Beat the heat
As summer temperatures rise, landscape contractors try these tricks for maintaining employee productivity and safety.
By Julie Collins
When summer heat sets in, many landscape companies fall back on one tried-and-true strategy: getting an early start.
For JubileeScape, a commercial and residential landscape management company in Mobile, Ala., that means getting to the first job of the day as soon as there is enough light to see by – although employees don’t start on residential projects before 6 a.m., says Robin Luce, president and owner.
Dixie Landscape, a landscape maintenance company that serves homeowners associations and commercial properties in the area surrounding Dade, Fla., also schedules early start times so crews can wrap up the workday sooner on days with particularly high temperatures. And in Troy, Ohio, where Ever-Green Turf and Landscape is located, work starts an hour to an hour and a half earlier when temperatures are forecasted to reach 90 to 95 degrees, says General Manager Kirk Persinger.
But starting the workday early is only one strategy landscape businesses use when the mercury rises. Here are some other key considerations that come into play when the heat settles in for the summer.
Train crews to stay safe. During yearly training, employees of Ever-Green Turf and Landscape learn about the signs of heat exhaustion and dehydration so they know what to look for once summer temperatures arrive. Crew chiefs in particular are on alert for signs of trouble.
“When it’s warm out, I’m in constant contact with my guys,” Persinger says. “Crew chiefs may get tired of hearing from me, but I check in every couple of hours to make sure everything is OK.”
At JubileeScape, supervisors and foremen keep an eye out for employees who look overheated or disoriented. “When we have heat waves, we’ll talk about how we can take care of the guys. It’s about communication,” Luce says. He adds that JubileeScape employees have never dealt with a heat stroke or other serious health problems resulting from heat exposure.
“We have had people get overheated, though,” Luce says. “We’ll send them to the doctor in a moment if they need it. Otherwise, we encourage them to drink plenty of fluids and rest.”
Know when to take breaks. Encouraging rest and fluids are common strategies for helping landscaping crews deal with the heat, but employees need to take responsibility as well. “We let the guys and girls manage their bodies themselves. They know their bodies more than we do. If they need two or three breaks before lunch, that’s what they do. I don’t set any schedules,” Persinger says. “When the heat gets like this out there, whenever you need a break or need water, you do what you need to do.”
Jeff Reamer, president of Dixie Landscape, says his company stresses common sense with employees when it comes to extreme heat, as does Luce.
“One size doesn’t fit all. We have reasonable expectations. If someone gets hot, they sit down, take a break, get something to drink. If someone is abusing breaks, that’s a management issue we deal with.”
How frequently employees need breaks also depends on the nature of work they’re doing, Luce adds. For instance, he says employees walking around with backpack sprayers or digging in the dirt for extended periods have to be more cautious than those riding on a lawn mower.
Keep crews cool. Although the responsibility for staying safe falls in large part on employees’ shoulders, many companies also take steps to assist crews in the field. For instance, Dixie Landscape makes sure every vehicle has a working air conditioner when temperatures rise.
Luce says his company stocks plenty of water on every truck, which is a priority for Ever-Green Turf and Landscape, too. “We make sure we have 5-gallon coolers in the back of the truck and refill them with ice cold water at lunchtime so crews don’t have to go out of their way to get something cold to drink,” Persinger says.
Adjust to higher temps. In Florida, “nature seems to bring the heat on slowly, and we acclimate to it,” Reamer says. “Basically, we follow the flow of nature, so by the time the peak of it comes we’re in shape for it.”
Most employees do get accustomed to working in high temperatures, Luce adds. “I do have sympathy for those guys, but the heat is a fact of life.”
However, some people handle the heat better than others. “If guys just can’t take the heat, they don’t work out,” he admits.
Persinger offers an example to further illustrate this fact. “Last year, we had an employee whose body reacted very badly to the heat once it got about 86 or 87 degrees. He’d come in early and work and take vacation or personal time if temperatures got high,” Persinger says.
Eventually, however, the employee decided to take a different job.
Call it a day. What’s considered “too hot” varies from region to region and also depends on what type of job landscape crews are tackling.
Yet most companies do have an informal sense of when “hot” becomes “too hot.” When those “too hot” temperatures hit, management may make the decision to call it a day early.
“We don't want these guys working in the heat when it becomes a safety issue and a productivity issue,” Luce says.
If it gets too hot, he says they’re better off saying, “Let’s go home and get an early start tomorrow.”
Although the goal is to be as productive as possible, at some points, Luce admits his company just has to say, “We’ve done all we can get done today.”
For Ever-Green Turf and Landscape, if temperatures get up to 95 or 96 degrees at noon, the company shuts down for the day.
“It’s too hot for employees and the yards. We don't want to damage plants or turf,” Persinger says. In fact, in 2013, Persinger says the whole company shut down for a couple of days due to heat index readings up to 115 degrees.
“That doesn’t happen very often,” Persinger says. But when extreme heat occurs, it’s smart to get employees out of the sun.
The author is a freelance writer based in Lincoln, Ill.
Ask the Experts
Q: I’m looking for an office manager for our company, because I’m overwhelmed with the office duties.
I have one reference from a friend for a person who worked at a pesticide company for 5 years and helped see the company grow from $1.5-$3 million. He ran the office/employees and helped to sell too.
He is asking for $50,000-$60,000 in salary along with a 5 percent cut from the profit. I’m not comfortable with that. What are some creative ways to pay for someone like this?
A: First, determine what this job entails. Assemble a job description, performance metrics, performance evaluation, pay range, etc. Then, build some good screening and interviewing questions. Finally, make a list of everything you want them to be doing and how their success will be measured.
Be careful with candidates that have too high of compensation expectations or have been accustomed to making more than 20 percent of what you can afford.
If they are truly a good fit and a fair deal can be made for both parties, then continue to the next step: determining what’s a win-win scenario for both of you.
If there is a possible agreement to be made, be flexible, but don’t offer something that is hard to retract, like profit sharing right from the very start of employment.
In this scenario, after we had our conference call, it seemed that this person was a good fit but the compensation was too rich for what the company could afford. We worked on determining what you could reasonably afford as the base salary and then offered some additional earning potential with a percentage on sales for recurring and extra work. It’s way too early to be considering a profit share.
Bill Arman, The Harvest Group
Trailblazer, 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.
TruGreen LandCare changes name
IJAMSVILLE, Md. – TruGreen LandCare announced a name change and a refreshed brand. The company will now operate as LandCare.
The brand was developed with input from branch teams, who participated in an intensive discovery process aimed at uncovering the core values that drive success across the company.
In a series of branch visits, new CEO Mike Bogan met with several hundred team members across all 50 branches, who collectively articulated a set of core values that are at the heart of the new brand.
“It was important to me to understand what drives our team members and what makes them want to come to work every day,” Bogan says.
“The result is a brand that honestly reflects the spirit of the company and one that I know everyone on our team can stand behind.”
LandCare was spun off from ServiceMaster in 2011, and immediately focused on building infrastructure to support a stand-alone business.
With nearly 30 years in the landscape industry, including 23 with Brickman, Bogan took the helm in November 2014 after Vidu Kulkarni stepped down.
The new brand includes the tag line, Your Land. Our Care.
“Though our team has always been focused on quality and service, having a set of shared values will provide a touchstone to help us strengthen our culture, and continue making the right choices in the best interest of our people and our customers,” Bogan says.
TruGreen LandCare ranked 7th on Lawn & Landscape’s 2015 Top 100 list with revenue of $205 million.
Aurora Capital Group, a Los Angeles-based private equity firm bought the company from ServiceMaster for $38 million – a fraction of the $250 million SerivceMaster paid for it in 1999.
Industry groups sue DOL and DHS
MIAMI, Fla. – Two industry associations are fighting back against a recent ruling altering H-2B procedures.
The National Hispanic Landscape Alliance has joined Bayou Lawn and Landscape Services, the National Association of Landscape Professionals, Superior Forestry and the Small and Seasonal Business Legal Center in filing a lawsuit seeking to make the recently enacted H-2B rules illegal.
The suit against the U.S. Department of Labor and the Department of Homeland Security in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida would eliminate regulations filed April 28.
The new ruling has many new procedures, including:
- All jobs must be at least 35 hours per week, rather than 30.
- Job offers must remain open to U.S. workers until 21 days before the employer's start date of need.
- Employment duration was decreased from 10 to 9 months.
- Employers must guarantee a certain number of work days to employees.
- Private wage surveys may not be used to determine hourly rates.
- Former employees with U.S. citizenship must be contacted with job opportunities.
“It’s frankly very disheartening as we visit our members across the country and meet so many of them really poised for growth, ready to make investments, ready to bring people on board,” said Ralph Egües, executive director of the NHLA.
“They work hard to implement best practices and, but for the ability to staff their crews, they’re ready for big things,” he says.
“We’ve got this administration working against the needs of a lot of people in the country but very acutely affecting Hispanics in the landscape industry, so we’ve got to do what we can.”
Many contractors – as well as other industries like hospitality and food production – rely on the program for employees they say they can’t find domestically.
In fiscal year 2014, 93,649 H-2B positions were certified by the government. Landscapers employed 34,845 seasonal workers during that time, the most out of any industry.
The next-closest industry, forest and conservation workers, employed just 9,602, according to data from the Department of Labor.
The lawsuit is based on the fact that they are contrary to the requirements of the Administrative Procedure Act and the DOL and DHS did not give the public a chance to comment on them.
The lawsuit also claims that there was no emergency, therefore there was no basis for making the rules immediately effective. – Kate Spirgen
Inside the student’s mind
We recently polled 180 college students in a green industry major to get their thoughts about a future in the green industry and what they’ve learned in school about landscaping. What we found is that money is not the most important factor in turning a job offer down, and they don’t expect to break the bank immediately. For more results from the survey, find the June issue of L&L at lawnandlandscape.com.