The year 2020 is proving to be a tough one for small businesses. The green industry, while impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, is making a comeback as the national economy begins to rebound.
As with many industries, the situation remains far from perfect for those in landscaping.
In the early stages, there was initial confusion and different interpretations over whether landscaping was an "essential industry" that could continue through the pandemic.
The landscape industry, including lawn care, landscape maintenance, design/build, tree care, and irrigation and water management, takes employee and client safety and health very seriously, employing regular safety training and enforcing strong safety standards on the job.
It remains critical for business owners to maintain health and safety protocols during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some businesses are finding themselves vulnerable to lawsuits if their employees or customers are exposed to the virus. The level of immunity from civil claims currently varies from state to state and to date no official federal action has been taken to provide limited immunity.
Listed below are some best practices and basic tips for keeping your team safe in the midst of the pandemic.
Among the concerns about COVID-19 is both its high fatality rate and how easily it spreads. While research on the virus continues, medical studies have shown that the virus can spread through airborne droplets that linger in the air, and that people may be contagious without having symptoms.
To assist in protecting your team, a suggested best practice is to assign specific crews to continually work together. From that perspective, if a team member on one crew gets sick or is exposed, it is likely limited to those team members and not the entire business.
PixabayIn general, field teams should include the least number of employees that can safely carry out work at a site, and crew members should drive separately to the site whenever possible. Only the driver should be allowed to touch the controls anywhere in the vehicle.
COVID-19 is spread more through ongoing close contact. While you can’t limit who your team is spending time with during off-hours, you can contain the potential risk by keeping the teams separated.
To protect your employees from becoming infected and your business from being implicated as a spreader, you may consider making COVID-19 related protocols mandatory.
You may have some crew members who think COVID-19 is not an issue because they’re working outdoors where the virus is less likely to spread. For all employees, it is important to lead by example.
Under that scenario, you will have to enforce any deliberate violations of the rules which are intended to protect you and your team but the business as a whole.
Protocols could include wearing PPE, washing hands regularly and maintaining social distancing when practical.
Some of these changes seem awkward or uncomfortable at first and your employees will look to you to take the lead in enacting and enforcing the policies.
More of your customers are working from home these days, and many will come out to talk to you and forget about social distancing.
Some states mandate you provide masks, but the rules vary depending on where you are. If you get some pushback from team members who don’t want to wear PPE, public health law is on your side.
Remember the message comes from the top. If you want your employees to wear masks, wash their hands, practice social distancing, and keep wiping down the equipment, then you need to be modeling this behavior yourself You can get creative, like ordering cloth masks with your business logo on them or putting a supply of new gloves in an easily accessible place. Make safety a part of the work culture, and you’ll see your workers’ discomfort or pushback melt away. It will also help your business survive and thrive in the time of COVID-19.
Stay Home When Sick
Encourage your employees to stay home if they don’t feel well, even if their symptoms don’t match those associated with COVID-19 such as fever, cough, and shortness of breath.
PixabayScientists are still learning about the disease and realizing there’s more to it than was first thought. Additional symptoms such as rashes, have now been identified as being linked to the virus.
To maintain a healthy crew, team members are recommended to stay home if they are showing any signs of illness. It is a better option than potentially spreading COVID-19 to other team members or customers.
General communication about any possible exposure to the virus is also important.
Let your team know if someone they’ve had contact with someone that has been diagnosed with the virus, even if it was only a brief interaction. It is not necessary to tell them who it may have been but just the when and where someone was exposed to give them peace of mind.
From that point, let them determine if they want to get tested.
If an employee is exposed to someone who is confirmed to have COVID-19, enforce a 14-day quarantine before they can return to work.
Two weeks can feel like a long time, and workers may be reluctant to report COVID-19 exposure if they know they're going to be out of work for two weeks. However, making a quarantine paid time off will help alleviate financial anxieties that may push employees not to report exposure.
Even with limited crew members, unless it is clear they are not returning, it is likely best to not replace a regular crew member who is out sick even temporarily if possible to limit any further spread to the rest of the crew or yourself.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)Pixnio
The landscaping industry is no stranger to personal protective equipment. People wear it to keep dirt and debris out of their eyes, mouths, noses, and lungs for completing a variety of tasks.
With the continuing spread of COVID-19, now is an opportunity to ensure PPE is more readily available to your crews.
An important aspect of use of PPE is that it is clean and in good condition. Make sure masks are being replaced often and that employees wash buffs and cloth face coverings daily.
Like other surfaces, spray goggles with bleach or other disinfectant regularly.
Be sure crew members are familiar with the protocol and regularly encourage them to take proactive measures for their own health.
Another benefit of more sustained use of PPE is the optics. If you're trying to stand out as a green industry business, then regularly wearing masks and gloves can help put customers at ease during this time, which may lead to them continuing to spend money with you.
Many businesses began a disinfection protocol as soon as COVID-19 began to spread in the United States.
As part of that protocol, don’t neglect the idea of disinfecting equipment, surfaces, and public workspaces. That includes keyboards, phones, equipment handles, doorknobs — anything that people touch.
Depending on the type of surface, various studies have shown that the virus can live on many common surfaces for two to three days.
Among the best practices is to wipe high-touch items down multiple times a day with a diluted bleach solution or hydrogen peroxide or other proven disinfectants. Disinfectant wipes are currently hard to come by but it is easy enough to make a solution with some generic bleach diluted with tap water in a spray bottle.
Also, remind your staff and yourself, to regularly wash their hands with soap and water as they continue to maintain the landscapes of the community.
Contact with clients should be limited to email, phone calls or video teleconference, when possible, and if personal contact is required, then maintain social distancing of 6’ when on the property with the client or their customers or the general public.
If in-person contact is required, then maintain social distancing of 6 feet at the client’s or customer’s property, or when communicating with the general public.
Also, it is important to communicate with clients about any operational changes due to COVID-19.