I asked Rachelle Tessier, Grounds Department Supervisor for School District #43 in Coquitlam about the top safety issues for her crew. She supervises a total of 20 people from fall until spring – and 25 workers from spring until fall. This includes three delivery drivers, four equipment operators (who operate the backhoe, front-end loaders, dump truck, and big grass mowers), 13 general groundskeepers, one gardener, and four students.
They maintain nearly 80 sites – mostly schools and including the board office and maintenance yard. Rachelle described the main job tasks of her crew.
“In the summer, our grass crew uses tractor mowers, small and large, line-trimmers and backpack blowers to maintain the grass. Our one and only gardener prunes trees and shrubs, and the rest of the guys do so many different tasks: clearing drains, doing leaf pick-up in the fall, removing snow in the winter, building enclosures for playgrounds, maintaining and topping up sand in jump pits, topping up surfacing in playground enclosures, slashing areas where blackberries are encroaching, etc.”
I asked for the top three safety issues she’s been working on with the crew. Proper lifting is one important item to cover, especially since most of the workers are 50-plus. (I wrote about health and safety strategies for this group in my recent post Keeping older workers safe and on the job.)
Another important safety issue is driving safely around children (and each other, of course).
“When a grounds crew is at a school, they have their trucks and/or big equipment with them. The guys have been told to power down when the kids are out at recess and lunch breaks,” Rachelle said. “Sometimes classes come out between breaks so the guys have to be very careful when moving around the grounds to make sure no one gets hurt, as kids can be unpredictable and appear out of nowhere!”
Proper use of equipment and PPE is also critical.
“Tools such as chainsaws and gas-powered hedge trimmers can be dangerous if not used and maintained properly. The guys receive chainsaw familiarization workshops and are expected to clean, sharpen, and grease their tools when they have finished with them,” Rachelle said.
“I also stress the importance of personal protective gear to the guys. They all have good vests with reflective tape on them and ID badges so that school personnel can easily identify the guys as School District #43 employees. I keep a cupboard in my office stocked with ear plugs, ear muffs, safety glasses (tinted and clear), a variety of gloves, hard hats, high-viz rain gear and sunblock.”
For more information, see the tips and crew talk samples in Health and Safety for Landscaping and Lawn Maintenance Companies from WorkSafeBC.