At a time when the economy is the elephant in the room and we’re all busy getting into the full swing of the season, it’s all too easy to put safety issues on the back burner. But that’s the worse move, or non-move, that any landscape contractor can make.
Our profession’s fatality rate is more than three times higher than the national average for all industries, and we have the fifth highest fatality rate and fourth highest lost workday rate among all industries. As business owners, the question is: Can we afford to take our eye off the safety ball to concentrate instead on our financial situation and gearing up for the busy season? The answer is, No Way! At a minimum, accidents are expensive and disruptive, and, in the worst case scenario, they cause incredible pain for families of accident victims.
The key to making a company less accident-prone goes beyond having a safety program where rules are policed and enforced. It involves creating a safety culture that is driven by an awareness that our industry is a high-risk industry, along with an understanding that there are several tangible benefits to being safe. Creating a safety culture also involves undertaking a paradigm or attitude shift that makes safety a top priority—giving it the same strategic importance as doing quality work, finding efficiencies and making a profit.
Two issues have created an even greater sense of urgency for giving safety top priority: the economy and the ever-changing nature of our business. Regarding the latter, many of us find ourselves performing new services thanks to new market dynamics and client preferences. These new services are often accompanied by new safety concerns. For example, a colleague of mine, Laurie Erdman, PLANET Safety and Risk Management Committee Chair, notes that growing interest in sustainable landscape practices, especially the installation and maintenance of green roofs, brings into focus different safety issues for contractors. Working on roofs requires, among other things, the use of fall protection, not to mention training employees to work with cranes and other “foreign” pieces of equipment.
Similarly, the down housing market has been the catalyst for design/build and installation contractors to enter into the landscape maintenance arena, again asking employees to operate equipment with which they may be unfamiliar. New services, clients and equipment bring with them new risk, and the need to update safety procedures and further develop a strong safety culture.
Eye on the ball
Unfortunately, the economy has taken top priority for most contractors around the country. Now more than ever, we’re all looking for ways to reduce overhead and retain margins. Being safe and saving money, though, are not mutually exclusive. An effective safety culture can help companies reduce insurance premiums, avoid heavy fines from OSHA, and increase production.
Did you know, for example, that for the last three years, OSHA has included the green industry on its top seven list of high-risk industries? Did you know that a Workers’ Compensation claim can ultimately cost your company four times the original claim cost—in training a new employee, loss of production, and physical damage to equipment?
Landscape contractors need not be alone when it comes to creating an exceptional and effective safety culture. We have plenty of resources at our disposal, not the least of which are equipment manufacturers. PLANET and your state associations are there to help as well. Just as an example, members of PLANET’s STARS Safe Company Program receive monthly communications, including tailgate and checklist tips, a “Safety Program for Green Industry Companies” CD, and can join a network of peers who share the same focus on safety.