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September 14, 2015
Lawn & Landscape

Gone, but not forgotten

Landscapers give back to those who gave everything at Renewal & Remembrance.

By Brian Horn

Johnson, who works for LawnAmerica in Tulsa, Okla., and finished his active duty with the Marines at the beginning of June, specifically thinks about three friends from his unit who died in battle. Two of them are buried in Arlington National Cemetery where Johnson, along with more than 400 other members of the National Association of Landscape Professionals participated in the 19th annual Renewal & Remembrance.

“This trip is a good chance to give back to guys who gave everything,” said Johnson, who was visiting Arlington for the first time. “If they were still here, they would want to make the world a better place.”

Johnson’s father, Brad, who owns LawnAmerica, has volunteered at Renewal & Remembrance four times, but this one had a little more meaning.

“It’s a small way to honor our military,” Johnson said. “That my son is a vet makes it more meaningful, to me, especially since some of his unit is buried here.”

During Renewal & Remembrance, volunteers tended to 200-plus of the cemetery’s 624 acres. Volunteers mulched, pruned, aerated, and applied lime and gypsum to the grounds. Approximately 80 tons of lime were applied to 182 acres of turf.

In addition, irrigation contractors performed audits and inspected and repaired irrigation systems as needed to various parts of the cemetery. Arborists installed lightning protection on seven of the cemetery’s historic trees and cabled two others for support.

Brion Moore, deputy superintendent of cemetery operations, said the grounds would be much more difficult to maintain without NALP members volunteering. “It will have effects throughout this season and into next year,” he said.

Jimmy Viars and his wife, Juli, who attended with the Professional Grounds Management Society, planned on leaving two rocks that read “strength” and “heal” on the tombstone of his father, John, who served in World War II and the Korean War.

“It gives us a chance to take care of the people who protected us,” Jimmy said.

Along with those volunteering at the cemetery, two children of association members placed a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The morning began with a formal program with speeches from Moore, NALP President Scott Jamieson, John Deere Landscapes CEO Doug Black and Senator Kelly Ayote, N.H., who helped her husband, Joseph, who is a veteran, start landscaping company.

“Your time and energy will make a big difference today,” she said. “I applaud the hard work you all do every single day.”

New Holland Construction and Caterpillar were platinum sponsors.


Talking politics

While in D.C, contractors also took part in NALP’s Day on the Hill, where they got face time with their local representatives or the rep’s aides. The points contractors addressed included:

• Comprehensive immigration reform/H-2B program. NALP asked for a method through which immigrant workers can be legalized even if their documentation may not be able to be obtained because of the fine line between authenticating paperwork and being too aggressive, which can lead to discrimination charges.

Contractors say with the economy improving, they’ll need more workers and because the 66,000-worker cap includes other industries, it is reached quickly. Contractors would also benefit from a returning employee exemption. The organization would also like to address the way H-2B wages are set.

• Seasonal employee definition. The Simplifying Technical Aspects Regarding Seasonality (STARS) Act of 2015 would define a seasonal employee as a worker who is employed on a seasonal basis for six months or less during a calendar year. It would also exclude seasonal workers from the applicable large employer calculation under the Affordable Care Act.

• Waters of the United States. A new rule will expand the scope of waters subject to the Clean Water Act regulation well beyond the law’s intent, according to NALP. That means contractors may need permits for activities such as removing debris and vegetation from a ditch, applying pesticides and building a fence or a pond or be required by cities when discharging pollutants.

• Tick-borne diseases. With reports of Lyme disease growing, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, NALP is asking for sponsorship of bills that would establish a tick-borne diseases advisory committee and would provide research funding for the disease, which is commonly mis-diagnosed because the symptoms mimic other diseases.


A veteran’s perspective

By Jake Johnson

Just because my military service is over, it doesn't mean it's time to put it on cruise control and enjoy my free meal at Golden Corral every Veterans Day.

I had the opportunity to attend the 2015 Renewal and Remembrance Day through the National Association of Landscape Professionals with my dad. This was my first time to come to the D.C. area and to Arlington National Cemetery.

This trip was personal to me because two of our Marine brothers, Kevin Cornelius and Tyler Griffin, from our 2010 deployment to Musa Qala Afghanistan were buried in Arlington. We lost eight other brothers that summer out there with most of them buried in small cemeteries across the nation.

That day, more than 400 lawn care professionals came to Arlington on their own dime in the middle of the July heat and a busy time of the year for most. They helped treat, maintain and repair the hallowed grounds where our nation’s heroes rest.

Some were veterans with friends and family buried there, but most just wanted to give back to those who have given it all. Pushing, sweating and working between those headstones was one of the most humbling experiences of my life. Normally, my eyes just watch in front of me while I push the spreader but that day, I read the headstones as I passed.

I walked over Medal of Honor recipients, Navy Crosses and more Silver and Bronze Stars than I have ever seen. Uncommon valor was a common virtue to these men.

Once our work was done and Pops and I were worn out, we snuck away to visit the two brothers we lost in 2010. They were resting in Section 60, about a half mile away from where we worked that day. When we got there, it was much different from any of the other sections in the cemetery. This was where many of our brothers and sisters lost in the current war rest. Fresh dirt and new sod was on most of the graves.

The dates on the headstones in section 60 told a different story – 1990-2010, 1985-2003…..18-, 19-, and 20-year old kids. Lives cut short in the sand halfway across the world. Rows and rows of bleached granite stones, each one representing a folded American flag handed to a wife or mother. Each representing a father putting an old cardboard box full of trophies and baseball gloves up in the attic because the memory is too painful. Each representing kids growing up with a picture of a vaguely familiar young man in dress blues hanging in their living room that mommy refers to as "Daddy." These men and women volunteered during a time of war, knowing that there was a distinct possibility they wouldn't come home.

There is an old quote that nobody can agree who it's attributed to, but it's worth repeating. "They say a man dies two deaths, once when he stops breathing and once when his name is mentioned for the last time." If my friend Richard Penny was still alive today, he couldn’t care less if some patch of soil in northern Virginia had the pH balanced.

That's not what this day was about. If Penny, Cornelius, Griffin were still here today, they would still be serving their country, community and the people around them.

These men made everything around them a better place every single day. Now that they have completed their service and are at rest, it's up to us to continue on the legacy that they left unfinished. It's up to us as veterans and as Americans to continue to serve long after Uncle Sam has chewed us up and spit us out.

There is some healing in giving back to others, especially for me in this situation. I think of those guys every single day and want to live a life full of meaning and service to honor their memory. By serving others and teaching the next generation about those who selflessly gave everything for this great land, we ensure that the names like Penny, Cornelius and Griffin will live on and be remembered.

My three buddies, along with many others, paid the true price for us being able to enjoy a beautiful lawn, earn a living in this great business, raise a family and all the other freedoms we enjoy today. Let us never forget the true price they paid for us all to enjoy these blessings.

The author is employed at LawnAmerica, in Tulsa, Okla.


Catch and don’t release

Next month, we’ll tackle contractors’ roadblocks when it comes to hiring and retention, one of the biggest challenges in the industry. Smart Staffing Month, sponsored by Gravely, will include:

  • Stories on how lawn and landscape companies have overcome hiring and retention problems.
  • Best practices from companies that have found successful staffing strategies.
  • Exclusive research on how landscapers across the country find and keep the best employees.

Plus, keep an eye on Lawn & Landscape’s and Gravely’s Twitter and Facebook accounts for a full month of hiring and retention tips. Just follow #smartstaffing to make sure you don’t miss a thing.



Ask the Experts

Twisters and blowers

Q: This time of the year, one of the reminders is about thunder and lightning storms and safe places to be. However, in my research about tornado safety it occurred to me that our landscape crews could very easily be working in the yard of a client who is either not home or unwilling to bring them into their home thus begging the question: What’s the safest place for them to be should they suddenly hear tornado warning/siren sounding the alarm that a tornado has been sighted? I couldn’t find any specific information and wondered if you have been asked this question and might have an answer.

A: FEMA has a program entitled “FEMA 320: Taking Shelter from the Storm,” that has some good rules to follow if caught on the road or away from a known sheltering area. Also, an organization called the Tornado Project Online has a good resource called “Tornado Safety on the Road” that you might find useful in your program development. Both of these are available through Google.

Being in the Chicago area, you have some vulnerability for severe storms. As you will note in the resources listed above, a vehicle is not a good place to ride out a severe storm, especially if tornadic conditions are possible. Obviously as you mentioned, job sites, either residential or commercial, should have a basement or protected area where the workers can be sheltered if permitted by the property owner. In the event this is not possible, encourage them to seek a low area like a culvert or drainage ditch to shelter themselves. The culvert could be dangerous however, if excessive rainfall fills it. The idea of sheltering under an overpass is not fully supported because most survival stories to date have been reported in less violent storms. Flying debris under the overpass could be problematic.

Let me suggest that you have someone at your firm put together an emergency preparedness plan that covers these three areas: emergency preparedness at the office, emergency preparedness on the road and emergency preparedness on the jobsite. This allows you to customize your emergency response program based upon the construction, location and environment of your offices, the highways and roadways that your crews travel to job sites and unique sheltering conditions available at the jobsites.


Q: How can our company comply with the “lockout" for bark blowers (both old and new) in order to be compliant with OSHA regulation?

A: The most useful resources for your firm in dealing with the hazards associated with bark blowers can be found at bit.ly/llbarkblow. This 11-page report on a fatal injury incident in Maryland in 2004 deals specifically with a young worker who entered a hopper while the auguring mechanism and drag conveyor were in operation. At the time of the incident, this Latino worker was only 15 years of age. His mother had provided a birth certificate to the employer indicating her son was 17 years of age. He spoke no English, but understood some. His supervisor on the day of the incident was also Latino and was able to communicate with the worker.

The worker had been instructed to turn off the unit's power box and bring the key to the crew supervisor. Obviously, he did not follow these instructions, and for some reason either climbed into or fell into the hopper and became entangled in the auger. Augers are unforgiving and the traumatic injuries in this incident are described in the website report. The NIOSH link I provided will give much more detail.

This incident and an incident in Washington involving a 19-year-old victim have the attention of OSHA, and that training on confined space and lock-out/tag-out practices are being enforced. In both incidents, the victims were new employees and this scenario is common of new workers across many industrial sectors in the U.S.

The NIOSH Fatality Access and Control Evaluation Report on page 2 of the document above includes a bulleted series of recommendations for preventing and mitigating these types of incidents. For many landscape firms using bark blowers, confined space training is a new area that they did not have to worry about before.

Please keep in mind that new employees, and oftentimes your younger employees, are risk takers who often show up looking for work and will not be truthful about their previous work experience. As an employer who needs workers for replacements or for expanding work sites, we must be careful not to skip the all-important training on the hazards that the workers will be exposed to. If they claim to have knowledge and experience on equipment operations, make sure they demonstrate these skills before assigning them their jobs.

Sam Steel
Safety Adviser
National Association of Landscape Professionals

Ask the Experts is brought to you in partnership with NALP, the National Association of Landscape Professionals. Questions are fielded through NALP’s Trailblazers, the industry’s leading company mentoring program. For more questions visit Landscapeprofessionals.org.


Labor department proposes overtime pay changes

By Katie Tuttle

The U.S. Department of Labor has proposed a change to federal overtime pay requirements, raising the exempt status of overtime pay to $50,440 in 2016.

Under current rules, an employee is exempt from overtime if he earns a salary of more than $455 a week/$23,600 annually, and his “primary duties” are defined by the DOL as managerial, professional or administrative.

The DOL’s new proposal more than doubles the threshold to $970 a week/$50,440 annually. So any employees at your company who makes less than $970 a week would be classified as an hourly employee, and would be paid overtime if they work more than 40 hours a week.

According to data collected from Lawn & Landscape’s most recent benchmarking report, the average landscape company pays its salaried employees (account managers, supervisors, crew foremen/leaders and designers) all less than $50,000 a year. Under the DOL’s proposal, all of these positions would switch over to hourly jobs.

If your employees work enough overtime, their paycheck could end up being well over the amount they were previously making as a salaried employee.

“Everybody is going to have to look at their workforce, how they’re being paid and how they’re being classified, and make decisions of whether they’re going to change how they do that to meet the requirements,” Tom Delaney, director of government affairs for the National Association of Landscape Professionals.

Job classification. If your crew leader, for example, does the same work as a crew, DOL’s proposal says he can no longer be classified as a supervisor. He has to stick to either the supervisory responsibilities and not do the same work as the rest of the crew, or else not be classified as a supervisor.

“If they switch supervisors over to hourly pay, then they’re not going to get some of the other compensation they used to get, like a vehicle or computer or some kind of other type of things that they might have been getting from being a supervisor,” Delaney says.

Hourly pay could hurt your supervisors in terms of weather as well. If the weather’s bad and your crew gets sent home, the supervisors won’t get paid.

What you can do. The DOL intends to make these changes effective in 60 days. Because of the affect these changes will have on the industry, NALPs is demanding that the administration add an additional 60 days to give people time to research and comment.

NALP is urging members of the industry to write to their legislator (bit.ly/llcongress) and ask the DOL (bit.ly/llgovreg) to extend the deadline for comments on the new proposal. It’s important for individual companies to show the DOL how this will affect them.