Landscaping Tips

Health and Safety To Go: Safety Tips for Landscapers

Ashley: Hello and welcome to Health and Safety to go. Well, after what felt like an extra long winter, spring has officially sprung! And along with the sounds of birds chirping and the smell of fresh-cut grass, you can expect to see and hear more landscapers, public works employees and outdoor recreation workers around as their busy season ramps up. What are some of the things you associate with spring, Chris?

Chris (deadpan): Allergies.

Ashley: OK! Sorry to hear.

As nice as it can be to work outdoors in the spring, landscaping comes with some distinct hazards. Today we’re going to talk about some good practices for landscaping safely.

Chris: Indeed we are! Thorough training is essential to a safe workplace, whether you’re indoors or outdoors. It’s important for employers to assess the risks associated with each job and task, and to make sure the proper measures are in place to keep workers safe before work begins. Aside from working with dangerous equipment, some of the other main hazards include the elements, unfriendly wild and domestic animals, and chemical pesticides and fertilizers. Workers should be trained to recognize noxious or poisonous plants like Poison Ivy. They should also look out for insects like ticks, which can carry Lyme disease, and mosquitos, which can carry West Nile Virus.

Ashley: That’s right. Encourage workers to report unsafe working conditions or equipment to their supervisor. If severe weather is in the forecast, they need to know where they can seek shelter. During thunderstorms, that is generally inside a vehicle with the windows rolled up, not inside a shed. Make sure emergency telephone numbers are clearly posted or readily available. Same goes for the first aid kit – all workers should know its location and how to use its contents. Be sure that these include a 'bee sting' kit in case of a severe allergic reaction to an insect sting.

Chris: And speaking of unfriendly creatures, use caution in areas where you may encounter wild animals or unfriendly domestic ones. Don’t touch stray or dead animals or birds. Contact animal control or a wildlife agency for removal. In some cases, your local public health authority may need to be contacted if rabies is suspected. Animal droppings are also a hazard: wear the appropriate PPE, including respiratory protection, if you must clean up brush or other materials that may contain mouse or bird droppings. Be aware of procedures for proper handling and disposal of waste. Rodent droppings can carry hantavirus, which can become airborne with dust and may be inhaled by workers. Hantavirus Respiratory Syndrome (HPS) leads to fluid in the lungs and is often fatal. Bird droppings can cause a flu-like illness called psittacosis.

Ashley: These days especially, we cannot stress enough the importance of thorough handwashing – which for landscapers should happen after work, after using pesticides, before eating, when using the washroom, or before changing tasks. Should we touch on the safe use of landscaping tools?

Chris: Definitely. It’s important to inspect tools daily to make sure they’re in good repair and are properly maintained. Don’t attempt to use them unless you’ve read, understood and can follow the manufacturer's operating manual. Electrical tools should be approved by CSA, or another recognized certification organization.

Ensure all guards and shields for your equipment are in place, handles are tight and fastened securely, and handle surfaces are smooth and sliver-free. Dull tools are more hazardous than sharp ones, so keep cutting tools and equipment sharp. Always protect the cutting edges of the tools and equipment, storing them in a way that prevents the cutting edges from being dulled or damaged. Label damaged tools right away and remove them from the work site.

Ashley: When using tools, don’t make substitutions if the right tool for the job is missing our out of commission. Stand on a non-slippery surface and in a non-cluttered area. It's important to have secure footing and keep your balance. Your work surface should be stable, using a vice or clamps if necessary. Work in a well-lit area, and direct cutting equipment away from any co-workers working nearby.

Make sure you’re wearing the appropriate PPE, such as safety eyewear, safety footwear, head protection, hearing protection, other protective clothing. Clothing should be close-fitting and long hair tied back. Avoid standing in awkward positions, and try not to put strain on your wrists, arms, shoulders or back. You can use a tool belt to keep smaller tools accessible, but don't make it too heavy. You don’t want to put strain on your lower back and hips. Carry only what is necessary for your particular task.

Chris: If repairs are being made, block machinery securely so it cannot roll or shift. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions, which should include shutting off the engine, removing the ignition key, making sure equipment is not connected to a power source, and ensuring rotating parts have stopped moving. Never inspect hydraulic hoses with your bare hands - use a piece of cardboard to test hoses for leaks. Even pinhole leaks can have enough force to penetrate skin with hydraulic fluid. Seek medical attention immediately if this happens.

Ashley: Landscaping is highly physical work, so it’s important to rest periodically during tiring jobs such as digging or sawing and during warm weather, when heat stress comes into play. Work-rest schedules can vary according to the weather, how strenuous the work is, and how accustomed the worker is to it. But every worker benefits from regular rest breaks – frequent short pauses are better than long breaks further apart. In warm weather, take breaks in areas that are cooled, such as inside a vehicle (with the AC running), or in the shade where possible. Avoid physically demanding tasks during peak temperatures, and stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Similarly, in cold weather, you’ll want to take breaks in areas that are warm. You can create shade in open areas by setting up a shade tent.

Chris: You can find more resources and information on landscaping safety, including: using the hierarchy of controls to assess risks, a hantavirus resource, and how to fuel equipment safely, on our website, Thanks for listening!