The latest blog from idverde’s Angus Lindsay.

Creating and maintaining a safe working environment should never be seen as an option or a tick box exercise, it should be at the root of your day-to-day operations; constantly reviewed and communicated, and one of the foundations on which your business is built. Failure to do so could lead to injury, a hefty fine, or worse still, imprisonment and a criminal record.

As an industry, I’d like to think we’ve come a long way from hover mowers on ropes, ignorance of PPE, or spraying dangerous chemicals around. Risk assessment and legislation has eliminated many of these bad practices, but accidents still happen which, in many cases, are down to taking shortcuts, a lack of training, or an ignorance of the risks – none of which is a defence in a court.

Since April 2008, when the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act came into force, the HSE now publishes a lot more detail about its investigations into breaches, and some of them make harrowing reading. Many are not directly attributable to our industry, but there are some very close comparisons. These include a worker being crushed by faulty lifting equipment, a mechanic maimed by an exploding tyre, falls from height through using the wrong equipment, a machine operator killed as a result of poor maintenance practices – the list goes on.

H&S Manager checks tyres

Don’t let basic vehicle safety checks be overlooked

With fines from £5,000 all the way up to £1 million, it’s small compensation for the loss of a limb, paralysis or worse, but what about the others affected? The family, the other workers who are now out of a job because the business has folded, all because somebody thought they could save a bit of money by cutting a corner, or just couldn’t be bothered with the paperwork, or thought the basis of a good risk assessment was to say “it’ll be all right, just take your time and be careful!”

Many still see health and safety compliance as a costly investment from which you get little or no return, but consider the benefits of putting your staff through the Register of Landscape Operatives (RoLO) health and safety course, or your managers through IOSH or even NEBOSH training. For a small investment your staff become more aware of their working environment, the risks affecting them and others, and what they can do to make things better, or, in a word, professional – a worthwhile investment in my book.

PPE reminder sign

Pay attention to PPE

Whilst “zero harm” is the mantra bandied around most construction sites, agricultural and land-based industries still account for a large number of deaths and serious injury. In many cases, this is down to lone working with dangerous machinery, unpredictable livestock, or people putting themselves in dangerous situations. We in the landscaping industry don’t have so much in the way of livestock issues, but the others do represent a clear and present danger. I’m sure we’re all aware that the HSE now charges for any investigations where health and safety has been breached, be it a minor transgression to a full blown investigation – and don’t think that your insurance will pay for it.

I don’t wish to be seen as the harbinger of doom, but in this day and age we should not be putting people at risk while they go about their daily jobs. The bottom line is that profit should never come before safety. By implementing a sound and workable health and safety culture within your business, you will have a much greater and longer lasting effect on its future profitability.

Angus’s blog article is also published in the November 2016 issue of Pro Landscaper magazine, with the title ‘Accidents Will Happen’.