Safety… Safety… Safety

When asked if they have a training program in place, most landscape contractors will say “yes.” They then will likely describe a spring startup session where all employees, new and veteran alike, will be introduced to safety protocols and procedures. Day-long training may include a review of safe operating tips, required safety apparel, and a primer on how to operate equipment and drive a truck with trailer. Some companies actually provide handson training on any new equipment, putting employees through a driving test.

Having that initial safety training is imperative, but so, too, is having ongoing training that continues to send a safety message to employees all season long. Former Professional Landcare Network (PLANET) president and long-time safety advocate David Snodgrass, CLP, explains why.

walker-talk-volume-38-13_1.jpg“The green industry has been and continues to be on the Occupational Safety and Heath Administration’s (OSHA) watch list because of risks associated with it. Companies spend a lot of time on the road with trucks, trailers and heavy loads; we operate different pieces of equipment with turning blades and chains; and new workers come and go throughout the year, many of whom are unaware of a company’s safety culture and procedures.

“Risk factors are also a moving target, which is another reason to have ongoing training in place,” Snodgrass adds. “New properties may have their own safety concerns, with retaining walls, ponds or steep banks. Wet roads and the first snowfall of the year can pose challenges for drivers, just as the first day of school can.”

As Snodgrass, who is president of Dennis’ Seven Dees in Portland, Oregon, says, when it comes to the topic of safety, there’s always something to share with employees. And continual training and sharing is the key to developing a safe work environment.

Creating a Strong Safety Culture

Developing a strong and effective safety culture takes time, and it has to start at the top with the owner and key managers. And just like the effort involved when instituting “lean” procedures and adding efficiencies, it, too, is ongoing, and never completed. In other words, even the safest of companies can improve.

Snodgrass’ company has a safety committee that meets once a month that reviews any incidents and near misses. “Experience is a great teacher,” he emphasizes, “and it doesn’t have to be your own experience to get a message across. Just talking about an incident or near miss minimizes the chance of either happening again.”

His company also has weekly safety meetings to review current risks such as those associated with new properties or changing weather conditions. All of his employees attend a stretching session every morning. The exercise warms up muscles and gives managers an opportunity to once again talk about any safety concerns.

“I truly believe the key to having a strong safety culture is creating awareness,” says Snodgrass. “When owners, managers and supervisors continually bring up the subject of safety and train all season long, employees get the message that being safe retains a high priority within the company.” As he points out, it’s the “out-of-sight, out-of-mind” mentality in reverse.

Take Steps Now

One doesn’t have to operate a multimillion dollar company or employ several hundred people like Dennis’ Seven Dees does to appreciate the importance of safety and ongoing training. The culture that Snodgrass ’ company has in place, the same one that he says allows him to put more than 100 trucks on the road daily without worrying about accidents, can and does work for any size company.

“Keep track of numbers, put safety on every agenda, and create awareness,” he emphasizes. “Set goals to reduce accidents and injuries and consider a bonus and other incentive programs to encourage safe work habits. We’re fortunate that our safety culture is so well-ingrained now that safety incentives aren’t necessary. Still, we celebrate our safety record with safety barbeques throughout the year.

Snodgrass notes there are several important reasons to take the steps to develop an ongoing safety training program, not the least of which is being safe for the right reason: to prevent injury to employees and hardship for their families. “A strong safety culture also has a life of its own,” he adds. “It works to save your company money, it’s great for employee morale, and employees concerned about being safe have a tendency to look out after one another.”

The old axiom that “safety doesn’t sell” is beginning to erode, too, says Snodgrass. “We just won a huge construction contract. The client requested that we complete a form designed to give them a “safety rating” for our company. Because of our focus on safety and our record, we scored very high and I believe won the account in large part because of it.”

A good safety rating speaks volumes about a company, just as a good credit score divulges more than a consumer’s ability to pay back a loan. “Being safe is synonymous with being a professional,” says Snodgrass. “ Certainly, when given a choice, most customers would prefer to work with a professional.” Ongoing training not only sends a safety message to employees, it opens doors by sending one to clients, as well.

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