Safety first

Features - Equipment Focus

Award-winning safety firms share secrets of their success.

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February 6, 2020

Safety training should be implemented daily, not just in office meetings.
Photo courtesy of Mahoney Associates

Keeping crews safe and job sites accident-free are top priorities for every landscape company, but achieving a safety culture that’s front-of-mind with every employee doesn’t just happen on its own.

Building a safety culture takes intention and requires routine safety meetings, standard safety protocols and management and leadership teams that take safety seriously.

To glean tips for establishing a safety-first mentality, Lawn & Landscape spoke with three firms who have won national awards for their safety records – Clarence Davids & Company, with multiple locations serving the Chicago area; Mahoney Associates, in Southampton, New York; and Snow & Sons Tree & Landscaping in Greenfield, Massachusetts.

1. Standardize Crews’ Safety Equipment.

To ensure crews have the safety equipment they need, Mahoney Associates provides every team member with a standard safety starter kit, which includes a reflective vest,

ear and eye protection, as well as high-visibility jackets for the winter, says Michael Maskiell, Mahoney’s lawn care division manager. Crew members are also asked to sign a document acknowledging receipt of the safety wear – both for insurance purposes but also to signify that they agree to commit to wearing them.

Mahoney has also installed standardized safety equipment on every crew truck, including a first-aid kit, a fire extinguisher and even a card with pertinent safety information. “Taped to the back window of every truck is a safety card with 911 as well as the phone number and address of the local hospital, walk-in clinic, and Chemtrec – if there is a chemical exposure,” says founder Don Mahoney.

2. Prioritize On-the-Job Safety Training.

At Snow & Sons, much of the safety training surrounding equipment use is done on-the-job, with foremen and other leadership personnel modeling best practices to new hires and those less familiar with the tools. It starts with basic training at the office – how to use the equipment safely and to get the desired result and what to watch out for when working on a job site.

Employees then practice using the equipment at the office before working with crews on a job site. “With equipment, we’re going to show employees how to run it, what you need to watch out for and how to do a good job,” says manager Kyle Snow. “When dealing with chainsaws and hedge trimmers in particular, we try to outline possible problem scenarios that could cause injuries.”

Mahoney Associates frequently supplements its internal staff safety trainings with workshops provided through other, outside sources – including industry associations and the company’s own insurance company.

“Our insurance company sent someone in for five-hours of training to get our team certified on forklifts, doing defensive driving, proper lifting, and cold-weather exposure training,” Mahoney says. “Once we reached out, we learned they had this massive catalog of safety programs – some we can implement ourselves, and others where they can send someone in.”

“With equipment, we’re going to show employees how to run it, what you need to watch out for and how to do a good job.” Kyle Snow, manager, Snow & Sons Tree & Landscaping

3. Hold Regular Safety Meetings.

At Clarence Davids & Company, all staff members attend a full-day safety training just before the spring busy season and again before the winter snow removal season.

“Everybody comes in, and we have numerous bullet points that we go over, whether it’s driving (safety) or information on new pieces of equipment, or any new regulations that have gone into effect,” says president Bill Davids. “We’ll do the same for snow, with driving and plowing safety during the winter.”

At Mahoney Associates, safety meetings are held weekly or bi-weekly, depending on the work level of the season. But safety lessons aren’t tabled only until meeting time; management and foremen use every workday as an opportunity for training.

“At these meetings, we’ll discuss issues and concerns focusing on safety, review safety procedures, and discuss equipment (protocols),” Maskiell says. “Also, while we’re out in the field, we’re doing safety inspections with the workers and mentoring them on why safety is important – why it’s important for them to wear their safety equipment and how it benefits them.”

Familiarity with equipment, including chainsaws, starts with basic office training and outlining typical scenarios where injuries occur.
Photo courtesy of Mahoney Associates

4. Document Mistakes and Reward Success.

Along with its spring and winter safety trainings, Clarence Davids also has an annual, company-wide fall safety meeting, during which employees with positive safety records are publicly recognized and awarded with sweatshirts or other company gear. Employees are also eligible for twice-a-year paycheck bonuses based on maintaining a clean safety record.

When incidents do occur, the issue is carefully documented and a crew foreman goes over the mistake with the team member.

“Each accident is written up, and it’s gone over by the supervisor and the employee,” Davids says. “Then when we pay out bonuses, they get a sheet that shows their record, either clean, or the date of the incident and what it was.”

5. Keep Crews Visible.

In addition to providing visibility vests or jackets to team members, it’s also essential to make trucks visible – and to find ways to clearly mark work zones – in order to avoid potential traffic, crew or pedestrian accidents.

“I would say safety cones, work zone signage, and caution tape (are essential), anything to prohibit people from coming into a work area if we’re doing tree trimming or other work,” Davids says.

6. Be Mindful of Common Safety Hazards.

When planning your teams’ safety training, don’t focus solely on large-scale safety hazards – such as chainsaw accidents or equipment rollovers – while excluding smaller, more common ones.

“Truthfully, our biggest issues are bee stings and poison ivy,” Snow says. “Those are our most frequent incident reports.”

As a result, Snow & Sons safety training includes steps to avoid bees and how to identify and avoid poison ivy.

In a similar vein, Davids notes that some of the most common safety incidents his crews face involve rocks or other yard debris being thrown by a trimmer or mower.

To lessen the possibility that crews might slip or fall on the job, Mahoney Associates recently painted their mowing-trailer ramps with non-skid paint.

“If it’s raining or if there’s wet grass or leaves, your chance of having a slip and fall injury that could turn into a worker’s comp case is lowered a lot,” Mahoney says.

The company also installed collapsible ladders on its dump trucks to ease in-and-out access.

“The (truck) bodies are so high in the air, so now (with the ladders) the teams have a step to get in and out,” Mahoney says. “We welded handles [on the trucks] where the ladders were installed, so they have something to grab, minimizing someone jumping off and twisting an ankle or hurting their back trying to climb into the truck.”

While building a safety culture takes commitment, crews with successful safety programs say the effort is worth it.

“It’s a great morale-builder for the team as a whole,” Maskiell says. “It shows the team that we care for them. It’s important for the team, and it’s important for the firm.”

The author is a freelance writer in Kentucky.