Creating a Safety Culture Within a Landscaping Company

Creating a Safety Culture Within a Landscaping Company

Learn how to develop and foster a safety culture and why it’s important. Hint: It starts at the top.

Landscaping companies must be ready for anything at any moment. For example, team members operate dangerous equipment outside and often in extreme heat. That’s why it’s important to develop and foster a safety culture. Knowledge, training and mentoring new team members reduces the chance of injuries and your potential financial losses.

Daily Safety Considerations for a Landscaping Company

There are many cogs in the wheel of a landscaping company’s daily operations to consider concerning safety, including but not limited to:

  • Diversity of employees (different backgrounds, diverse languages/language barriers, age, gender and socioeconomic factors)
  • Employee health
  • Logistical issues (getting to and from various job site locations, transporting machinery, picking up plant material from nurseries and getting to job sites and driving the crews there and back)
  • Various job types (landscape design, tree work, lawn care safety tips, hardscaping, irrigation, planting, earth-moving and construction projects such as building outdoor kitchens with pergolas and snow plowing)
  • Weather (cold, snow, ice, extreme heat, wind, unpredictable weather)
  • Site conditions (mud, unseen underground conditions when digging, boulders, huge tree roots, utility lines unmarked, varied terrain)
  • Equipment concerns (fully functioning, maintained, well-working equipment)
  • Vehicles (make sure they are running well, have been inspected/registration is up to date)
  • Permits (for digging, etc.)
  • Chemicals and pesticides (Muracid for patios, plant material sprays)
  • Injuries

Defining Safety Culture?

Remember, safety is a “cultural mindset” instilled in all organizational levels in a workplace. It should represent a “working model”—not an “idealistic” pipedream—that reflects the company’s values, attitudes and perceptions of how things are performed (not how they should be performed).

Why is Safety Culture Important for Your Landscaping Company?

Some of the benefits of having a culture of safety include:

  • Lowered insurance premiums
  • Fewer injuries
  • Less downtime (due to fewer injuries)
  • Employees develop a sense of pride
  • Equipment damage is reduced
  • Vehicle accidents decrease
  • Veteran employees can pass their safe-practice knowledge on to new hires

Safety Culture Must Begin at the Top

A landscaping company's owner and upper management juggle many balls simultaneously, and one wrong incident could make all the balls hit the floor. Safety should be the utmost priority to avoid accidents, and those who lead the way must truly believe in living and breathing the culture.

As the boss, you are responsible for your workers and their lives while they are working. This journey is about constant improvement and not just a box you check off. You must implement it daily and ensure it’s being adhered to. Your employees should understand, agree and perform with those safety culture guidelines in mind.

Some business owners think creating a safety culture isn’t worth it because it’s too expensive, but cutting corners can lead to injuries and even death. You can prevent tragic accidents, like an employee getting killed on a backhoe that rolled over him. This example could have been prevented if he had had adequate training on maneuvering a hill.

When you care about safety first, your organization becomes a “walking example of professionalism” to your employees, subcontractors, suppliers and clients. 

How to Develop a Framework for Safety Culture

Establish your company’s commitment to the health and safety of your workers by creating a framework using “OWM” principles—owner mindset, worker participation and methods—to discover and solve hazards.

Owner mindset — You are the owner, and your company represents who you are. Your name, reputation and livelihood are on the line, so set your expectations for health and safety accordingly.

As an owner, you must first lead by example. Demonstrate to your employees that you are committed to their health and safety by implementing safe work practices and making it clear that unsafe actions will not be tolerated. All expectations should be set from the beginning and then followed consistently. Every employee needs to know that they will be held accountable to work within the framework of the “culture.”

Develop an overall site safety vision, which includes key policies, goals, measures and strategic and operational plans. This overall vision will be unique to your operation and needs to be adapted to fit your company and employees.

Get a safety audit done to evaluate your current safety efforts. Review and update the rules as necessary moving forward. Start with your insurance company. Have them identify areas where you excel and others needing improvement.

Establish a safety committee among your employees in which veteran (more seasoned, experienced) workers and crew foremen are paired up with new hires to serve as mentors to demonstrate safe work procedures.

Worker participation — Regular safety meetings can help keep proper practices at the forefront, but the frequency of holding them, who runs them and the topics for discussion depend on what works best for your company. Some companies run monthly safety meetings with the entire company, including the account managers, project managers, designers and office staff.

Other companies find 15- to 20-minute weekly or bi-weekly meetings in a common area effective. Still, other companies have short, daily safety huddles with the crew foremen, supervisors and landscape and maintenance crews before they head out to the job sites. 

Initial onboarding training — Provide a good onboarding foundation to ensure all your employees have what it takes to perform their jobs successfully without any concerns. Employees with the skills, knowledge and understanding to work safely will avoid accidents. Well-trained employees will be more apt to make safety a top priority.

Crew foremen and crew managers are also integral in assuring new team members follow the proper methods and procedures. It’s best to train them at their own pace so they aren’t placed in a situation they’re not equipped and ready for. Demonstrate how the equipment works and let them demonstrate it back to you.

Supervisors or crew foremen can determine whether initial training on the use of heavy equipment, such as backhoes and frontloaders, and equipment safety features like automatic shut-off valves and Rollover Protection should be performed in “the yard” before heading out to any job sites. 

Ongoing in-the-field training — An employer has an ongoing obligation to train new employees and keep experienced employees updated with ongoing in-the-field training (on the job site). Proper safety practices and complete training should include how to use equipment such as edgers, mowers, trimmers and personal protective equipment (PPE). PPE includes safety glasses, ear protection, gloves and approved footwear, such as steel-toed boots. 

Training should be conducted by a knowledgeable crew chief or supervisor. You should also keep records of training. A competency checklist for each employee could be utilized for legal purposes in case of an accident.

Employee safety campaigns — Get your employees engaged and involved with safety campaigns. Safety awareness days, awards, contests and promotional activities will give them incentives. Award team members for their performance with pay increases and other compensation for having a proactive attitude toward safety. 

Methods to Discover and Reduce Hazards

Additionally, it is critical to pinpoint hazards before they happen. Two key ways to do that are to maintain accurate records and observation and inspections.

Maintain accurate records — incident reports and maintenance reports are two key tools for accomplishing this:

  • Incident reports play a vital role in an organization's comprehensive safety plan, facilitating the reporting of near-miss accidents, injuries and instances that require first aid. These reports establish a documented record of injury incidents for internal purposes but also serve as a crucial resource when authorities outside your organization need a report.

Furthermore, incident reports provide a layer of protection against potential legal ramifications by demonstrating the organization's commitment to safety and its adherence to proper reporting protocols.

  • Maintenance records of equipment and vehicles, including detailed information about their respective make and model, are imperative for organizational compliance and risk mitigation. These records serve as a vital resource for employee injuries because they provide evidence that proper equipment maintenance was conducted.

    Moreover, employers have an obligation to maintain an OSHA 300 safety log, which serves as a formal record capturing instances of workplace accidents leading to time lost from work. This log further demonstrates the commitment to workplace safety and ensures compliance with regulatory requirements imposed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). By diligently adhering to these protocols and maintaining accurate records, organizations can effectively manage risks, protect their employees and minimize potential legal liabilities.

Observation and inspections — 

Within a landscape company, it is imperative to maintain constant vigilance. The responsibility falls upon crew managers to diligently train their teams on proper safety practices on a daily basis in the “shop,” in garages, or on the job site. Regular inspections of the workplace will identify issues that need to be fixed or warrant safety reviews.

Landscape business owners, managers and employees should consistently monitor the workplace habits and behaviors of their colleagues to make sure everyone is following the safety and health regulations. Prompt action must be taken if any infractions are noticed, with immediate measures implemented to rectify the situation.

It is crucial to pay attention to bad habits that have developed over the years among senior crew members, ensuring that such practices are not passed on to younger, newly hired team members.

Final Thoughts

By maintaining a commitment to observance, training and swift intervention, landscaping companies can create a culture of safety, promoting the well-being of their employees and upholding regulatory compliance standards.

Be smart, be safe and be successful.

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