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OSHA Compliance Tips

By Leslie McGuire, regional editor

Landscape superintendents not only have to manage the upkeep and grounds of their facilities, they must also manage the personnel, machinery, chemicals, vehicles and tools. All these areas fall under OSHA jurisdiction and there are regulations for everything. Not only is it important to know what the regulations are, it is also important to understand their significance. More and more supers are using outside contractors or occasional temporary personnel, and the responsibility for those employees belongs to the superintendent.

OSHA must be told if a workplace-related death occurs, or an accident happens (when three or more employees must be taken to the hospital). The first thing the OSHA inspector will ask for is a copy of your safety plan and proof that you have personnel trained in the safety issues mandated by OSHA. If you don't have them, fines start accruing at that point. Next, there will be a full inspection of your facilities. If the accident doesn't fall under any specific regulation it then comes under the "general duty clause" which states that as the employer you should have known a situation was basically dangerous. Take a look below at Table 1, the top 20 violations and their initial penalties.

Regulations surrounding drivers of any vehicle that may be part of your facility are another area of concern. They would include any company drivers or contract haulers you may use. OSHA, and DOT as well, have very strict regulations about drug and alcohol testing for any employees with commercial driver's licenses (class A or B drivers), all of whom must participate in the company's commercial drivers license monthly alcohol and drug random testing program. According to OSHA, almost 30 percent of occupational injuries in the landscape business are a result of transportation incidents.

OSHA's Vehicle Operation Plan provides guidelines for all vehicles such as automobiles, delivery vehicles, forklifts, tractors, loaders, backhoes, bobcats, mowers, etc., which should be operated in a safe manner consistent with local, state and federal laws. Any employees required to operate a powered industrial truck (defined as platform lift trucks, power sweepers, motorized pallet jacks and all other motorized vehicles) and/or forklift have to be trained in their use, and a licensed instructor must certify all drivers before they are allowed to start using these vehicles.

As far as contact with objects and equipment are concerned, The Landscape and Grounds Maintenance Plan put out by OSHA provides guidelines and safety training procedures for the use of various sizes and types of lawnmowers, grass/weed cutting tools, hedgers, hedge clippers and other hand tools. The most significant dangers are blade injuries, a foreign object being thrown by the high-speed blades and noise-induced hearing loss.

The most significant dangers from lawn-mowers involve blade injuries, a foreign object thrown by the high-speed blades and noise-induced hearing loss.

Chemical safety training is very important. Employers must know which hazardous chemicals employees will be exposed to and make sure material safety data sheets related to those chemicals are available. The Western Plant Health Association ( has produced a Spanish language book outlining safety procedures in an illustrated graphic novel format. Proteccion de su Salud is distributed at no charge and covers areas such as the importance of protective clothing, washing work clothes separately from regular clothes, washing hands before eating, smoking, drinking, etc., in addition to following all application instructions and knowing how to recognize symptoms of exposure.

Hazardous chemicals such as pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and chemical fertilizers must be properly labeled, and employees must be given appropriate training in their use.

In addition to specific guidelines for protecting employees against these chemical hazards, eye and hearing protection has its own procedures and rules. The Personal Protective Equipment Plan provides materials for training employees how to choose and use personal protective equipment.

There are also procedures for hearing protection, and employees need to be given the opportunity to select hearing protection devices like ear mufflers or earplugs when using noisy machines such as leaf blowers. Noise monitoring should be conducted by the safety and health manager (that may turn out to be the superintendent) using a sound level meter to determine the needs of their employees.

Eye wash stations for quick drenching or flushing of the eyes need to be provided if there are any eye hazards such as vapors, chemicals or particulates.

Fall protection standards require that all possible practical measures be taken to prevent employees from being injured by falls from heights of four feet or more. If a fall hazard can't be eliminated, effective fall protection should be planned, implemented and monitored to control the risks of injury. As you can see on Table 2, falls from ornamental shrub and tree services are the greatest source of landscape industry fatalities. Ladder safety requires training in proper selection, inspection, use and storage of ladders.

As a rule of thumb, if you have to shout to talk to a person two to three feet away, then the sound is probably greater than 85 decibels, OSHA's action level.

In addition, there is a new regulation regarding storing and protecting anhydrous ammonia, the primary component in fertilizer. This, of course, has to do with national security issues as well as the danger of explosion on site. Section 1910.111 states:"Permanent storage containers shall be located at least 50 feet from a dug well or other sources of potable water supply. Storage areas shall be kept free of readily ignitable materials such as waste, weeds and long dry grass."

Improper use of ladders has caused a large percentage of accidents in the workplace. They present many opportunities for unsafe acts and conditions.

Of course, your worker's compensation insurer will pay for the fines, however, if you are in violation of any of the standards and regulations, you are still liable for any lawsuits arising from the accident or fatality. It never hurts to suggest that the institution you work for have general liability insurance. Ultimately, many claims are resolved when the defending insurance company decides to go for an out-of-court settlement. However, the best defense is a good offense, so make sure you are aware of all the OSHA regulations. You can always visit the OSHA Web site to order plan descriptions and all the necessary forms.

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June 18, 2019, 8:35 am PDT

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