There are persistently high rates of fatal incidents and work-related ill health in the Agricultural and Horticulture industry which are of real concern to the HSE. They are continually working to use new technologies and innovative methods of communication to improve, target and deliver key health and safety messages and guidance to those working in these industries and we hope to help with these 5 Health and Safety Tips for Ground Maintenance Workers.
Prior to the commencement of any work we suggest the following steps are taken:
1. Machine Maintenance, Inspections and Pre-Shift Checks
In order to ensure work equipment does not deteriorate to the extent that it may put people at risk, employers, the relevant self-employed and others in control of work equipment are required by PUWER to keep it ‘maintained in a safe state, in efficient order and in good repair’.
The frequency and nature of maintenance should be determined through risk assessment, taking full account of:
- the manufacturer’s recommendations
- the intensity of use
- operating environment (ie. the effect of temperature, corrosion, weathering etc)
- user knowledge and experience
- the risk to health and safety from any foreseeable failure or malfunction
Safety-critical parts of work equipment may need a higher and more frequent level of attention than other aspects, which can be reflected within any maintenance programme. Breakdown maintenance, undertaken only after faults or failures have occurred, will not be suitable where significant risk will arise from the continued use of the work equipment.
There is no requirement for you to keep a maintenance log, although it is recommended for high-risk equipment. Maintenance logs can provide useful information for the future planning of maintenance, as well as informing maintenance personnel of previous action taken. However, if you have a maintenance log, you must keep it up to date.
Undertaking maintenance safely
Steps should be taken to manage any risks arising from maintenance activity. Manufacturer’s instructions should make recommendations on how to safely undertake maintenance of their work equipment and, unless there are good reasons otherwise, these should always be followed.
What you should know
The duty to maintain work equipment (PUWER regulation 5) and take measures to manage the risks from maintenance (PUWER regulation 22) builds on the general duties of section 2 of the Health and Safety at Work Act, which requires work equipment to be maintained so that it is safe, and work to be undertaken safely, so far as reasonably practicable.
Who can undertake maintenance of work equipment
Maintenance work should only be undertaken by those who are competent to do the work, who have been provided with sufficient information, instruction and training. With high-risk or complex equipment, these demands may be significant and, in some cases, may be best undertaken by the manufacturer or specialist contractors. But, in many cases, maintenance can be done in-house by suitably trained, competent staff.
Pre shift checks
Before commencing any work, operators should inspect and check all work equipment as per the relevant risk assessment. The result of the inspection should be recorded and this record should be kept at least until the next inspection of that equipment. Records do not have to be made in writing but can be kept in another form e.g. on a computer.
An extensive work equipment inspection should be accompanied by physical evidence of the last inspection, such as an inspection report or, for smaller items of equipment, some form of tagging, colour coding or labelling system.
Machinery pre-shift checks should include checking the fuel levels, which need to be done safely ensuring no risks of fire or contact with the fuel which can cause skin irritations such as dermatitis.
Checking your PPE
At this point we would also recommend checking your PPE and ensuring that you have all the correct PPE required for your daily tasks. Horticultural landscaping health and safety requirements suggest PPE should include ear defenders, gloves, toe protectors, Hi Viz either a jacket or covering vest (especially if working near a highway) and a helmet with a protective visor. We recommend a plastic visor not a mesh one, as ground maintenance workers using equipment such as strimmers, grass cutters could make contact with objects in the grass and vegetation, which can result in these items or excrement becoming air borne.
The different types of PPE required are covered as part of our courses for all the safety training for ground maintenance workers, horticulture and agriculture training programs.
2. Walk the site
This is a health and safety tip for all landscapers and ground workers, sometimes called a Patrol Inspection. Walking the site helps to identify hidden hazards in the grass. We recommend that before any work commences operators walk the site, remove any objects / rubbish which may cause an issue and highlight hazards for consideration during works. These activities can also locate things like wasp nests which may not be visible to an operator when they are doing their duties, but are a hazard to be aware of.
Hazards to consider include low hanging branches or wet ground which maybe an issue for users of Ride on Mowers for instance.
Inspections are important as they allow you to:
- gain further understanding of jobs and tasks
- identify existing and potential hazards
- determine underlying causes of hazards
- recommend corrective action
- monitor steps taken to eliminate hazards or control the risk
3. Restrict access or to warn others of working activities
Where possible it is recommended that access to the area is restricted or warning signage is used to ensure the safety of colleagues, members of the public and vehicle access. Many activities conducted by ground maintenance workers can involve activities which require a cordon for safety as flying objects and machinery use can be a hazard to pedestrians, dog walkers and children. Cyclist also need to be considered as they will be travelling quickly and probably silently and equipment operators may not know they are there over the noise of the machinery.
4. Soft Ground or Excavations
Overturning on slopes and rough ground and at the edges of excavations, embankments or drop offs are a major cause of accidents when using machinery such a ride on grass cutters. But soft ground and excavations must also be considered when using other ground maintenance equipment as it can be easy to twist, fall and injure yourself around these uneven ground conditions. These types of hazard should be identified when doing your site walk and relevant precautions taken to ensure operator safety.
You are a lone worker if you work by yourself without close or direct supervision.
What your employer must do
Your employer has specific duties to protect you as a lone worker. This also applies if you’re working for them as a contractor, a freelancer or are self-employed.
HSE guidance for employers includes advice on:
- providing you with support and training
- keeping in contact with you
- preventing work-related violence
What you must do
Like any worker, you must take care of your own health and safety and that of others who may be harmed by your acts or omissions at work.
You must cooperate with your employers and other workers to help everyone meet their duties under the law.
How to raise any concerns
If you’re concerned about health and safety risks to you as a lone worker, talk to:
- your employer
- a manager or supervisor
- a health and safety representative
5. Be aware of toxic plants and woods
There are a number of reported adverse health effects associated with the more common woods found within the UK. Many timbers are used regularly without any problems however care should be take to minimise the risks to health.
The hazardous forms of wood that are most likely to cause health risks are:
- wood dust
- sap, latex or lichens associated with a wood
Toxic activity is specific to a wood species, so knowing the exact species is important in establishing what the potential toxic effects may be. It is easy to confuse individual wood species (of which more than 100 are commercially important in the UK). For example, the term ‘rosewood’ may be used for up to 30 different species; and an individual species may have up to ten different trade names. An additional difficulty is that trees vary within a species. One specimen may contain low levels of its toxic agent and the next contain much higher levels.
Ill-health effects associated with wood
The main effect is irritation that can be caused by skin contact with:
- the wood (especially treated wood such as tanalised timbers)
- its dust
- its bark (or even lichens growing on the bark)
- its sap
Irritation can, in some species of wood, lead to nettle rashes or irritant dermatitis. These effects, from direct contact or cross-contamination to other parts of the body by hand, tend to appear on the forearm, backs of the hands, the face (particularly eyelids), neck, scalp and the genitals. On average, they take 15 days to develop. Symptoms usually only persist as long as the affected skin site remains in contact with the source of irritation such as the wood dust or sap etc. Symptoms subside when contact with the irritant is removed.
This is not a comprehensive list, just our recommendations for horticulture landscaping health and safety. All these points including the plants, their toxicity and the dangers from Giant Hog weed etc. are covered in great detail during our training courses. Kentra Training deliver numerous courses, some are which are listed below:
- Woodchipper and shredder
- Grass cutters and mowers
- Strimmers and Brush cutters
- Hedge trimmers
- Small plant and portable tools
For more information on the courses above, your training requirements or any other horticulture landscaping health and safety requirements, please give us a bell on 01606 832 556 or email – Just get in touch. We look forward to hearing from you.
The Kentra Training Team.