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Avoiding Hazards During Landscaping Work

When you think of landscaping, dangerous working conditions probably aren’t the first thing that come to mind. While it’s true that landscapers don’t usually face some of the more deadly construction hazards (falls from heights, silica or working in trenches, for example), they are still exposed to hazards that can cause serious injuries and lasting health problems. Here’s a brief look at some of those hazards, and how LIUNA’s signatory employers and members can work together to prevent them.

Motor Vehicles and Equipment

Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of fatal accidents among landscapers. This includes traffic accidents (frequent travel from job to job means more time on the road) and struck-by incidents.

Planning before the job begins and controlling traffic during the job, such as through the use of a flagger, can increase safety. While on the job, all landscaping employees should wear high-visibility colors to increase their chances of being seen by drivers.

Encourage employees to practice safe driving at all times and consider holding a toolbox talk using the LHSFNA’s Driving Safely Health Alert.

In addition to motor vehicles, landscapers have to avoid cuts, amputations, buried electrical lines and sprains and strains while working with a variety of powered equipment and other sharp tools. The following recommendations can help prevent these types of injuries:

  • Stay aware at all times. Workers must focus on both the job and what’s going on around them. Getting distracted around dangerous equipment or getting tunnel vision on the task at hand can be equally dangerous.
  • Keep tools sharp. Dull blades require more force to get the job done, increasing risk for repetitive stress injuries, cuts and amputations.
  • Know your equipment. Blowers, mowers and other power tools can cause severe injuries if they are used incorrectly. Train employees in the safe use of any equipment they will be expected to use.
  • Power ALL the way down. Ensure all blades have stopped moving completely and tools are de-energized before attempting maintenance on equipment.

Pesticides and Other Health Hazards

Landscapers face several health hazards on a daily basis. Noise exposure, which is also common in construction, can be addressed through the use of hearing protection. But other hazards are more unique to the landscaping industry, such as exposure to pesticides.

As the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS) notes, pesticides can enter the body by mouth, through the skin and eyes or as vapors inhaled into the lungs. The long pants, sturdy shoes, gloves and eye protection that many landscapers wear every day can help protect from exposure to chemicals found in lawn care products, solvents, fill dirt and soil.

Pesticides can cause a wide variety of health effects depending on the product, individual and level of exposure. Chronic, low-level exposure or a single acute exposure can cause workers to have allergic reactions and develop sensitivity to pesticides or occupational asthma. The CCOHS chart below lists some common symptoms of mild, moderate and severe cases of pesticide poisoning.

General Symptoms that Might Indicate Pesticide Poisoning

Mild Poisoning

Moderate Poisoning

Severe Poisoning

Any of the following:

  • irritation of the nose, throat, eyes or skin
  • headache
  • dizziness
  • loss of appetite
  • thirst
  • nausea
  • diarrhea
  • sweating
  • weakness or fatigue
  • restlessness
  • nervousness
  • changes in mood
  • insomnia
Any of the mild symptoms, plus any of the following:

  • vomiting
  • excessive salivation
  • coughing
  • feeling of constriction in throat and chest
  • abdominal cramps
  • blurring of vision
  • rapid pulse
  • excessive perspiration
  • profound weakness
  • trembling
  • muscular incoordination
  • mental confusion
Any of the mild or moderate symptoms, plus any of the following:

  • inability to breathe
  • extra phlegm or mucous in the airways
  • small or pinpoint pupils
  • chemical burns on the skin
  • increased rate of breathing
  • loss of reflexes
  • uncontrollable muscular twitching
  • unconsciousness
  • death

No matter what chemical is being used, workers should always check the label and any accompanying safety data sheet, and employers should train workers how to use chemicals safely. For more on this topic, order the LHSFNA’s OSHA’s Hazard Communication Standard pamphlet through our online Publications Catalogue.

Exposure to Heat, Sun and Infectious Diseases

With all of their work occurring outdoors, it’s no surprise that landscapers also face many environmental hazards. Long hours in the sun can cause heat stress and raise the risk for skin cancer. To help LIUNA members avoid these hazards, use the Fund’s Sun Sense Plus page to order educational materials and products (available while supplies last) related to stopping overexposure to the sun.

Spending time around plants, tall grasses and standing water also puts landscapers at increased risk for contact with biting and stinging insects and other animals. The infectious diseases carried by some of these pests mean they must be treated not as a nuisance, but as a serious hazard to the health and safety of LIUNA’s members. For details on how to better protect landscapers and other outdoor workers from these hazards, see the Fund’s recent coverage in the following articles:

LIUNA’s signatory contractors and affiliates can also order the following Health Alerts from the Fund’s online Publications Catalogue: Lyme Disease in Construction; Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac; Precautions Against Blood-borne Pathogens and West Nile Virus.

[Nick Fox]

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