The ABCs of landscape safety programs

Columns - Industry Voices

While landscapers acknowledge the importance of safety to their business operations, they seldom know the full extent to which a safety program is defined.

August 13, 2012
Steve Cesare

Steve Cesare

While landscapers acknowledge the importance of safety to their business operations, they seldom know the full extent to which a safety program is defined. In fact, it is not uncommon for landscapers to believe they are legally compliant if their safety program consists of: having new employees watch safety videotapes on their first day of work, conducting weekly tailgate sessions and distributing PPE to employees. There is much more to it than that.

This article summarizes many safety concepts required by federal/state law into three categories – administrative, behaviors, consequences – to help landscapers understand the entire scope of a safety program. This simplified ABC model allows landscapers to systematically audit their existing safety programs, develop appropriate action plans and track improvement.

Administrative. Though often viewed as bureaucratic, the components listed below assist in defining the company’s safety culture, which underscores the company’s intent to improve employee safety and withstand an OSHA audit.

To be clear, the documents listed below must not be developed and then stored in an office file cabinet never to see the light of day. Rather, each component must be shared with all employees in a manner clarifying its respective role in improving employee safety, procedural efficiency, and organizational success.

  • State/Federal OSHA Compliance
  • OSHA Audit Response Procedures
  • Record Keeping of Safety Documents
  • Legal Postings
  • Company Safety Goals
  • Company Safety Policy
  • Code of Safe Practices
  • Employee Handbook
  • Mission Statement & Core Values
  • Job Descriptions
  • Injury and Illness Prevention Program
  • Hazard Communication Program
  • Lockout/Tagout Program
  • Employer Pull Notification Program

Behaviors. This section presents the behaviors that bring the company’s safety program to life.

Behaviors like safety meetings, training sessions and audit procedures emphasize the salient role of safety as part of the company’s culture, each employee’s standard work routine, and procedural expectations. Depending upon its specific contribution to the safety program, a behavior may be demonstrated daily (e.g., vehicle audit), weekly (e.g., tailgate session), monthly (e.g., safety committee meeting), annually (e.g., OSHA safety audit), or on an “as-needed” basis (e.g., New Employee Orientation).

  • Drug Testing Program
  • Return to Work Program
  • Training: Safety Videotapes
  • Training: Tailgate Sessions
  • Training: Field Positions (e.g., Laborer, Leadman, Foreman)
  • Training: First Aid/CPR
  • Training: Pesticides
  • Training: Injury and Illness Prevention
  • Training: Hazard Communication
  • Training: Fire Extinguisher
  • Training: Emergency Action Plan

Consequences. Whether it is through rewards and recognition, disciplinary procedures, or industry-wide comparison (e.g., Experience Modification Rate), a company’s safety program must be routinely evaluated just like other key performance metrics (e.g., sales, profit, gross margin).

Based upon these measurements, suitable changes must be made at the employee, procedural or organizational level to continuously improve safety results.

  • Performance Appraisals
  • Rewards and Recognition
  • Disciplinary Procedures
  • Safety Hearings
  • Safety Raffles
  • Documentation in Personnel File
  • Tracking: OSHA 300 Series Forms
  • Tracking: Year-to-year Experience Modification Rate
  • Tracking: Year-to-year Injury Rates by month
  • Tracking: Year-to-year Expenses by month
  • Tracking: Year-to-year Reserves by month

The ABC model is intended to organize the diverse components of a safety program into a useful checklist format allowing landscapers to ensure comprehensive coverage.

Naturally, the lists provided above must be tailored based on the relevant state laws applicable to a particular landscape company.

It is important that landscapers realize the full extent of a safety program; thereby generating initiative to devote resources to ensure their safety culture achieves desired results.

Steve Cesare is an industrial psychologist with the Harvest Group, a landscape consulting group. Send your HR questions to