Q. I own a growing company which primarily provides chemical weed control and fertilization services. As the company grows, I am placing a greater emphasis on safety. One question is in regard to blood work for spray technicians to assess their chemical exposure.
Are you familiar with this type of testing or know of any specific resources for additional information? Specifically, I am interested in learning more about the benefits/necessity of such testing, under what circumstances it becomes important and which tests are important and at what frequency. I am also seeking information regarding appropriate policies and procedures regarding results of employee tests and any legality involved.
A. A recently retired Pennsylvania pesticide regulatory staff member stopped by my office, and I shared your email with him. We had a long discussion about the pros and cons of blood testing for pesticide applicators. Let me share with you some of our thoughts and recommendations.
One, many of the chemicals that your personnel are applying for weed control on turf will not show up in blood tests, and even if they did, they may show false readings. Take for example 2,4-D or dicamba herbicides. Neither of these products is a cholinesterase inhibitor, so the blood tests that measure the status of cholinesterase would not change from one month to the next.
Cholinesterase is an enzyme in the blood that is important for the transmission of nerve system messages at the nerve synapse (there are millions of these in the human body). This is where nerve endings come together and a chemical (cholinesterase) is found between the nerve endings that helps the messages flow uninterrupted across the synapse. If a cholinesterase-inhibiting pesticide (malathion, sevin, or other carbamates or organophosphates) has been absorbed, ingested or inhaled into the body, and then moves through the bloodstream to the central nervous system, it can inhibit or tie-up cholinesterase.
When this happens, the cholinesterase is not available to help in the transmission of nerve messages. Physical symptoms of this inhibition of the critical enzyme include profuse sweating, headaches or dizziness, and the individual may feel like he or she is going to throw up. Heavy doses of cholinesterase inhibitors can also cause more severe symptoms that may be life threatening.
Two, essentially, there are no blood tests that accurately measure cholinesterase inhibition for technicians who are performing weed control on turfgrasses. In lieu of these blood tests, we suggest that your technicians take part in periodic and ongoing safety training that emphasizes the importance of personal protective equipment (PPE). I would spend some time and write up a comprehensive PPE program based on the PPE recommendations on product labels and MSDS.
Make the program as interactive as possible, meaning that you demonstrate, and then have the employees demonstrate their understanding and use of the PPE while applying pesticides. Make sure the PPE program is formally written and is an integral part of your safety training program. Please make sure that all employees who are trained on any aspects of your written safety program, sign-off (their signature) on their training, with the topic, instructor’s name and date of training clearly identified on the documentation.
Reminder: All new employees should be trained before they apply any chemicals, and follow-up training should be conducted on a regular basis, especially with employees who have been observed in violation of your company’s PPE policies and programs.
Also, make sure you have plenty of PPE in reserve so your technicians can obtain the chemical-resistant body suits, gloves, goggles, boots, and head and eye protection that will eliminate exposure to pesticides while they are making applications.
Three, in high temperature places like Texas and during warmer weather, please don’t let your employees cut corners on wearing PPE.
I would agree that some of the PPE may be a little warm. However, not wearing PPE because of sweating is not an excuse. PPE only provides protection if it is fully implemented for each and every application. You can look for cooler examples of chemical-resistant body suits and skin protection if this becomes an issue with employees.
In order to help you better understand what it takes to test and improve soil – and why it’s so important to do – we explored some of the most common questions landscapers pose on the topic.
All of these can have a detrimental effect on the success of your lawn care maintenance program. For the latter concern, there are several potential solutions. “For turf, aerations work well,” says Bill Leuenberger, Soil and Turf Management Department, Chalet Nursery. “Gypsum (a naturally occurring mineral with the chemical formula of calcium sulfate) can help, though it takes a long time to see results.”
For the former, the only way to know for certain whether a lawn is too acidic or too alkaline is to perform a soil test, says Chuck Darrah, president and consulting landscape agronomist for CLC Labs. Nutrient deficiencies in general are also a problem and different areas of the country have their own specific deficiencies, Darrah says. Many soils in parts of the Midwest and Mid-South are low in phosphorus. On the other hand, soils low in potassium are more common in much of the Northeast, Southeast and Northwest. “A good soil testing lab can give you the correct recommendations so that you’re adding just the right amount of the right nutrient back into the soil,” Darrah says.
Lawn grasses in general have an optimum pH range and a minimum nutrient requirement below which a quality lawn simply cannot be achieved, adds Darrah.
“Although nitrogen alone can produce a dark green lawn, long-term plant health cannot be assured unless other nutrients are present in the correct amount and the soil pH is in the preferred range.”
“‘Healthy earth, healthy turf’ is not just a rhyme – it’s a fact,” Leuenberger says. “Soils that are living, healthy and thriving root zones provide plants with the opportunity to flourish. Healthy soils have tiny microbes which help (plants) to develop strong root systems. Because the earth is always changing, the nutrients we supply are either taken up by microbes in the soil, plants or, in some cases, leached out of the soil. But great soils allow your plants to take all of its nutrients.”
In addition, there’s an environmental responsibility factor in play as well. LCOs know that there’s a lot of “anti-phosphorous hysteria” out there resulting in more and more fertilizer bans, says Stuart Z. Cohen, president of Environmental & Turf Services. “Testing the soil lets you know just how much fertilizer needs to be applied,” he adds. “There’s actually a danger in under-fertilizing. If LCOs under-fertilize and there’s patchy grass cover, they’ll not only get fired by the client, but they’ll add to environmental pollution because it will lead to more phosphorous-bound sediment running off and into the waterways. Good healthy turf helps reduce sediment run-off. It may not be well-known, but in many cases, using the right amount of fertilizer is better for the environment than using none at all.”
It also helps to position a soil testing service as added value to your client. Tell the client that soil testing helps you individualize the service for their lawn, suggests Darrah. Talk in terms of monetary value. If you find a low nutrient level or the need for lime, a corrective application can be made. This way, the client gets more bang for their buck.
The whole soil testing effort comes back to a marketing plan. “Establish how you want to position soil testing within your various customer segments,” says Darrah. “Soil testing has a high-perceived value among users of lawn care services. Newspaper articles on lawn care and gardening magazine articles always advise homeowners to soil test – as does every university. This makes it an important tool in customer acquisition and retention that not only individualizes the service you provide, but positions your company as both professional and environmentally responsible.”
dreamstime.comMany lawn and landscape companies spend upwards of $10,000 per year on rental equipment. Whether they’re digging a trench, cutting sod or just looking for an extra truck for a job, these business owners need good, reliable equipment delivered on time. There’s nothing more aggravating than renting a skid-steer that breaks down hours after it’s been unloaded – leaving workers stranded and idle until a replacement arrives.
Lawn and landscape companies should be strategic about what kind of equipment they decide to rent, says Darin Zuccaro, owner of Yardscapes in New Port Richey, Fla. “The two main items we rent for installs are front loaders and sod cutters,” he says. “Because the sod cutters are always breaking down, it’s more efficient for me to rent them, because the dealer fixes them and I don’t have to wait a week.”
Pricing services is a science and art. There are hard numbers that figure into a company’s cost of doing business, and there must be a return-on-investment for an operation to thrive.
Pricing with a personal touch
Heat related illness often does not receive as much attention as other workplace hazards and is often under reported.
A high profile case of heat stroke was that of Korey Stringer, a 27-year-old member of the Minnesota Vikings football team. On Aug. 1, 2001, he collapsed after two and a half hours of practice in 90 degree heat. At the hospital, his core body temperature was recorded at 108 degrees. He died shortly thereafter of major organ failure. Many were shocked at how sudden and serious the consequences of heat exposure can be, but his tragic story brought to light a serious workplace hazard that concerns thousands of workers every year.
According to OSHA, the combination of heat and humidity can be a serious health threat during summer months.
Here are several precautions to take: