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11 May 2021

The lost art of staying safe | Angus Lindsay | Pro Landscaper

idverde’s Head of Assets and Fleet, Angus Lindsay, ponders what has happened to common sense when operating equipment

During a recent conversation with a much- respected dealer principal, I was reminded of the passing of our old friend Common Sense, whose wisdom nowadays seems to be long forgotten. Never one to make a song and dance about things, Common Sense lived by simple, sound principles such as “don’t spend what you can’t afford”, “don’t stick your finger in there and if it says ‘hot’, there’s every chance you’ll get burnt!”

The loss of this much-admired compatriot seems to have been highlighted over the last 12 months by articles in the press and in HSE alerts whereby injuries have been sustained by not following basic instructions or, more worryingly, by taking unnecessary risks. We work in an industry where physical exertion is part of the daily routine. Operating machinery which has all manner of spinning, cutting, chopping, shredding, digging and chipping attachments requires skill, and care needs to be taken to avoid hurting ourselves or others.

Why, then, is it that people feel the need to clear hedge cutters whilst the engine is still running, stand on the back of vehicles with no form of fall restraint, operate equipment without the correct guarding, lift heavy materials without assistance, or cross busy construction sites whilst staring at their phone?

This has nothing to do with coronavirus or lockdown. In fact, in some of the examples I have witnessed the individuals have had their masks on and are wearing gloves. This may protect them from COVID-19 but doesn’t arrest their fall when they step backwards off the bed of a truck or when they pull their back whilst wrestling a log out of a ditch. The old analogy of “you learn by your mistakes” very much still applies and, personally, I have stuck by this advice. You only need get an electric shock once to remind you to disconnect the battery, or skin your knuckles to make you think about using a longer spanner.

Apply common sense and use equipment safely
Equipment needs to be respected to avoid serious injury

I am still astounded by the number of injuries sustained within the land-based industries as a result of missing guards or working on equipment whilst it is still operating. Losing a finger is not a badge of honour, it could be life limiting. Maybe it’s because that by wearing PPE people feel immune from injury. But it has to be remembered that PPE is a last line of defence; a robust risk assessment and a common sense approach to the task being undertaken are the best starting point.

A recent article where a gardener had slipped whilst cutting grass on a bank highlights this point, in his summing up of the incident he said: “This is the sort of job I have done many times before without a problem; looking back on it I suppose it was an accident waiting to happen.

Safety signage

“The grass was long, lush and damp once cut. My shoes were smooth soled ones that I had been wearing whilst doing other odd jobs. I don’t suppose they would give any sort of grip on the damp grass. “Thinking about it, even with better boots on, damp grass is bound to be slippery so it was probably not the best idea to be using a rigid bladed rotary mower when it was possible that I could slip down a slope towards it.

“When I did slip it all happened so quickly, there was absolutely no time to react. One moment I was standing up – the next instant my foot was in the blade. I think I probably stacked the odds against myself really – better footwear and a strimmer would have been safer choices. Obviously, things are always clear in hindsight, but I could have seen what was likely to happen, it would have been so little trouble to avoid the risk.”

Angus’s article also appears in the May 2021 issue of Pro Landscaper Magazine.