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The must-have maintenance PPE you need to stay safe on-site

April 19, 2022 -  By
Even when performing simple tasks, safety should be at the top of a landscaper’s mind. (Photo: Stihl)

Even when performing simple tasks, safety should be at the top of a landscaper’s mind. (Photo: Stihl)

It can be easy for contractors to overlook safety and personal protective equipment (PPE) on general property maintenance sites.

But what might seem like simple jobs can still be dangerous. Contractors must take PPE seriously to avoid potential injuries.

“PPE for us is almost as important or more important than some of the tools we use,” says Johnny Morse, director of safety at Sperber Landscape Cos. in Calabasas, Calif., which provides landscape services for commercial clients throughout the U.S.

LM spoke with Morse, Bruce Allentuck, owner of Allentuck Landscape, Rockville, Md., Roger Phelps, corporate communications manager at Stihl and Sam Steel, Ed.D., safety adviser for the National Association of Landscape Professionals (NALP) about what makes PPE so important for general property maintenance.

Must-haves

Allentuck requires his employees to wear boots — preferably steel-toed — work gloves, earplugs and safety glasses.

Allentuck, whose company received a gold overall safety achievement from the NALP in 2021, prides himself on safety. According to Allentuck, the company’s record for safe days in a row is 1,100.

“We talk about it a lot, and we train for it a lot,” Allentuck says. “When I walk onto a job site, one of the first things I look for (is PPE). Who has the orange buds in their ears? Who has their glasses on?”

Allentuck Landscaping provides design/build installation services for its 100 percent residential clientele. Eye protection is a must, according to Phelps. He also strongly recommends gloves, saying he has seen contractors absentmindedly grab the blades of a turned-off hedge trimmer, leading to a significant cut.

“That’s downtime off the job,” he says. “Do you want to be off the job for something silly like that? What’s your eyesight worth? Is it worth a few extra minutes and $15 or whatever it is for a good pair of PPE glasses? I think so.”

Phelps also says it’s OK to go overboard with PPE, especially when working with potentially dangerous equipment like chainsaws.

“In my mind, the must-haves are steel-toed or chainsaw boots and chaps or chainsaw pants,” he says. “The technology is so good now that these chainsaw pants you can buy are almost as comfortable as your regular pants, and frankly, you can wear them all the time.”

Can you hear me now?

Hearing protection is also key, and contractors have some options with earplugs and earmuffs. Sam Steel recommends earmuffs because they can last an entire season if cared for properly.

Whichever option the contractor selects, it’s important to ensure the Noise Reduction Rating (NRR) is high enough to get below the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) permissible exposure limit (PEL).

OSHA recommends wearing hearing protection in environments where the sound level exceeds 90 decibels (dBA).

For example, if a chainsaw produces 110 dBA, a worker would need hearing protection with an NRR of at least 20 to get to the PEL.

ANSI standards

Workers should look for glasses that bare the American National Standards Institute Z87.1 mark. The stamp can commonly be found on the stem of the glasses — or occasionally on the lens itself.

There are over a dozen additional markings after the “87” on the stamp. For a pair of safety glasses marked Z87+D4, the 87+ means the glasses have a high-velocity impact rating. The D4 means the glasses protect from dust particles.

Non-traditional PPE

Allentuck also emphasizes the importance of non-traditional PPE or things like hats and long sleeves.

“Hats shade the face, and you think about potential skin cancer down the road,” he says. “Most of our staff prefer long-sleeved shirts to protect them from the sun, insects, poison ivy, etc. I think they’re important things.”

About the Author:

Rob DiFranco is Landscape Management's associate editor. A 2018 graduate of Kent State University, DiFranco holds a bachelor's degree in journalism. Prior to Landscape Management, DiFranco was a reporter for The Morning Journal in Lorain, Ohio.

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