The idea of working outdoors with plants, trees, and grass is an attractive way to earn a living or replenish college cash over the summer. While it may seem like roses and manicured lawns, employers and grounds crews tend to fall short in landscaping safety.
Performing tasks around sharp blades, exhaust fumes, hazardous plant life, and the toxic chemicals used to beautify properties require the vigilant use of landscaping protective clothing. Without essential landscaping workwear, those summer jobs and outdoor occupations could leave hard-working people with serious injuries, illnesses, or fatal conditions.
Injuries and Fatalities Linked to Lack of Landscaping Safety
Nearly 1 million people were employed in the landscaping and grounds keeping trades in 2022, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Mean annual salaries hover around $40,000 and those who work in the sector do not necessarily need to earn a college degree or complete a certificate program.
It tends to be an on-the-job learning experience, leaving landscaping safety oversight and practices to employers and supervisors. However, a 2021 BLS report points to troubling landscaping safety trends.
- From 2011-2021, 1,072 work-related fatalities occurred in the industry.
- In 2021 alone, 142 people suffered fatal workplace injuries.
Officials at the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) have gone on the record stating that many workplace injuries and fatalities could have been avoided. Too many companies are hiring inexperienced workers and putting them in the field without understanding the health and safety risks. And not enough businesses are meeting OSHA standards or providing access to landscaping protective clothing to protect them from workplace hazards.
Common Hazards Landscapers Face
It’s not uncommon to pass a landscaping crew wearing T-shirts, shorts, and light footwear. To the passerby, this may seem logical for someone toiling outdoors in the heat. In reality, the lack of protective landscaping workwear puts them at heightened risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these are ways sometimes loosely trained employees get hurt.
- Loading and Unloading: One of the more physically demanding tasks, employees must unload and load machinery, tools, and materials daily. These include mowers, weed whackers, rakes, ladders, and bulky bags of materials. Approximately 22 percent of injuries that led to workers’ compensation claims were linked to loading and unloading.
- Tree Work: Falls from heights often result in serious to debilitating injuries. Arborists routinely use bucket lifts and ladders to trim limbs and fell trees. In some cases, tree trimmers encounter power lines or get injured by machinery such as chainsaws. A CDC report indicates 34 percent of landscaping injuries that resulted in workers’ compensation claims were related to tree work.
- Exertion: Like construction, landscaping is a physically demanding occupation that can lead to joint sprains, pulled muscles, and lower back injuries. Failure to follow appropriate lifting techniques has been attributed to a lack of training, fatigue, and landscapers working alone. Even machinery that is not necessarily too heavy for one person to lift can put an awkward strain on the body.
While these categories ranked particularly high in the CDC’s research, workers also sustain injuries from the moving parts of machinery, aggressive pets, wildlife, biting insects, natural hazards, as well as heat exposure and dehydration. But when it comes to landscapers suffering long-term ailments, the elephant in the room is toxic chemicals.
How Dangerous is Exposure to Landscaping Herbicides?
The most commonly used herbicide — weed killer — in the U.S. is glyphosate. This chemical has become closely associated with the popular brand, Roundup. Also ranked among the top weed-controlling chemicals in agriculture, Roundup lines the shelves of big box retailers.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) contends that glyphosate is a relatively harmless agent when users follow application guidelines. Scientists, by contrast, indicate that long-term exposure is linked to serious health conditions such as the following.
- Cancer: Some studies reportedly suggest that glyphosate can cause cancer, while others say no clear link has been proven. However, the International Agency for Research on Cancer lists glyphosate as a “probable carcinogen.”
- Liver and Kidney Damage: Dairy cows that consumed soybeans laced with glyphosate reportedly presented higher rates of liver and kidney conditions. Glyphosate has a knack for binding with other substances, including soil.
- Reproduction and Developmental: While the EPA released a statement in 2020 denying the herbicide ingredient affected human hormones, scientists have raised concerns it may negatively impact fetuses and the growth of young children.
In terms of high-level exposure to workers who deploy products with glyphosate daily, health and safety agencies have issued warnings. Exposure can result in nose and throat irritation, dermatitis, headaches, low blood pressure, dizziness, abdominal discomfort, nausea, diarrhea, convulsions, and potentially fatal irregular heartbeats.
The controversy and differing assessments of common herbicides highlight the fact that a greater emphasis needs to be placed on employers providing and insisting that workers don landscaping protective clothing.
Crucial Landscaping Health and Safety Precautions
Given the wide range of sharp-edged tools, unpredictable environments, heat, and chemical agents, among other hazards, landscaping professionals would be wise to exercise caution and adopt standard safety procedures and best practices.
Although OSHA has not crafted workplace safety regulations specifically for the landscaping and horticulture sector, the federal agency requires employers to follow general industry protocols (29 CFR 1910) and construction mandates (29 CFR 1926). These health and safety regulations are to be pragmatically applied based on the tasks workers are performing.
- Ladders: Only safety-certified products are to be used in commercial settings. No person shall carry items up ladders that could result in loss of balance. It’s also critical to ensure the ladder is properly secured, footed, and a spotter is in place.
- Handling Machinery: Loading, unloading, and operating landscaping equipment requires appropriate protection for the hands, feet, and areas that encounter sharp edges or flying debris.
- Lifting: Employees who are required to lift, load, or unload heavy and bulky items require training. This typically involves learning to bend the knees and working collaboratively to elevate or lower machinery.
- Heat Exposure: Adequate water and liquids are essential to help keep workers hydrated. Employers may look to OSHA protocols to schedule adequate breaks.
- Chemical Agents: Regardless of whether an employer views herbicides, fertilizers, and other agents as relatively harmless, contact with these products typically causes significant reactions. Businesses need an ample supply of landscaping workwear that prevents hazardous chemicals from making skin or eye contact, as well as stopping them from being inhaled.
When a grounds crew is outfitted with casual wear such as T-shirts, shorts, sneakers, and baseball caps, they are at inherent risk of illness or injury. By providing an inventory of personal protective equipment (PPE) and disposable landscaping workwear employers avert unnecessary illnesses and injuries.
What PPE is Recommended to Help Prevent Landscaping Injuries and Illnesses?
With the health and well-being of seasonal help and career landscapers at risk, it’s imperative that business owners maintain a stockpile of PPE and disposable clothing. By insisting supervisors require on-site workers to use the following, workers’ compensation claims can be minimized, and long-term health issues averted.
- Coveralls: Chemical-resistant suits can prevent skin contact from occurring. The best lightweight products typically have elastic bands at the wrists and ankles to prevent any seepage.
- Gloves: Heavy-duty gloves are considered industry-standard PPE. When spraying herbicides, dispensing fertilizers, or using other agents, lightweight waterproof gloves are advisable.
- Head Gear: Workers that are spraying would be well-served to use protective suits that have hoods. Landscapers handling tree trimming and other duties that present overhead dangers are advised to wear hard hats.
- Face Protection: Face shields or goggles protect the eyes from splashed chemicals and flying debris. They are also considered standard safety items.
- Footwear: Workers require protective footwear coverings when applying fertilizers and weed killers. This type of PPE helps avoid the liquids from saturating shoes and making skin contact.
- Masks: Wearing disposable masks can help protect workers from inhaling small particles during weed whacking, among other tasks. When handling chemicals, enhanced air filtration gear is essential.
Investing in a complete supply of PPE and landscaping protective clothing reduces the risk of injury, illness, or workplace fatalities. Leading, cost-effective products come with accessories to outfit employees for specific tasks.