October 9, 2015 – It seems every summer there’s a headline that reads –“Tractor Crushes Worker to Death at Golf Course.”
Thankfully, most golf course superintendents have never had to deal with the horror of a serious accident resulting in the death of a crew member. The golf course is a relatively safe place to work; according to OSHA statistics, between July 2003 to July 2012, 74 workers died in workplace accidents on golf courses. That is a very small percentage of the total number of golf course maintenance employees working over that same period, but it’s still too many. Most of those deaths were from what OSHA refers to as “struck by,” or “caught-in/between.” In other words, a piece of equipment either rolled over or somehow crushed or pinned the employee. This year, there have already been five accidents where a golf course maintenance worker was killed by a piece of equipment. Often the details of the accident aren’t known because the employee was working alone. But typically the mower, tractor, spray rig or utility vehicle was being operated on a slope, sometimes in wet conditions, a load shifts, or gravity takes over and the equipment flips, trapping or crushing the employee. The accident might have been avoided if the employee understood the risk and used better judgment.
We need to do everything we can to protect our crew members and give them the tools to protect themselves. When teaching your crew how to mow fairways, rough, tees, or operate any piece of equipment, make sure they not only know how to do the job, but how to do it safely. Here are some safety rules they need to follow every time they are on any piece of equipment.
1. Safety is their responsibility. It’s up to them to learn and follow the safety rules.
2. Safety starts before you start the engine. Make sure you know your assignment and are comfortable with it. Never operate a piece of equipment you have not been trained on. Check your equipment before you start the engine. Make sure all guards and shields are in place, and all safety interlock switches are working.
3. Use proper PPE, personal protective equipment. Most jobs require safety glasses, hearing protection, and sturdy work shoes or boots.
4. Check warning labels. They are there to warn of specific hazards. If you don’t understand them look in the operator’s manual for an explanation.
5. Properly adjust the seat, buckle and tighten the seat belt if the equipment has Roll Over Protection, ROPS.
6. When transporting to your assignment control your speed and approach hills slowly. Use extra caution if you have to cross roads.
7. Use extreme caution on hills and slopes, do not exceed 25 percent slope – many mowers have a slope gauge. Wet or undulating hills are more dangerous. Avoid stopping, starting, or turning on slopes and hills. Mow up and down rather than across a slope.
8. Never use your hand or foot to remove something stuck in a reel or mower deck.
9. Use three points of contact when getting on or off a mower or tractor to maintain balance and prevent slipping and falling.
10. When mowing, discharge clippings away from people and buildings. If someone approaches your mower, stop mowing and shut down the equipment.
11. Just like driving a car, avoid cellphones and other distractions while operating equipment.
12. After mowing, clean engine, radiator and oil cooler with air. Use low pressure water to clean reels and mower deck.
13. Before putting the equipment away, look for damaged guards, shields, tires, and hydraulic lines.
You can’t prevent every accident and ultimately each employee is responsible for their own safety, but you, the employer, are responsible for training the employee and making sure they understand the hazards they face, and how to safely do their jobs.
While talking to my wife after one of this year’s deaths, she asked if safety training would have prevented the accident. I told her I didn’t know the details of the accident and wasn’t sure what had happened, but I was sure that with proper training the employee would have understood the hazards and known how to operate the mower in a safe manner. At that point it’s up to the employee to make good decisions, and follow safety rules. At least you’ll know you’ve given him the information he needs to make safe decisions.