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Government Affairs: We’ve made progress, but work-related injuries still too high

August 6, 2019 -  By
Photo: iStock.com/designer491

Photo: iStock.com/designer491

In the early 2000s, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) developed a list of seven target industries on which to concentrate its compliance and enforcement efforts. At the top of that list were landscape contractors.

OSHA chose these seven target industries based upon their high incidence of severe work-related injuries and workdays lost due to those injuries.

Industry improves worker safety

Since then, the landscape industry has made great strides in improving worker safety, with the incidence of reported work-related injuries and illnesses falling from 6.7 per 100 full-time workers in 2000 to 4 injuries and illnesses per 100 workers in 2017, a decrease of 40 percent.

Although the industry has improved its worker safety record, work-related injuries and illnesses continue to affect landscape industry productivity and our ability to attract workers.

Setting aside, for a moment, the regulatory aspects of worker safety enforced by OSHA, there are fundamentally sound business reasons for a landscape contracting company to have a robust worker safety program in place.

Do the right thing

First, it’s just the right thing to do. Our employees work around potentially dangerous machines and equipment, often in weather conditions that are less than optimal. Chainsaws, mowers, skid-steers, trimmers, etc. all have the potential to cause severe injuries and even death when not used in a safe manner. As company owners, we have a responsibility to do our best to arm our employees with the knowledge they need to keep themselves and their coworkers safe on the job.

Recruiting

Second, worker safety is a good recruiting tool, especially in this tough labor market. When an injury to a worker occurs in our industry, the word spreads fast. Potential employees will ask, “Is this a place I want to work?” On the other hand, a strong worker safety program demonstrates in concrete terms the value you place on your employees.

Injuries will cost you

Third, an injured worker will cost you money. You’ll have time lost due to that injury, your schedule will suffer and your customers will complain. Your workers’ comp insurance rates will take a hit. You may have broken equipment to repair. There may be other direct costs associated with the injury. The morale and the productivity of your other employees will suffer as they think about their injured colleague. You’ll have mountains of paperwork to complete. OSHA may well pay you a visit. Your company reputation will suffer within the community.

OSHA estimates that if an employee has an on-the-job amputation injury (a common injury in our industry), the average indirect cost to the employer (assuming your workers’ comp insurance pays all direct costs) is $97,890. If your profit margin is 5 percent, it would take $1.9 million in additional sales to offset just those indirect costs.

OSHA has a tool that allows you to estimate the costs of a workplace injury, based on the injury, your assumed profit margin and other factors. Click here to access that tool.

Not Out of the Woods Yet

But don’t think our industry is out of the woods with OSHA. While we have made good progress, OSHA still has its eye on us. Generally, an employer has the responsibility to provide a workplace that is free from serious recognized hazards and must comply with all applicable OSHA standards, which are specific to each industry segment.

Resources for Landscape Worker Safety

The landscaping industry does not have its own set of standards, but employers in the landscape industry must comply with the applicable general industry OSHA standards and the construction industry standards. To sort out which standards apply from each category, OSHA’s website has provided a breakdown that can be reached by clicking here.

OSHA has published the “Small Business Handbook,” which is a guide to how to develop an employee safety program and come into compliance with the OSHA safety standards.

OSHA has also provided a list of the most common work-related hazards in the landscaping industry and links to recommendations and resources for preventing these injuries:

Cuts and Amputations
Electrical
Ergonomics
Heat and Cold Stress
Lifting and Awkward Postures
Motor Vehicle Safety
Occupational Noise Exposure
Pesticides and Chemicals
Slips, Trips and Falls

Work remains

Further reducing the incidence of work-related injuries in our industry will take the diligence of all company owners and the cooperation of their employees. We’ve made much progress already, so we know with a continued effort, we can reduce injuries even further. The result will be more profitable companies, happier employees and more satisfied customers.

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