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“Tree planter” and “sparkling clean” are not phrases that one normally expects to see tied closely together. Indeed, the job involves a deep dive into the dirt, where we bathe in the glow of the earth’s microbiome for hours upon hours every day.


Evidence supports relationships between exposure to dirt and positive health outcomes, and in some cases, our immune systems do become stronger after exposure to certain pathogens. However, there are limits to these relationships, too much of anything can become a problem. With some pathogens, no amount of exposure is safe or healthy - you won’t find any reputable doctor telling you that just a little bit of giardia or a minor staph infection is good.

At the same time, it is not possible to plant trees without getting dirty, and one cannot expect to dance through the clear-cuts in a white suit, keep a dirt floor shiny and clean, or maintain the immaculate fingertips of a concert pianist. So where do we draw the line on cleanliness, and when do dirt and personal hygiene become a problem?


Well, a reasonable standard may be when hygiene poses a risk to oneself or others. When you work in a camp or share a truck with four or five people for several hours each day, hygiene is no longer merely personal; it is shared. Things can spread fast in a work camp, and something like a simple cold or a seemingly minor skin infection can spread quickly and result in multiple people missing work. During my thirty years in the woods, I’ve seen numerous situations where a lack of hygiene resulted in scores of people missing multiple days of work as they coped with the impact of viral gastroenteritis spread by dirty fingers.

I would like to talk about four different places where hygiene matters when planting trees and working in the woods. Hopefully, the ideas shared here can help prevent a few people from a round of antibiotics, missing work due to illness, or being patient zero for a sickness that wipes out half the crew for a whole shift.


Hygiene in Public

Hygiene on the Job

Hygiene in Camp

Hygiene in the Laundromat

 

There are probably many other ways to maintain hygiene at work, but hopefully this helps identify some new ideas and practical reasons. Being clean does help prevent infections and sickness, but it also helps maintain feelings of well-being and reminds you that you deserve to feel good sometimes. I hope everyone reading this takes something away to make their work season more healthy and enjoyable.



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Can Hygiene & Bush Work Co-exist? Preventing Illness & Infection While Tree Planting

Warning: This article is not for the squeamish

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