Health and Safety Risks That Cause Serious Landscaper Injuries
Nearly one million landscapers, groundskeepers, and horticultural workers in the U.S. provide a valuable service to keep yards and private/public areas beautifully groomed and maintained. Unfortunately, these workers tend to be exposed to a wide range of potentially dangerous conditions in multiple environments, were an average of 200 workers lose their lives every year. These hazards include exposure to harmful chemicals, toxins, machinery, excessive noise, and weather-associated dangers. Just some of these dangers include:
- Lifting Injuries – Groundskeepers and landscapers routinely lift extremely heavy bags of mulch/dirt along with potted trees, bushes, and plants. Improper lifting practices can lead to serious injuries including backaches, sprains, and strains.
- Cuts and Lacerations – Sharp utility knives, sharp tools, saws and thorny plants can cause serious cuts and lacerations. The supervisor, foreman or owner should provide quick access to a first aid kit.
- Equipment Repair Injuries – Clearing or fixing a jammed mower or power tool can cause catastrophic injuries if the power is not completely turned off or the blades have not yet stopped moving completely. Many groundskeepers have self-amputated fingers, hands, toes, and feet caused by lawnmowers spinning blades.
- Sprains and Strains – On level ground, holes, depressions, and steep inclines can create the perfect environment for twisting ankles and straining muscles, ligaments and tendons.
- Excessive Noise Injury – Machinery and equipment used in the landscaping industry can produce excessive levels of noise. This machinery includes backhoes, chippers, chainsaws, trenchers, and augers. The equipment includes lawnmowers and leaf blowers.
- Exposure to Chemicals and Pesticides – Horticultural workers, groundskeepers, and landscapers are regularly exposed to dangerous chemicals and formulated herbicides, fungicides and pesticides. The worker should take specific precautions including wearing respiratory equipment (respirators), chemical resistant gloves, long-sleeved shirts, long pants, waterproofed boots, and other measures to protect direct contact with skin.
- Slips, Trips, and Falls – Groundskeepers who work on watery and icy surfaces and should take specific precautions to avoid slipping, tripping or falling that could result in broken bones, bruises, and sprains.
- Motor Vehicle Injuries – Most landscaper workers travel to their job site using a company motor vehicle that might have an attached trailer to contains accumulated leaves, branches, and debris. Some groundskeepers suffer serious injuries every year in motor vehicle accidents, including collisions with other cars and trucks, and backup accidents where the driver fails to see other workers in harm’s way. Controlling traffic by using a flagger on crowded roads can enhance safety, especially when wearing high visibility colors on safety vests, shirts, and helmets.
- Back, Muscle and Joint Injuries – Heavy lifting and working in awkward positions for weeks and months on end can cause significant debilitating back, muscle, and joint injuries. Landscaper should receive formal training from their supervisors or business owners on how to lift heavy objects properly, crouch and work for hours at a time in unnatural, uncomfortable positions.
- Cold and Heat Stress – Working long hours under frigid conditions can cause significant injuries including frostbite, pneumonia and the flu. Likewise, many landscapers suffer heat-related illnesses on extremely hot days or become sick from an imbalance of fluids caused by dehydration while working.
- Occupational Asthma – Low-level, chronic exposure to toxic pesticides can cause significant allergic reactions and high sensitivity to dangerous chemicals that can eventually develop into occupational asthma and other respiratory conditions.
- Musculoskeletal Disorders – The CDC recommends using ergonomic practices to reduce stress on the back, shoulders, arms, and legs and eliminate severe injuries associated with overexertion of muscles and pressure soft tissues. Their recommendations help avoid stress to tendons, ligaments, muscles that can be injured through repeated tasks and awkward posture.
Landscaper Death Investigations
The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) through its National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health accumulates data on occupational hazards on job sites. In cases involving workplace safety concerning landscapers and groundskeepers, investigations into accidents and deaths involving outdoor work that include:
- Case 1: In 2010, a landscaper working in Joliet Illinois was mowing lawns in a residential community when he became disoriented due to excessive heat. The worker was assisted to a shady area before collapsing. EMT was called to the job site to transport the stricken worker to the hospital. The landscaper later died from heatstroke-related symptoms that led to multiple organ failures.
- Case 2: In 1995, a member of a small tree trimming company lost his life after falling over 40 feet, while connected to a falling tree. Other employees were cutting and trimming tree branches and limbs that were held together using a twisted steel cable. At the time of the incident, the tree climber was tied to a portion of the tree being cut. As the limb fractured, the climber fell to the ground and was crushed by the falling tree. The investigation results revealed ways to avoid severe injury and death including using alternative methods when handling precarious trees and limbs. Additional recommendations included proper training to identify dangerous hazards when trimming or felling trees and utilizing fall protection when climbing.
- Case 3: in 1996, a young male tree climber lost his life while clearing utility lines after falling nearly 40 feet when the tree trunk uprooted. Before the incident, the climber was working with the team trimming and cutting trees. After falling, the climber was crushed by the falling tree and other tree limbs. An investigation concluded that employees should be trained on alternative methods for identifying hazardous tree conditions and have accessible resources that maximize safety performance. Additional recommendations included routine and unscheduled safety inspections to ensure employees follow safety procedures.
- Case 4: A male skid steer loader driver lost his life after backing off a retaining wall while spreading topsoil to prepare the area for grass seeding. Apparently, the operator reversed direction on the skid loader, and backed up toward the wall while dragging the skip loader’s bucket before driving off the six-foot-high retaining wall and rolling the loader to its side. The operator remained inside the cab of the loader but was found unconscious after becoming wedged between the side screen and the seat. After an investigation, the agency recommended to prevent future accidents, equipment operators always wear their seat belt and make sure that all interlock safety devices function properly. The agency recommended that foremen and supervisors develop and enforce safety programs based on recognizing and avoiding hazards.
- Case 5: Decades ago, an older experienced handyman lost his life after falling 25 feet on his first day of working for a landscaping company. The handyman used an extension aluminum ladder positioned against aluminum siding. When the handyman overreached to the right, with his left foot and left-hand remaining on the ladder, he lost his grip and fell to his death. When the investigation concluded that certain guidelines must be followed to ensure safety. These recommendations included safe practices when using ladders, avoid overreaching or leaning when using a ladder or scaffold and properly maintaining ladders and other equipment to ensure they remain in good working condition.
Simple Steps to Avoid Injury
According to the Bureau of Labor, there are certain steps at any landscaper groundskeeper can take to minimize the potential of suffering injury. These precautions involve various landscaping preparatory and finish activities that include:
During grading and soil preparation the landscaper should:
- Wear work boots that support the ankle to prevent falls in holes and on uneven surfaces.
- Use proper fitting gloves while shoveling and hoeing.
- Maintain a safe distance around powered equipment.
- Use a proper shovel that can carry extra heavy loads without the need for excessive bending.
- Keep a safe distance away when trenching, digging or working close to underground utility painted markings.
- Follow trenching rules as defined by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration when digging to a depth of 4 feet or deeper.
When performing landscape and lawn maintenance, the groundskeeper should:
- Wear proper fitting gloves to protect hands and fingers against contusions and scrapes.
- Follow protocols involving safety measures when using and applying toxic chemicals.
- Always wear PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) when required.
- Follow specific safe lifting practices when lifting heavy objects over 20 pounds.
Overall, every worker should monitor their health under periods of high humidity and excessive heat and drink at least one quart of water every hour. Additionally, the worker should take a rest multiple times every hour during hot weather conditions to cool down. Other safety measures include:
- Identify poisonous bushes, plants, and trees that include poison sumac, poison ivy and others. Workers can remain protected by wearing full-body clothing and heavy gloves.
- Operate motor vehicles using safe driving methods.
- Observe every worker’s driving habits to ensure the safety of all passengers and other motorists on the road.
- Observe safety measures when moving and redirecting traffic around the landscaping vehicle and working area.
- Never use powered equipment without first receiving proper training. This machinery includes bobcats, graders, backhoes, trenchers, augers, and others.
- Always wear your protection when operating any powered machinery and equipment, even equipment that generates low decibels.
- Maintain a proper distance away from mower blades, weed trimmers, and augers.
Common OSHA Violations
The most cited violations according to OSHA involving landscapers, groundskeepers, and horticultural workers involve:
- Flammable liquids
- Aerial lifts
- Hazard communication
- Head protection
- PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)
- Metal ladders
- Face and eye protection
- Man lift, powered platforms, and vehicle mounted platforms
Job Duty and Wages
Landscapers, groundskeepers, and lawn maintenance crews perform various tasks. These tasks include planting turf, mowing lawns, pruning shrubbery, planting flowers and trees, installing and maintaining walkways and driveways. Some landscapers also install irrigation systems, sprinkler heads, fountains, waterfalls, ponds, water features, outdoor lighting, and patios.
Typically, in the early spring and late fall, a landscape technician will remove wildly dense shrubbery and vegetation to clear away unwanted foliage overgrowth. As a part of their decorating skills and maintenance schedules, a landscaper will prune, mow, trim, edge, hydrate and fertilizer areas involving grass, trees, and plants. To maintain the area, the landscaper may spray pesticides, herbicides, and fungicides to control/destroy diseases and kill insects.
Most landscapers and groundskeepers are hired without a formal education. However, to maintain the job, the worker must maintain adequate physical fitness including the use of full range of motion on the lower and upper body. The job requires bending, lifting, stooping, pushing, pulling, standing, and squatting for extended periods of time.
Even though most landscape technicians work with pesticides and herbicides, many never receive formal or education and training or obtain a state license or certification.
According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics 2016 data concerning the previous year, 17,360 landscapers and groundskeepers worked in the Chicago, Naperville and Arlington Heights metropolitan area. On average, landscape workers in northeastern Illinois earn $31,610 every year (mean wage), or $15.20 per hour. See Chart
Are You Entitled to Receive Financial Compensation?
Was your loved one harmed by exposure to harmful chemicals or injured on the job working as a landscaper? The Chicago Grounds Keeper Injury Attorneys at Rosenfeld Injury Lawyers represent groundskeepers, landscapers, and horticultural workers who have been injured or died due to a work-related event.
Working on your behalf, our team of attorneys and investigators will discuss your case with you to determine all your legal options to ensure your family will receive adequate financial compensation. Our lawyers will file your claim, gather evidence, speak to witnesses, review medical records, initiate your claim, and file all necessary legal documents in the appropriate county courthouse before the state statute of limitations concerning your case expires. Call us today at (888) 424-5757 to speak with one of our attorneys.
We accept every occupational injury claim for compensation through contingency fee arrangements. This agreement means your legal fees are paid only after the attorneys have negotiated an out of court settlement on your behalf or have successfully resolved your recompense case in a court of law. This agreement postpones the payment of legal fees until after our lawyers working on your behalf successfully resolved your case by winning at trial or negotiating an out of court settlement. If we do not win, you owe us nothing!