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Picture a Stone Age landscape contractor, perhaps a contemporary of Fred Flintstone’s. let’s Call him Ogg.
Engaged by the local cave owners’ association to cut their lawns, Ogg the prehistoric contractor and his crew had to get down on their knees and tear each blade of grass by hand. It took days to do a single lawn; the payment of mastodon skins and woolly mammoth tusks hardly seemed worth it.
Imagine Ogg’s delight when he figured out he could sharpen those mammoth tusks into chopping tools that could be swung through lawns like a scythe. Cutting grass became a (relative) pleasure—lawns got done quickly, and his business grew by leaps and bounds. Soon, Ogg was doing the lawn of every cave on the savannah.
Ogg, however, could never imagine the riches of his twenty-first century descendants. Not only do we have tools that make his sharpened woolly mammoth tusks seem like, well, sharpened woolly mammoth tusks, but we don’t even have to provide the elbow grease to put those tools to use.
Power tools have revolutionized our industry as much as the sharpened tusk did so many eons ago. Not only have they come a long way, baby, but they keep getting better and better.
When Dale Micetic, president, ISS Grounds Control, Phoenix, Arizona, started in the business 42 years ago, he thought he was a big shot when he bought his first magnesium rake and fax machine.
Nowadays, he laughs, because he has no use for either one. The fax was replaced by email and texts, the rake by a motorized leaf blower or vacuum. The result was the same for each: greater efficiency and ease for Micetic and his crews.
Landscape contractors and lawn care service providers have always sought to keep their customers happy while easing the physical burden on their crews. New power tools, and improvements of traditional power tools, have made this task easier.
Power tools also have staffing implications. They don’t show up for work with a hangover. They never get “Monday morning flu.” They don’t need lunch breaks; they’ll keep working as long as they’re maintained properly and fed gasoline, propane, or electricity. No power tool ever called in to say, “I can’t make it in; I’ve got a flat tire.”
Power tools can speed the completion of almost any landscaping task, while accomplishing that task with as much or more precision than doing it by hand. Let’s take a look at some power tools, their genesis, and how the latest innovations can help us do our job even more efficiently.
When the leaf blower first came onto the landscape scene, it revolutionized the way we maintained lawns. In the old days, we used rakes, including the magnesium rakes of which Micetic spoke. Now, the two most common sounds associated with our business are those of the mower and the backpack blower. What used to take hours with a rake can be accomplished with a backpack blower in less than thirty minutes.
Backpack blowers, though, weigh a lot more than rakes. Comfort for the user becomes paramount, if productivity is to be maximized.
“Machines that are padded and have the motor blow air around the operator instead of into him, makes it easier for the contractor to have the blower on his back for an extended period of time,” says Joe Fahey, vice president of product planning at Echo Outdoor Equipment, Lake Zurich, Illinois. “Every one knows that the more time the operator is comfortable having the machine on his back, the more work he is able to do throughout the day.”
Chainsaws make the dangerous and backbreaking work of felling trees or cutting logs safer and less arduous.
In the olden days, you’d use an axe. These days, a trained chainsaw operator will shave hours of hard labor from any project.
“Three things motivate professional landscape contractors: productivity, productivity and productivity,” said Cary Shepherd, senior product specialist at Husqvarna, Charlotte, North Carolina. “A chainsaw is going to override an axe and is going to get a lot done quicker.”
“Right off the bat, it’s safer,” says Shepherd. “If you’re cutting trees with an axe, you can imagine the fatigue that sets in. While you might think an axe is less dangerous than a chainsaw, you can still get hurt as a result of fatigue doing that type of work.”
Over the last decade, chainsaws have gotten lighter and more efficient. There are even electric-powered and battery-powered chainsaws. As with backpack blowers, landscape contractors whose crews use chainsaws must abide by health, safety, and noise regulations.
Remember the times when you had to use a ladder to cut those hard-to-reach branches? The process was tiring, difficult and time-consuming. With a pole pruner, you no longer need to leave the ground, having less chance of falling and injuring yourself.
Having an expandable pruner also reduces the amount of equipment you lug around, because you don’t need a ladder to prune trees. One of the most important benefits of using power tools is saving time, and this is clearly seen with pole pruners. They make pruning those hard-to-reach branches safe, easy and faster.
Once upon a time, pole pruners were all mechanical, pull-the-string-and-lop-the-branch. Now, power pole pruners are available with mini-chainsaws at the end that make the old bladed pruners seem like sharpened woolly mammoth tusks in comparison.
Again, health and safety rules the day. An easy-lifting harness can make your operator more comfortable. Also, invest in a pruner with a fiberglass pole; never use a metal pole. A metal pole that comes into contact with a hidden live electric wire is a prescription for disaster.
Using a shovel to precisely edge and separate a bed or a lawn is pain
staking, labor intensive and expensive. Mechanize that and poof! Productivity quadruples.
“Imagine you have a bed 15 feet in diameter, and you have to walk around with a spade and take individual cuts just to make that sharp edge around the whole circumference of that bed,” Fahey said. “Replacing that manual effort with a handheld product will have a huge impact on productivity.”
While power tools are extremely helpful, they can be dangerous. Whether its debris flying into eyes or a finger getting sliced open (or worse), power applied to a tool means that the intensity of injury from that tool increases. Until the power gets cut—sometimes not so easy when you’re injured—the damage can intensify.
The more powerful the tool, the more important it is to train your people on its proper use.
There are obvious safety precautions that you and your crew can take with any power tool. Wear goggles, gloves, and shoes at all times. Keep the “danger end” of the tool away from your body. Keep the power off when the tool is not in use. Turn the power off when you’re moving with the tool for more than a few feet at time. Pay attention to the terrain— not just where you’re applying the tool to, but also what’s underfoot.
Think less about a terror attack and more about slipping on wet grass.
Pay attention to vibration. Power tools vibrate. It can cause numbness and loss of grip, as well as long-term muscle and nerve damage. Look for equipment that reduces vibration, and consider replacing old power tools that vibrate far more now than when they were new.
With chainsaw and chainsaw-like power tools, safety is enhanced by equipment with an anti-kickback chain and nose guard. Kickback occurs when an operating chainsaw jams in the target wood, and the energy being delivered to the chain pops the guide bar out of the wood and forces the saw back at you. Life-threatening injury can result.
Finally, complacency is an enemy.
Power tools are so common that many workers think they know everything there is to know about them. This is a big mistake. So often crew members claim to know how to use equipment with which they are personally unfamiliar. They have used something like it, but not the particular brand or model. Question them closely, and exercise an abundance of caution.
Last but not least, tailgate safety meetings should be held at least once a week with your crews. At each meeting, a few of the power tools that your company uses should be reviewed. Crews should demonstrate that they can use these power tools safely.
Back to Ogg on the Stone Age savannah plains of Africa....Imagine what it would have been like for him if he’d had chainsaws to cut dead acacia trees, pole pruners to compete with the giraffes for high-hanging fruit, and backpack blowers to blow dry season dust away from the entrances to his customers’ caves.
He would have been the busiest and most profitable prehistoric landscape contractor ever. He would have stayed in business forever. Forget ValleyCrest. Forget Brickman.
Right now, Ogg Landscaping would be ruling the landscape. More power to him.