Written by: Gabe Garcia, USF SafetyFlorida Safety Supervisor
Florida is considered the Sunshine State. While most states are covered with that white, fluffy stuff during the winter season, us Floridians enjoy outdoor activities year-round. Due to our weather conditions and fertile ground, it makes Florida the mecca for the Landscaping Industry.
Landscaping is one of the most dangerous jobs out there, due to the fact that the majority of landscaping businesses are small, family owned and more often times than not, consist of employees from different nationalities. This often times leads to injuries and illnesses going unreported.
Landscapers are frequently exposed to the following hazards. Weather (heat, cold, rain, lightning), natural hazards (poisonous plants, animal/insect bites), equipment (lawnmowers/chippers/brush blades etc.), chemicals (gasoline, oils etc.), pesticides, falls (from ladders, lifts, trees), electrocution (power lines), vehicle exposure, and noise (from equipment), to name a few.
How do you even begin to protect yourself against all those hazards? Sounds impossible. No it isn’t. A key item you want to consider, is developing a safety and health plan. We’ll talk about that later in depth. So let’s identify how you can protect yourselves against some of those aforementioned hazards.
Weather: For hot weather; wear long sleeve, cooling, moisture wicking, lightweight, high visibility clothing and suntan lotion when possible. Remember to drink plenty of fluids! For cold weather; wear layers of clothing. Layering is beneficial, as clothing can be easily removed if you begin to sweat. In case it rains, a lightweight high visibility rain jacket works well. In case of thunderstorms, seek shelter immediately. Working while wet is no fun.
Natural hazards: Avoid plants with thorns, use appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), be aware of your surroundings, check work areas for insects and bugs, such as spiders, ants, bees, wasps, and mosquitoes. Look out for pets, opossums, raccoons, and other wandering animals. Avoid going near bodies of water (pond/canals/rivers), especially in riding lawnmowers.
Equipment: Check equipment prior to use; do not use faulty equipment, read owner’s manual for safe use and maintenance. Make sure the rollover cage is installed on the riding lawnmower if working near water or at angles.
Chemicals: Use information in the Safety Data Sheets (SDS) to safely handle chemicals. Store flammable liquids separate, away from entrances and in proper containers. Avoid spilling fuel when refueling equipment.
Pesticides: Use information in the Safety Data Sheets (SDS) to safely handle pesticides. Read and use in accordance with manufacturer’s instructions. If working in areas were pesticides have been previously applied, use appropriate PPE.
Falls: Work at heights safely by using the appropriate ladders and lifts. Fall protection equipment must be used according to manufacturer’s specifications. Ensure equipment is working properly and not modified.
Electrocution: Be aware of electrical lines hidden by trees and vegetation. Do not attempt to cut near overhead power lines. Remember electricity arcs (jumps). The distance of an arc flash is based on the power line’s output.
Vehicle exposure: If working at/or near traffic areas, be aware of your surroundings. Use high visibility clothing and a spotter if need be. Use traffic warning devices (cones) and set perimeters.
PPE: The right PPE can make all of the difference between having a good day or not. Hardhats are essential for overhead hazards. Safety glasses are almost mandatory in most situations. Just about every piece of landscaping equipment makes noise. Ear protection is sound advice. Gloves are highly recommended when working with sharp blades, thorny bushes, and when working with chemicals and pesticides. When working at heights, a personal fall arrest system (PFAS) or fall protection is required. When applying pesticides or working in dusty areas, a dust mask or respirator is suggested, or in some cases required. A good set of waterproof work boots will make for a better day.
As you see with all these hazards, landscaping is a very dangerous occupation, and sometimes extremely physically demanding. Another issue to consider is age. Not all landscapers are young. The older we get, the more susceptible we are to temperature changes, hand-eye coordination, balance, and endurance. It is highly recommended to take more frequent breaks and drink plenty of fluids.
As previously mentioned, a well-defined safety program is a must. The program should include a hazard communication plan to deal with all the chemicals and pesticides and their matching SDS, a PPE plan to identify the correct PPE based on the hazard and the requirement of the SDS, and a respirator and fall protection plan if also necessary. An emergency action plan is suggested to include nearby medical facilities in case of emergencies. Additionally, a checklist is recommended to ensure all the plans and hazards are covered. Finally, and most importantly, efficient and consistent training on the potential and existing hazards should be given to employees in a language that is comprehensible. I hope you find these tips helpful.
If you or your company need assistance in developing a safety program for landscaping, please contact us at the University of South Florida (USF) SafetyFlorida Consultation Program. Our program and services are free and confidential. You may reach us at 1-866-273-1105 or visit the following website to request a free consultation https://health.usf.edu/publichealth/eoh/cohpe/usfsafetyflorida.