Safety in the Workplace

November 29, 2005
Written by Michael K. Lascelle
How to Keep Your Employees and Your Customer From Harm’s Way
The first thing you have to consider in a retail garden centre or nursery scenario is that your safety concerns are basically two-fold. Your customers are the greater variable, as you have little control over what they will wear or how they will act at your place of business. Employees, on the other hand, should be arriving on site properly trained and attired, and ready to safely complete a day of work. Since there are different safety considerations for each of these, we’ll be segregating this article in order to focus on each group.

Part I: Keeping Your Customers Safe

Getting a Grip
If you want to know where the majority of all nursery accidents occur, just look down.
When you consider all the water, fertilizer, algae, soil, fallen leaves, frost and ice that accumulates on the ground – it shouldn’t be surprising that our sidewalks, floors and parking lots are occasionally slippery. Couple that with the casual footwear (sneakers, sandals, clogs, high-heels, dress shoes) your clientele customarily wears, and you’ve got a real potential for accidents. And while you can’t totally negate these factors, there are certain steps you can take to minimize the risk of accidental falls,like sweeping or mopping all excess water off your floors immediately after watering.

• Place prominent ‘Caution Wet Floor’ signs where your customers will see them, to raise their awareness.

• During winter, be sure that staff have time to clear snow and dispense ice remover before the store opens.

• Regularly pressure wash or bleach (using a water/bleach solution) those areas where algae or slime tend to build up.

• Remove all fallen leaves, spilled soil or debris before someone has the opportunity to slip on it.

• Install proper drainage and have your walks / parking lots sloped to prevent water and silt build-up.

• Wherever possible, make sure all walkways are constructed with a hard surface to allow for a sure grip with any type of footwear.

Kids Will Be Kids
Children haven’t changed much over the years and on any given weekend day at a garden centre you may find them drag racing the shopping carts (or wagons) down the aisles, throwing rocks into every pond or aquatic display, gathering handfuls of luscious-looking (but not necessarily edible) berries or even collecting those attractive descriptive plant tags from every pot in sight!

The truth of the matter is they’re not doing anything we didn’t do when we were young – so if you want to make your nursery ‘child proof,’ you have to think like a kid.

Your first line of defense is the parent(s), and usually a polite comment of concern is enough for them to quickly reign in their children. All pond displays should be posted with signs requiring children to be accompanied by an adult, because a kid is less likely to throw rocks in their presence and more importantly, an unattended young child can drown in just a few inches of water. Poisonous berries, such as Taxus or Yew, should be removed or avoided altogether by stocking only male cultivars. Try to find a means of affixing or stapling your plant tags to the pots, because as you know, children aren’t the only ones who take these tags home. And if you happen to notice a shopping cart (with a child attached) racing through the nursery, don’t take the cart away (chances are their parents asked them to get it) – just politely ask them to slow down.

Polite is the key word here because these ‘kids’ will grow up to be young customers before you know it, and you can be assured that they won’t be spending their money at any business where they were made to feel unwelcome as a child.

No Pets Policy
In an era when people spend a great deal of money on their pets, it might seem like a bad idea to have a ‘no pets’ policy. For the most part, when we’re speaking about pets and garden centres, we’re talking about dogs. So, what’s wrong with allowing a little old lady the right to carry her tiny Chihuahua while she’s out shopping for plants?  The problem is that one person’s Chihuahua is another’s Rottweiler or German Shepard – and you need to consider the safety of all of your customers, including young children who like to pet strange dogs. The other complication is how dogs interact with each other – a good example of which occurred on a special ‘bring your pet day’ at my local bank. To say the least it was total chaos and with all the barking, snarling and restraining going on, some people had to actually forego their banking. Also, if you allow pets on the premises and one of them bites another customer (or their pet), you may find yourself partially liable for that damage.

Natural Disasters
While you might think that this title is a little ‘over the top‚’ I wanted to touch on several aspects of this which have affected us over the past few years. The first is flooding – we are located on a flood plain and last winter when the municipal pumps were not working to capacity, we ended up with two to four per cent of water covering the entire parking lot. And while the nursery proper was dry, we had to close for several days because there was no safe place for our customers to park. After all, the potential profits gained during this short period would be a fraction of the financial loss, should a customer slip and sue for damages. Windstorms and power outages are another common occurrence here, so in case of emergencies we have a natural gas generator to provide light and electricity. When the power fails, our customers are able to safely leave the premises and pay for their purchases.

Last on my list of natural disasters was a small earthquake we experienced several years ago. Our garden centre is actually housed in a glass greenhouse (including the roof) and the horrific noise of the structure shifting and grinding was a real wake-up call. Fortunately, we experienced no breakage – but this incident did underscore the necessity of quickly evacuating customers out of the building in the event of another earthquake.

Everything In Its Place
One of the best precautions you can take to prevent accidents in your nursery is simply keeping everything in its place. This can be particularly difficult during the busy shipping season, when your spring bookings seem to arrive all at once – but if you only bring out one pallet of new product at a time, you should be able to put things away safely without the temporary clutter. Aisles should not be blocked with plants or product, and there should be enough room for shopping carts to pass through easily. Product should never be stacked in such a manner where it might be prone to falling, which is particularly important when it comes to heavy objects such as ceramic pots. You should also remind your staff not to leave any of their work tools laying around, even for just a few minutes – as a forgotten box-cutter or hand pruner can do a lot of damage in the hands of a child.

Essentially, when everything is in its place, you can focus your attention on your customers’ needs, instead of worrying about what they’re going to trip on.

Part II: Keeping Your Employees Safe

New Employee Syndrome
I’ve worked on many garden-related jobsites over the years and the one constant I’ve noticed is that new employees often seem to be the most prone to accidents. There are a variety of reasons for this, including people who physically exert themselves too much (particularly lifting) after a period of not working, employees who exaggerate their supposed injury‚ experience with power tools or machinery and not recognizing potential hazards simply because they are not yet familiar with the job site. To avoid this window of potential mishaps, all new employees should be oriented to the many tasks they are required to fulfill with the help of an experienced staff member.

Hiring a new employee should not end with the job interview – a subsequent trial work period, coupled with ongoing orientation, is critical to finding the best long-term staff member for your garden centre.

Training & Certification
While every province has its own regulations governing necessary training and certification in the workplace – any upgrading you can offer your employees will help to make your garden centre a safer place to work. First aid is the first necessity that comes to mind, and it only makes sense to have at least one qualified person on staff at all times, for the benefit of fellow employees and customers. In regards to certification – we recently had to go through this process for all our forklift operators. All interested staff were able to attend an in-house seminar, which included a series of training videos, written comprehension quizzes and driving tests, held over the course of the day. The instructor was even able to provide the more experienced operators with some tips to improve their forklift skills.

Similarly, the training for a pesticide dispenser license in British Columbia also includes aspects of safe pesticide storage, spill protocols (including customer evacuation) and emergency contact numbers. Ongoing education should also make your employees more aware of what is considered proper work attire - which may include steel-toe boots, work gloves, hardhat, safety goggles, hearing protection. etc. In the end, any additional training leaves you with a more safety-conscious staff and a better work environment for both your employees and customers.

Michael Lascelle is a working nursery manager, author and certifed arborist based in British Columbia.

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