whet your appetite.

    "We’ve grown up being told that when we assess tree risk we should be looking out for tree ‘defects’. The problem with this approach is what are commonly labelled as defects often aren’t defects at all."

    Tree risk defects | Taking the defect out of tree risk-benefit assessment

  • 2021-03-11 12:41 PM | Admin (Administrator)

    Any publication about tree risk management lacks credibility if it neglects the overall risk. That's because the overall risk from branches and trees falling and causing death, injury, or property damage provides the 'Context' (ISO 31000 - Risk Management). It gives us a base rate.

    This is the context of the overall risk in VALID's Tree Risk-Benefit Management Strategies.

    "Compared to other everyday risks we readily accept, the overall risk to us from branches or trees falling is extremely low. Our annual risk of being killed or seriously injured is less than one in a million. That's so low, we're at greater risk from a 200 miles (320km) round trip drive to visit friends for a weekend than from branches or trees falling for a whole year. Given the number of trees we live with, and how many of us pass them daily, being killed or injured by a tree is a rare event; one that usually happens during severe weather."

    Why is establishing context and base rate so important? A risk expert nails it.

    Tree risk management | Finding a microscopic need in a gargantuan haystack

  • 2021-03-04 8:14 AM | Admin (Administrator)

    VALID has four easy to understand traffic light coloured risk ratings, and this is where they sit in the Tolerability of Risk Framework (ToR).

    The Tolerability of Risk Framework is an internationally recognised approach to making risk management decisions where the risk is imposed on the public.

    The ToR triangle gets fatter and redder where more attention and resources should be allocated to managing the risk. It gets thinner and greener where less attention and resources should be allocated.

    Where ToR is amber the risk is Tolerable if it’s ‘as low as reasonably practicable’ (ALARP) - where the costs of the risk reduction are much greater than the value of the risk reduction.

    Tolerability of Risk Framework - Tree Risk Management and Assessment

    VALID has applied ToR to tree risk but has removed the numberwang because:

    1) Tree risk has too much uncertainty to credibly measure at single figure accuracy with risks like 1/4, 1/300, 1/20 000, or 1/500 000 000.

    2) Risk outputs as probabilities create friction in communication because many people struggle with numbers. Research shows that about 25-33% can't rank 1:10, 1:1000, and 1:100 risks from highest to lowest.

    3) The risk assessor and duty holder are spared the complexity of numerical cost-benefit analysis in the amber ALARP zone.

  • 2021-02-26 11:40 AM | Admin (Administrator)

    Recently, we caught a podcast where a tree was declared 'safe' if it's less than 30% hollow. We think they meant 70% hollow. Either way, this isn't right for several reasons.

    We've posted about this before, but as long as this kind of mistake is being broadcast we think it's worth repeating so the message gradually gets home.

    The heart of the confusion is the t/R = 0.3 fallacy. t/R = 0.3 is when a residual wall thickness (t) is 30% of the stem radius (R). It's often cited as a failure threshold. It's not. The Why t/R Ratios Aren't Very Helpful pdf explains why in detail.

    Tree Risk Assessment | Why t/R Ratios are not very helpful

    In short, one reason is because of a geometric property called section modulus. Wind load and material properties remaining equal, if you double the diameter you increase the load bearing capacity of a tree by 8 times.

    To add to the confusion, t/R 0.3 is often referred to as 70% hollow. In fact, a 0.3 t/R ratio is only 50% hollow.  70% is the radius, which is one dimension. t/R 0.3 is the area, which is two dimensions.

    This graph from Paul Muir shows the relationship of central hollowing on:

    A = Cross Sectional Area
    Z = Section Modulus

    t/R = 0.3 | 30% or 70% Hollow?

    t/R = 0.3
    A = 49% loss of cross sectional area
    Z = 24% reduction in load bearing capacity

    To make matters worse. A tree with a t/R ratio of 0.3 can have a very high likelihood of failure, or it can have a very low likelihood of failure.

    If all that wasn't enough, it's seldom that where decay is of concern we're dealing with a cross sectional area of a tree that's a circle.

  • 2021-02-15 8:29 AM | Admin (Administrator)

    Jeremy Barrell | Tree Risk Management Article "The implications of recent English legal judgments, inquest verdicts, and ash dieback disease for the defensibility of tree risk management regimes"

    We've had several requests for a better quality image that's part of a discussion about this article on the UKTC (attachments on this group have to be below 180kb). Click the image to enlarge it.

    You can download Jeremy Barrell's tree risk management article here.  

    Since then, we've had further calls to set out the points in this big canvas with a step-by-step guide to make it easy to follow.

    We're genuinely surprised the article has been peer-reviewed, let alone published in a journal.  It's not research.  Some obvious key points of fact don't make much sense, even within the questionable logic of its own risk ecosystem.  We've sketched them out in the above image so you can see the whole picture, and described them below.  We're baffled how they weren't picked up during the peer review.

    Tree Risk Matrix  
    The article's got a tree risk matrix that doesn’t include the likelihood of occupancy.

    Likelihood = "chances of a whole tree or part of it falling"
    Consequences = "damage to property or the injury to people"

    The matrix has High Risk, Low Risk, and Medium Risk outputs.

    Jeremy Barrell | Tree Risk Management - Tree Risk Matrix

    No Likelihood of Occupancy

    Jeremy Barrell | Tree Risk Management Matrix - Likelihood of Occupancy?

    Jeremy Barrell | Tree Risk Management Matrix - Likelihood of Occupancy?

    Tree Risk Spectrum 
    It's got a tree risk spectrum that has NO Medium Risk.

    Jeremy Barrell | Tree Risk Management - Risk Spectrum and No Medium Risk

    Tree Risk Management Frameworks 
    There are two tree risk management frameworks.  Similar to the Tree Risk Spectrum there is NO Medium Risk.  In the frameworks, low occupancy means an Acceptable Risk no matter how high the likelihood of failure or how high the consequences.

    Jeremy Barrell | Tree Risk Management Framework

    Jeremy Barrell | Tree Risk Management Framework

    So, we've got a Tree Risk Matrix

    Jeremy Barrell | Tree Risk Management - Tree Risk Matrix

    High × High High Risk
    High × Low = Medium Risk
    Low × High = Medium Risk
    Low × Low = Low Risk

    Yet, in both Tree Risk Management Frameworks
    Low occupancy = Low/Acceptable Risk
    No matter how high the likelihood of failure or how high the consequences

    High × Low × High = Low/Acceptable Risk

    Jeremy Barrell | Tree Risk Management - Low Occupancy = Low Risk

    Somehow, we've gone from a Tree Risk Matrix world where:

    High × Low = Medium Risk

    Jeremy Barrell |Tree Risk Management - High + Low = Medium Risk

    To a Tree Risk Management Framework world where an additional High input to a Medium Risk LOWERS the risk.

    High× Low = Medium Risk × High Low/Acceptable Risk

    Jeremy Barrell | Tree Risk Management - Medium Risk × High Risk = Low Risk

    And that's before we consider the really important stuff, like what does High, Medium, and Low actually mean, and how do you go about measuring them?

    Unless clearly defined, words like High, Medium, and Low are what Philip Tetlock calls 'vague verbiage'.  They're illusions of communication.  Or tree risk 'bafflegab', as we call it.  Further still, you can't reasonably model tree risk by applying mathematical rules to vague words and then multiplying (or adding) them, or by painting ill-defined words with traffic light colours.

    Exploring the low occupancy = acceptable risk statement further.

    Low Occupancy = Acceptable Risk?
    In Jeremy Barrell's Tree Risk Management Frameworks, he says there's no need to check trees where the occupancy is low, and that it's up to the duty holder to decide what low occupancy means.

    As we don't know what a duty holder will think low occupancy means, and there's no guidance about what low occupancy means in the article, how do we know the risk is then low enough that it's acceptable no matter how high the likelihood of failure or how high the consequences?

    That low occupancy has no clear definition or meaning in Jeremy's Tree Risk Management Frameworks should be worrying for a duty holder.

    In VALID, low occupancy is clearly defined and there's no ambiguity. We don't burden the duty holder with trying to second guess what we mean by low occupancy.  The reason why low occupancy = Acceptable Risk should be worrying for a duty holder following Jeremy's advice is that in VALID we have several scenarios where low occupancy has risks that are Not Acceptable or Not Tolerable.

    Jeremy Barrell | Tree Risk Management Article - Low Occupancy = Acceptable Risk?

    Infrequent or very low use is a higher level of occupancy than low
    To make matters worse.  In Jeremy Barrell's 1:10,000 Time Bomb piece he describes this footpath (below) has having infrequent or very low use.  He outlines that every year the path is walked by a person with a working knowledge of trees who gives them a quick visual check.  Because these trees are being checked annually that means in Jeremy's tree risk management vocabulary, infrequent use or very low use is a HIGHER level of occupancy than low occupancy - remember, trees in low occupancy don't need checking at all.

    Jeremy Barrell | Tree Risk Management - Infrequent Occupancy = Foreseeable risk of harm

    Clearly, any duty holders following the guidance in Jeremy Barrell's Tree Risk Management Frameworks could quite reasonably classify the infrequent or very low use of this footpath as low occupancy and not check the trees.

    This could be a substantial vulnerability for duty holders because in his 1:10,000 time bomb presentation, Jeremy makes a case for a claim being made against them if a small diameter deadwood branch from an Ash tree falls and causes significant head injuries to someone walking along this path.  Even though he describes the risk as being at the lower end of his risk spectrum, the duty holder is expected to have removed the deadwood because it wouldn't have cost that much to do it.

    These are just some of the more obvious concerns we have with Jeremy's take on tree risk management in his article.

    There are some more insights into the critical problems with a binary take on High v Low Occupancy in the Jeremy Barrell | Tree Risk Management - Likelihood of Occupancy post.

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