IN this series of articles, I am working through the requirements of the Arboricultural Association’s Approved Contractor Scheme (ArbAC), the idea being that if you work on the bite-sized chunks month on month, by the end of the series, you should be in a position to go for accreditation.

I am a lead assessor for the Approved Contractor Scheme, but I don’t work for the Association as an employee; my main job is as a consultant helping companies to get ready for the assessment. I have customers going through their assessment at a rate of two or three per month and each gives me feedback about the particular requirements and interests of the different assessors.

My advice to our customers working towards assessment and to you, the reader, is based upon the highest requirement that we come across so that when you apply the standard that I describe, you have a good chance of getting through the assessment with only minor comments.

I consider the Approved Contractor accreditation to be an absolutely fundamental requirement for any contracting company wishing to increase sales. How else do you know that what you are doing is right and that your systems would bear scrutiny following an accident? How do you keep up-to-date with industry news and ensure that you are hearing about the opportunities in your area? If you think the answer is social media or popular chat forums, then you are way behind the best.

The most important thing is not the accreditation or the certificate; it is what it will make of you to achieve it that is the real value. You will have created a very stable platform from which to increase sales. You will be able to answer the questions on the contract questionnaires and because of the systems that have been put in place; you will be able to provide evidence to prove that what you have said in the answer is correct.

More and more nowadays, local authorities and high-end domestic customers are using the directory of approved contractors as their source of information for local service providers. I can’t think of even one of our clients that has regretted going through the process.

When I undertake an assessment, after the hellos and coffee, I start by finding out who is who and what everyone does. This gives me a great overview from the outset and allows me to check that the size of the organisation as declared on the application form is actually the size of the organisation and that everyone holds the required certificates of competence and update training.

The guidance on the size of the business is given in the scheme brochure and on the assessment standard.


Business size is determined by the number of people who work in your business, including yourself (the employer).

Businesses are classed as either:

(i) “fewer than 5 employees”

(ii) “5 or more employees”        

In working out your business size you need to add up the number of people working in the business, full-time and part-time, including:

  • Yourself/‘the employer’
  • Employed arborists and ground staff, etc. 
  • Self-employed labour-only arborists and ground staff, etc. 
  • Employed or self-employed administrators
  • Anyone else who is part of your business, e.g. mechanic, sawmill operator and timber truck driver. (Do not include people to whom you sub-contract work such as other arboricultural businesses)


I complete a table using the following criteria:

  • Name
  • Position
  • Employment status
  • Key competences

Before we get into the detail of Module 1, it would be worth taking a look at how the assessor will ‘grade’ each individual clause of the assessment schedule.


Each part of the criteria gets a ‘mark’:

  • Good – above standard compliance
  • Yes – standard compliance
  • No – below standard compliance or no evidence available
  • NS – not seen and therefore not assessed
  • N/A – not applicable

Whilst it is nice to have the assessor give a ‘good’, a ‘yes’ is absolutely fine. Occasionally, if we are completing a contract questionnaire for one of our customers, I will pull out the ‘goods’ and any particularly complimentary comments from the assessment report and include them in the answer on the form. This is one of the ways the scheme differentiates a contractor from the hundreds of others operating in their area.

If I am the assessor, I will make sure that I use the ‘good’ designation and that I am complimentary in my comments so that the contractor can do the same when they are applying for contracts.

If the assessor gives a ‘no’ it means that there is a gap; I like to call them ‘opportunities for improvement’ and I would discuss the finding with the contractor and put together a solution to the observation with them. Contractors do get nervous about the assessment, so I always reassure them that having me cast my eyes over everything is a member benefit with a view to add value and increase their ability to win sales, I am not the industry police.


Solutions to opportunities for improvement are also categorised:

  • Reassessment – a full, or partial, reassessment visit where all rectifications/updates will be reviewed.
  • Copy – a copy, in the form of an actual copy of a completed document or form or other evidence such as a digital photo, to be submitted to demonstrate compliance.
  • Confirm – confirm, in writing, that the particular action has been fully completed or satisfactorily implemented, and how this has been achieved, to declare compliance.
  • Advisory – an advisory comment for consideration. Followed up at the next assessment and the expectation of the assessor is that the observation has been progressed.



Modules 1 and 2 are all about the standard of tree work and, in fact, these modules of the assessment are the ‘deal breakers’ more than any other. A collection of administrative opportunities for improvement can be dealt with as advisory points or a copy/confirm requirement to send evidence of improvement by email, but if the tree work demonstration reveals bad habits or if the pruning is poor it will usually result in a revisit to see better examples.

The assessor will expect to visit an ongoing worksite involving a medium/large-sized tree of at least 16 m in height. Failure of this aspect of the standard will result in an overall unsuccessful assessment outcome.

The worksite safety inspection is a requirement of years 1 and 3 in the accreditation lifecycle. The cycle starts with a full assessment and on the second anniversary there is an interim assessment.Years 2 and 4 are satisfied by sending a portfolio of documents for assessment by email.


Year 1 Initial full assessment – aerial tree work incorporating rigging. Sectional felling/take-down/dismantle or large branch removal.

Year 2 Portfolio of documents for assessment by email.

Year 3 Interim reassessment – tree work operations, aerial or ground-based.

Year 4 Portfolio of documents for assessment by email.

Year 5 Full reassessment – as initial assessment in year 1.

Year 6 Portfolio of documents for assessment by email.

Year 7 Interim reassessment – tree work operations, aerial or ground-based.


While on site the assessor will check the performance of the team against a very comprehensive list of points and will make a note of what they saw so that controls can be assessed in the context of the observed performance once the assessor returns to the office. I tend to take photos of points to check later and of aspects of performance that deserve particularly positive comments in the report.


The checklist points used by the assessor are:



  • Job sheet/work specification.
  • Risk assessment, site specific.
  • Method statement.
  • COSHH assessments.
  • Emergency contingencies including an aerial rescue plan. A clear ‘emergency aerial rescue’ plan must be in place with nominated responsible persons.
  • Wildlife disturbance and impact assessments. European Protected Species (EPS), in particular bats and nesting birds, have been fully considered.
  • Biosecurity considerations/arrangements to ensure any suitable biosecurity risk assessment and arrangements are in place to avoid the spread of pests & diseases.
  • All of these documents must be relevant to the site, comprehensive and correctly used. There must be clear evidence that all staff on site have been briefed on the work to be undertaken, the risk assessment and the method statement through signatures. This briefing must be reviewed daily on multi-day sites.



The team must have access to industry guidance and the organisation’s emergency planning documents on the worksite.

  • Generic risk assessments.
  • AFAG leaflets/HSE info and booklets.
  • Hospital A&E lists and emergency contact numbers.
  • Guide to Good Climbing Practice.
  • Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDSs).
  • Accident/incident/near-miss report forms.
  • Biosecurity guidance.

These documents are usually contained within a vehicle pack to demonstrate staff on site have adequate information and guidance available to operate safely and for reference if they are unsure or in the event of an emergency. I tend to see either a folder of printed material or PDFs saved onto a tablet or a smartphone. Both solutions tend to be fine so long as the team can prove that the access arrangements work. I have given a ‘no’ outcome for this in the past where the folder was wrapped in heavy plastic sheet and taped up to the point where it would need a knife to get into the package and where the tablet had no power or was broken. Another time, when I asked to see the COSHH assessment for petrol, the team leader had no clue how to find it within their system of electronic file folders.



On-site personnel suitably proficient/operationally skilled for tasks undertaken. As observed during on-site working demonstrating good, efficient and safe working practices. The way I start the day with the staff matrix means that I already know the levels of the people deployed to the worksite. It is worth noting the ‘as observed’ comment here because this means even if the operator is the most certified person the assessor has ever met, if performance is not up to the required standard, the demonstration will be declared a failure and corrective action will be recommended.



As detailed in AFAG/FISA leaflets and in the HSE INDG guides. PPE will typically include:

  • Chainsaw protective boots
  • Chainsaw protective trousers (type C for use in the tree, type A are permitted on the ground)
  • Appropriate gloves – if ground-based operators are not wearing chainsaw gloves, the assessor will expect to see a justifying comment in the risk assessment
  • Safety helmets usually with eye/ear protection
  • Hi-viz outerwear
  • Personal first-aid kits but at least a large wound dressing carried by chainsaw operators



First-aid provision must be ‘suitable and sufficient’. Both team and individual first-aid kits are required along with clean water. I have opened many a first-aid kit to either find the contents are way out of date, filthy or both. I once opened a team first-aid kit and the one item in it was a half empty tube of haemorrhoid ointment. Another time I asked to see the personal first-aid kit of a climber only to find everything in one lump. The packet of Cellox granules had come open and had set like cement around everything. This gave me a clue as to how well the first-aid kit checks were undertaken at this particular company.

The manager must ensure that there are at least two current, trained first aiders (emergency first-aid +F/+A certificate) on any site and ideally someone in the company should have a full first-aid at work certificate.



The standard states: Firefighting equipment secured, suitable and accessible, as applicable. In terms of type/size of extinguishers, as dictated by fire risk assessment process, and evidence of servicing/checking by a competent person. What this means in reality is that a dry powder fire extinguisher should be properly mounted into the vehicle.

There should be a sticker on the outside of the toolbox to show where the extinguisher is and the extinguisher should have evidence of checking such as a signed and dated sticker.

There has been a debate as to the size of extinguisher that should be in the truck and the consensus opinion of the assessment team was that whatever solution you choose must be justified in the fire risk assessment. We think a 1 kg dry powder fire extinguisher is an appropriate size.



The assessors will expect to observe a well-arranged worksite in which everyone is operating safely, efficiently and with minimal disruption possible to surroundings.

  • General arrangement of worksite is appropriate, safe and effective.
  • Signing, lighting and guarding effective and conforms to industry standards. 
  • Pedestrians in particular and traffic must be safe and well managed at the site.
  • Roles on site clearly understood.
  • Effective communication.
  • Good manual handling techniques employed. Staff handling timber sections will employ safe manual handling techniques with mechanical aids as necessary.
  • Arisings handled/converted appropriately.
  • Aerial rescue provision planned, equipment available and personnel competent. 
  • Aerial rescue will be fully planned and ‘ready to go!’
  • Fuelling point and spill control arrangements: fuelling, and storage, point carefully selected with ‘drip facility’ in place.
  • Welfare arrangements identified, available and staff informed.
  • Biosecurity arrangements/disinfection of tools in place (where applicable). Use of appropriate biosecurity measures to avoid transmission of serious P&Ds, including disinfecting tools with proprietary products.

If you are a member of the Association, there are loads of templates on their website in the ‘help for arborists’ section for policies and checklists, including a biosecurity policy and the biosecurity position statement. Aim to ‘perfect’ your worksite arrangements long before the assessment rather than showing a theatre on the day.



If you decide to use a MEWP it must be an appropriate machine for the job in hand and the assessors, where deemed necessary through WAH ‘risk assessment’ (or where used in preference to climbing), will expect to see safe and efficient operations of the MEWP demonstrated in line with the Guide to the Use of MEWPs in Arboriculture.


  • The operation must conform to industry good practice (Work at Height Regulations, LOLER Regulations, AFAG 403 and Guide to the Use of MEWPs in Arboriculture).
  • Competent, safe and proficient techniques to be observed.



The assessors will expect to see use of friction-saving devices, where pruning is demonstrated as a secondary operation (where the MEWP has been used for the sectional dismantle) and modern climbing techniques.

  • Conforms to industry good practice (Work at Height Regulations, LOLER Regulations, AFAG 401 & 402, the Guide to Good Climbing Practice).
  • Equipment appropriate, correctly marked for individual identification and used as per industry guidance and manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Competent, safe and proficient climbing techniques to be observed.
  • My very strong advice is that if you are going to climb during the demonstration, make sure that your risk assessment fully justifies climbing and work positioning as being the most appropriate option.



Aerial tree rigging is mandatory for all full assessments or reassessments. The assessors will expect to see current rigging techniques and safe/efficient lowering operations.The assessor will expect to see competent aerial and ground-based arborists who are proficient in the rigging techniques employed.

  • Conforms to industry good practice.
  • Equipment appropriate, correctly marked, ‘fit for purpose’ and set up properly.
  • Staff ‘competent’ for work in hand.
  • ‘Competent person’ in charge of the operation.

More advice from me: put together a rigging plan. This will be looked upon very favourably and the process of working out the plan will make sure the operation goes well.

It would be worth referring to the ICoP for Managing Tree Work at Height to check what it recommends for rigging operations.



A contractor may choose to demonstrate ground-based operations if the assessment is an ‘interim’ assessment. Ground-based operations may be the felling of single or multiple trees or perhaps low-level crown lifting. Where felling is involved avoidance of damage to persons, property, underground services, sensitive ground, specimen plants, etc. will be expected with appropriate measures employed.

  • Conforms to industry good practice (FISA/AFAGs/PUWER etc.)
  • Equipment suitable for task and used safely/proficiently.
  • Staff competent for work in hand and appropriate supervision.



The assessors are not trained vehicle inspectors, but we are all able to see bald tyres, broken lights and incorrect number plates. If further information is needed by the contractor, the assessor will advise that they seek advice from the relevant regulator such as the DVLA, VOSA or the police.

  • Displaying correct licences if applicable.
  • Vehicle weights legal for driver.
  • In roadworthy condition (as far as possible to assess).
  • No smoking signs in vehicles.
  • Hand wash/wipes provision available.

That is pretty much it for Module 1. In the next edition I will go through the requirements for Module 2, which includes the examples of completed planting and pruning work, and the knowledge of the named manager. As always, best of luck and, if you need any more information on anything I have mentioned above, please do get in touch.

Paul Elcoat

Paul Elcoat runs Elcoat Ltd which specialises in helping arb businesses get things right and win work. Paul would be happy to take questions or comments from readers by email: or telephone: 07800 615 900.