Often, with health and safety, we think primarily of our own workplace or office. But health and safety legislation applies equally to outdoor settings: not just building sites but seemingly less challenging places – like landscaping environments.
The magazine Horticulture Week organised a Parks & Gardens Live workshop on 27 June 2018, and one of the keynote speakers was Neil Huck, national group training manager for Ground Control.
It’s one of the UK’s largest commercial landscapers, with nearly 3,000 staff, and Neil spoke about the need for “a top-notch health-and-safety policy”.
For context, Ground Control is a £120m-turnover operation with more than 400 clients, working on areas that include arboriculture and ground maintenance, meaning jobs from dealing with invasive species to maintaining motorways and rail lines, gritting and snow clearance. These are dangerous environments and the company takes health and safety extremely seriously, with a team of 14 health-and-safety, equality and environment experts. The team has won an impressive eight gold awards from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.
It’s clearly a big investment. “People say, why spend all that money? Have an accident, have somebody hurt at work and then ask me about cost," Neil told delegates.
Added to the potential misery of an accident, there are real costs. “The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) have been told to ‘make it hurt’, so the bigger the company the bigger the fine and the bigger the cost. The HSE charges £124 per hour for its on-site investigation. Be aware of that,” said Neil, “not to mention any reputational damage”.
Neil gave some fascinating insights into the challenges facing his team. One involved mowing banks for clients – Neil points out that all mowers come with a maximum angle of inclination for safe operation. His team incorporated a health-and-safety check into the PDAs that employees use, which must be completed. If, for instance, bad weather affects the angle of inclination, the employee needs to say on the PDA, “Can’t work today because of torrential rain and the bank dynamics have changed”.
(Neil advised downloading an inclinometer app to smartphones for employees to measure the angle of the bank.)
Musculo-skeletal disorders are a big concern to the HSE, accounting for a third of all reported sicknesses, says Neil. Another problem is that of “whitefinger”, caused by excessive vibration. “One employee had to have his fingers amputated at 52 as gangrene set in,” Neil told delegates.
Consequently, says Neil, Ground Control bought kit to measure sound and hand-arm vibration: “The HSE wants to know how much are you recording. Have you got records of exposure limits? If you haven't you are wide open for prosecution and… for compensation claims.”
Neil also points to silica dust, Lyme Disease and discarded needles as being flashpoints for potential problems.
He summarised his advice thus:
For outdoors health and safety
- Assess the site prior to buying machinery and equipment
- Buy machinery that can cope with the sites conditions
- Provide training for all operatives
- Assess operatives’ competences to a recognised level
- Carry out a risk assessment on the site, machinery and hazards
- Record risk assessment findings and implement the method statement
- Carry out a point-of-work risk assessment, taking into account weather conditions, ground conditions and vegetation growth
- Regularly review – “the golden rule”, says Huck; “your risk assessment must be a living document…”
The cost of getting it wrong
In 2012, Cirencester Town Council was fined £29,000 after a worker was thrown from a mower while cutting grass on a slope; the mower then hit him, and he broke four ribs. The council pleaded guilty to breaching the Health & Safety at Work Act. The HSE described the accident as “entirely avoidable”.(With thanks to Horticulture Week for permission to quote)