With the onset of 2021, I have now been around the safety and health management field for 55 years! I know I am giving away my age to our readers, but it all began with safe tractor driving programs for my high school agriculture/horticulture students and FFA club members in 1966. Today, I continue spreading the word about safely operating machinery and equipment to the landscape and lawn care industry through many communication channels as your Safety Advisor. And it goes beyond machinery and equipment to other work practices and procedures that make our businesses more efficient and financially sound.
Greater efficiency and a solid financial footing are critical to business owners and managers, but there have been some cost-saving measures introduced over the years that mandated changes in the way we look at worker safety and health. Follow along with me on this brief discussion of safely dealing with new technology in the green industry.
At the beginning of my career in the late 60s, ROPS (aka rollover protective structures, rollover protection systems, or roll bars) were being promoted and installed on farm tractors to prevent serious injury and death to machine operators. If the operator used their seatbelt properly on ROPS-equipped tractors, they would be protected in the operator’s station if the equipment rolled over.
In later years as “speedy” zero-turn commercial mowers became popular among lawn care professionals, manufacturers began installing optional 2-post ROPS on their equipment. Some zero-turn purchasers were unhappy with the new rollover protection and removed or declined this safety feature. When foldable ROPS came along later, some of the earlier resistance to ROPS waned, and this safety equipment became less intrusive and more likely to be used properly.
IMPORTANT REMINDERS: On ROPS-equipped mowers, always keep the ROPS in the up and locked position and use your seatbelt! Make sure that your designated equipment operators are well-trained and that safety switches and back-up systems have not been bypassed.
Another machine with immense popularity as a labor-saver for landscapers is the skid-steer loader. It has been a major technological advancement for our industry for several decades. It has significantly reduced our reliance on manual lifting, carrying, and transporting of heavy materials at job sites, and their practicality and efficiency for scraping and removing snow and ice during winter conditions is well known. However, shortcuts that speed up skid-steer operations can be hazardous to operators, other workers, and bystanders. All too often safety switches and operation guidelines are bypassed or ignored. When the skid-steer ROPS cage is installed, the operator’s rear view is limited, and a functioning rear back-up alarm is a must. Operators also should be diligent when entering or exiting the machine to prevent accidental contact with control levers that could result in severe injuries or death.
IMPORTANT REMINDERS: Ensure that the back-up alarm is working and the machine’s bucket is lowered to the ground, the engine’s ignition is turned off, and the parking brake is engaged, before exiting the operator’s station!
Material handling has also witnessed changes that can result in greater efficiency and more profitable operations. Landscape and lawn care firms have the option of ordering large quantities of bulk materials in “super sacks” (aka heavy-duty bulk bags), that may contain over one thousand pounds of a product such as fertilizer, salting and deicing chemicals and sand. While the handling process may be more efficient, there may be more dangerous bulk handling exposures for workers.
There are some important super sack handling precautions that should be practiced. Among them are:
- At super sack delivery time, carefully inspect the bulk bags for any seam or handle damage.
- Ensure that the bags have not been punctured during loading and unloading activities.
- Use a forklift that does not have sharp tines for handling the bags.
- Forklift operators must be thoroughly trained and take the time to do the job safely.
- Shipments that use wooden pallets should be handled by forklifts with a lifting frame.
- Keep other workers and bystanders clear of the loading and unloading work area(s).
These examples of newer technology in our industry are just a few of the more efficient machines and products that may need updated safety training to prevent serious injury exposures among green industry employees. I encourage you to periodically conduct and document identifiable hazards, then deliver safety and health training that mitigates and prevents dangerous work exposures.
NALP’s safety programs are produced in partnership with Rancho Mesa.
This article was published in the March/April issue of the magazine.