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Safety First

| Landscape Maintenance

IN TODAY’S ULTRA-COMPETITIVE business climate, every second counts. Any opportunity that allows you to do a job faster, better and in a more cost-effective fashion should be fully explored. However, corners are often cut in the name of efficiency. Rushing while mowing may get you off the turf and on to the next job quicker, but taking shortcuts will always catch up with you in the end.

First of all, it won’t take long for customers to notice that their turf is not being properly maintained. Bumpy, uneven lawns are exactly what clients don’t want. If you don’t take your time while cutting turf, that’s exactly what you’re going to give them. You’re also going to give your competition new customers.

It would be nice if a sloppy lawn was the worst result of hasty mowing. Unfortunately, a poorly cut lawn is not even close to the worst consequence. When you rush during a job, you’re just asking for someone to get hurt.

Landscape contractors and their managers need to make it clear that safety always trumps speed; that they are not interested in increased productivity if it means increased risk. Furthermore, they need to create a company-wide commitment to safety. Instilling safe mowing practices is not a oneshot deal. The best and most effective safety practices are ongoing, multi-faceted and attuned to employees’ needs and skills.

Kujawa Enterprises, Inc., a commercial landscape maintenance contractor in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, holds weekly safety meetings. During these meetings workers can review any incidents that occurred during the week, and brainstorm ways that the incident could have been prevented. During one weekly meeting, employees discussed an accident that occurred when a worker lost control of a mower while cutting a wet hillside. “He just didn’t realize how wet the slope was. When he started to mow, he just totally lost control of the machine and had to let it go sliding down the hill,” says Todd Hasler, Kujawa’s training coordinator. “This incident gave us an opportunity to discuss the importance of being aware of the conditions. It was also a great opportunity to remind our guys that they can’t just go through the motions; they always have to be thinking on their feet.”

Good safety practices go beyond the ad-hoc weekly review. They consist of verbal, written, and one-on-one training that reviews and models good safety practices. The manufacturer’s operator manual is a great place to start. It’s also a good idea to find out if the manufacturer provides a Spanish or video version. Some landscape contractors are able to translate documents themselves, but it’s a lot handier when the mower manufacturer does it for you.

Gachina Landscape Management in Menlo Park, California, has appointed a company safety officer. The employee is bilingual, so he not only translates written material from English to Spanish, but also translates during company meetings so that Spanish-speaking employees don’t miss important safety messages. Your company may not be large enough to appoint a safety officer, but you may be able to find a bilingual employee willing to take on some translation and safety tasks.

One of the most effective ways to instill good safety practices is by showing rather than telling. John Gachina, of Gachina Landscape Management, points out, “The potential for back injuries is great because workers are often catching and lifting clippings in a bag.” Repeatedly lifting and moving heavy bags incorrectly can lead to back injuries and missed work time. The answer? Demonstrate safe lifting practices. Ask employees to look out for the next guy, and make sure he’s doing the same.

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Never mind bad backs. Spinning blades and fingers are a recipe for disaster. All it takes is a frustrated employee rushing to get a job done who decides to reach under and clear the blade. It’s important to remind workers that the time and place for maintenance are before a job, and on the sidewalk. This, like other safety measures, takes a bit of time in the short run, but can save time, money and fingers in the long run by preventing accidents.

Other maintenance issues go hand in hand with safety. Bob Walker, president of Walker Manufacturing, Fort Collins, Colorado, points out how essential properly maintained equipment is when it comes to keeping employees safe. “Maintaining equipment is critical for safety. Most equipment has safety features designed to protect operators. The best bet is to familiarize yourself with the maintenance schedule, and follow it to the letter. If you do that, you’re going to keep your employees safe.” Walker says.

A few maintenance items are standard, no matter which type of mower your company uses. It’s important to sharpen mower blades. The accident potential is higher with dull blades because the worker won’t be getting the cut he needs. It’s also important to remember that safety features are subject to wear and tear. Take the braking system. A worn-out brake equals lost safety protection. Simple checks such as testing the security of the mower blade and the brake don’t take a lot of time, but can make a big difference.

Another periodic item to be reviewed is the operator seat switch. It takes less than a minute to start the engine and rise off the seat to see if the engine stops. It’s also important to take the time to check tire pressure. Properly inflated tires mean optimal traction and safer operation. It’s not uncommon for a landscape contractor or employee to attempt to modify a mower to do the job faster. A notorious example is removing or bungee cording the discharge chute. This helps throw grass farther in wet conditions, but also eliminates an important safety mechanism.

In addition, some landscape companies commit a no-no and remove the deflector shield, which leaves the operator vulnerable to an injury caused by a thrown object. It’s important to keep original pieces in their place, and to remind employees to re-install all shields and parts after routine maintenance. Incident review and routine maintenance are just part of the comprehensive safety package. Companies should also develop daily on-the-job mowing safety essentials. For example, at Kujawa Enterprises, Inc., employees are required to walk around the property to remove foreign objects before they begin mowing. “We want our guys to look for anything that may have changed since the last time they were there because you just never know. It takes a little bit of time, but it beats the consequences of a rock hitting a windshield,” says Chris Kujawa the company’s executive vice president.

One of the best ways to ensure that safety practices are followed is to require employees to demonstrate their knowledge of safe mowing practices before giving them a “license” to operate the equipment. “Our new employees go out in the field with more experienced crew members and are supervised while they get accustomed to using a particular piece of equipment. This way we can tell with 100 percent accuracy whether or not they know what they’re doing,” says Hasler. In addition to licensing workers, it’s not a bad idea to insist on a safety dress code. This includes steel-toed work boots, which can provide added traction in slippery areas, and protect feet and toes if an object is dropped onto them.

Safety glasses can protect eyes if an object is thrown, and ear protection for mower operators and workers in close proximity to mowers shields their ears and can prevent hearing loss from constant exposure to loud noise. Safety is so important because injuries impact the green industry on many levels. Nothing good happens when accidents occur. Foremost, people get hurt. But people are not the only thing put at risk when proper safety procedures are not followed When accidents happen, businesses are damaged and the overall reputation of the industry is tarnished. This is why your number one priority must be safety.

 
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