On the Road to Safety

Your focus on safety sets the tone for your company. Make it a priority in your training and company policies so that it is integrated into your employees' daily actions. A “Big Brother is watching you” approach doesn't work. You can't be everywhere and observe everything that occurs during the course of a day. And don't be tempted to let a few little safety-related lapses slide by in the rush of the season. Cutting corners where safety is concerned can cost you hundreds, thousands or even millions of dollars to compensate for injury and property damage.

You'll obviously need to cover the basics by training employees on the safety factors as well as the operating procedures for all equipment. Take the additional step of conducting a one-on-one-session, with either yourself, your training manager or the crew supervisor, personally testing each crew member for competent and safe operation of each piece of equipment. Then cover yourself and your company by documenting all of this training and having each employee sign a form agreeing that they have received the training and understand it.

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Safety issues aren't confined to the job sites. Your company's liability for safe practices begins as soon as an employee sets foot on your property — and maybe before if you provide company vehicles and employee drivers as a pickup service for seasonal workers or allow specified employees to drive company vehicles between your headquarters and their homes. Many states consider this work-related travel in the same category as transporting employees in company vehicles between your headquarters and the job site.

Other safety issues pop up frequently as a lawn maintenance crew works through a typical day. How many of these have you addressed with company safety policies and procedures?

LOADING UP

Often, mowing equipment is cleaned up and serviced over night or early in the morning. Whether the service department or the crew members load the equipment onto the trailer and truck, safe practices are necessary.

Make sure ramps connect securely and provide an angle of incline that is easy to maneuver whether wheeled equipment is driven or pushed into place. When driving equipment, employees need to be aware of the space around them and of the whereabouts of other people and equipment. Those who are pushing machines should be instructed in the proper handling of each piece of equipment and the correct methods of exerting force to guard against back or leg injury. Provide periodic reminders on proper lifting techniques, too. Incorrect upper body lifts and twists when handling items such as bags of mulch, soil or fertilizer and even containers filled with grass clippings can cause painful and costly back or shoulder injuries.

Plot the layout of the load and stick with it. It's obviously faster at the job site if the equipment used first is at the back of the trailer for easy unloading. But trailer weight distribution must be considered for proper tracking in transit. Larger units often travel more safely at the front of the trailer, with smaller equipment toward the rear. Work with each crew to determine the best layout for job site efficiency and safe transport.

SECURING THE LOAD

Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations require cargo in trucks or trailers to be stabilized to prevent falling out or shifting. In many areas, lawn and landscape companies are targeted for inspection. Failure to be in compliance can result in costly fines. Unsecured equipment can be expensive if shifts while traveling result in damage to the machines themselves, to the other equipment and machines being transported, and to the truck or trailer. The major safety implication of unsecured equipment is the company's exposure to potential liability in areas of property damage, or injury to crew members, other vehicle drivers and passengers or pedestrians.

Even with consistent, repetitive safety training on the importance of securing equipment, crews can be tempted during the rush of the season to just get rolling and skip that step this time. That's why fast and efficient methods are so important. The easier it is to do a job, the greater the probability that the job will be done.

A good tie-down system with on-deck blocking and designated places to secure the ties can work. The challenge is making sure the crew members correctly place the machines and properly secure the ties. Reaching around or over a hot engine or exhaust to secure the tie can be a deterrent.

Consider a more efficient system, one that can be as automatic as putting the mower on the trailer. Some of the newer types secure a machine by surrounding and anchoring one or more wheels of a mower or other wheeled equipment. Look for a system that allows you to drive the equipment up onto the truck or trailer directly into a device secured to the floor of the carrier, stabilizing the machine.

Don't neglect the smaller items. Fuel and any other flammable materials must be in properly marked containers, sealed and stored in a secured location. Consider a lockable box or chest if the vehicle and trailer will be parked in residential or high-traffic commercial locations.

Store small hand tools, such as trimmers and blowers, on racks or in boxes to keep them from shifting in route. Use a pin or lock to secure them.

The small amount of time needed to properly secure equipment and supplies makes a huge impact on transport safety.

ON THE ROAD

Road travel puts a segment of your company's safety in the hands of the driver. Generally, as well as all the equipment and supplies, other crew members are transported. It's essential to make sure that all of your employees authorized to drive your trucks are properly licensed and adequately insured personally. For added security, conduct a periodic check of public records on moving vehicle violations and make it part of your company policy that your drivers notify you of any infractions. You may want to consider adding random drug testing to the safety program.

Require your drivers to sign a statement binding them to follow all traffic laws. Many companies also establish policies on where company vehicles may be driven, either restricting the number of miles beyond a specific area or listing the types of businesses, other than the job sites, to which the vehicles may travel. These stops might include service stations, supplier warehouses or lunch stops.

Set policies for the passengers, too. Make it mandatory to wear seat belts. Limit the number of passengers per vehicle and stipulate that only company personnel or, in some cases, clients, may travel in company trucks.

Consider setting policies on the types of activities that may be undertaken while on the road. You may want to discourage or ban cell phone use, eating or playing loud music. While weaving in and out of traffic or following another vehicle too closely may seem minor, these practices are not only safety hazards, they also negatively impact company image.

PARKING

Set policies on where and how your company's trucks and trailers are parked at the job site. A spot too close to roadway traffic or driveways may be an accident waiting to happen. Pedestrian crosswalks should be avoided too. Stipulate parking areas at commercial job sites that put your vehicles out of the main traffic flow without hindering the access of patrons of the business, or other service vehicles.

Lock the truck when warranted and never leave the keys in the vehicle. Determine under what conditions a ramp or ramp-type tailgate should be removed or closed when the truck and trailer are parked. A ramp leading up to an open trailer may be little problem in a rural setting or in a remote corner of the parking lot at a commercial site. The same trailer could be an inviting temptation to young children or teens in a residential community. Your company's open trailer might be classified in the same attractive nuisance category as an unfenced swimming pool should an injury occur.

LOADING OUT

Stress safety in this final stage of the job. Crew members should have gloves and handle hot equipment properly to avoid burns. All equipment needs to be secured in its proper place. Flammable materials must be kept away from hot machines. Grass clippings, tree trimmings and other debris to be removed from the job site must be carefully loaded and secured to prevent shifting or blowing out of the vehicle.

In today's litigation-happy atmosphere, a bag of grass clippings dropped in a busy highway could cost your company thousands of dollars. A dropped mower or tipped trailer could cost you your company.

Steve and Suz Trusty are freelance writers who reside in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and provide a variety of services to companies in the Green Industry.

TRANSPORT WOES: BETTER SAFE THAN SORRY

These safety lapses are just a few of those recently reported. The individual and company names have been withheld to protect the guilty.

  • This LCO strapped down his big equipment, but didn't secure his push mower or string trimmer. When the trailer bounced over a railroad track, the two small pieces slammed together, damaging both.

  • Too rushed to bother with those straps one more time, this LCO hit a rough stretch of pavement and watched his zero-turn radius mower slam into his push mower.

  • This LCO skipped the tie down “just this once” thinking the mower's brake would hold for a short in-town trip. He swerved sharply to avoid a crazy motorcycle rider. The mower slid across the trailer, rammed the side and slid again. The trailer slammed into a parked car resulting in extensive damage to the car, trailer and mower.

  • This LCO was running late for an appointment with a potential client and skipped the tie-down to save time and arrive looking neat. His trip was slowed by a highway traffic check. His unsecured equipment drew a full inspection and a hefty fine. The stop made him even later and he lost his shot at the new account.

  • Partners of a small lawn maintenance company loaded their new, large deck ride-on mower into the trailer for a test run at a commercial account a few miles away. They'd not yet re-outfitted the trailer to secure the new mower. They swerved to avoid a deep pothole. The mower shifted, causing the driver to swerve more erratically and finally lose control. The trailer tipped, the mower bounced out onto the roadway and rolled down the side of the steep ditch.

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