There are lots of hazards working on the golf course. Anyone who works outside – and with powered equipment – is exposed to environmental hazards and the risk of being injured by a powerful piece of equipment. When you work in golf course maintenance, you add the hazard (and distraction) of working around golfers who are potentially launching golf balls in your direction at over 100 mph and chemicals that are safe when handled correctly, but … must be handled correctly.
Over the past few years, I’ve written articles about several of these safety issues. I hope I’ve raised awareness of workplace safety issues and given you useful information for reducing the risk of accidents and injuries. Most of those articles have addressed a specific issue such as hearing loss, heat stress, equipment rollovers and chemical spills. Now I want to share with you the most important thing you can do to protect your crew from getting hurt at work, and it’s much easier than you imagine.
Hold regular safety training meetings. And by regular, I mean on a schedule, at least once a month. I know what you’re thinking, “Hey, you said it was easy. I don’t have time to hold a safety meeting every month. I don’t even have time to do all of the important stuff during the growing season. I do my safety training during the winter.” Maybe you didn’t acknowledge that you do “the important stuff,” but the truth is, the most important stuff gets done first. What does that make safety training if you only do it when it’s raining or in the winter? I’ll answer that later.
Fair warning. I’m going to be preaching from my soapbox, but first, I’ll climb down and tell you that for most of my career as a golf course superintendent, I would have said the same thing: “I don’t have time to hold a monthly safety training meeting this month. I’ll do it when things slow down.” It’s not that I didn’t care. I was concerned about my crew, and I thought I was safety minded. I always cautioned my crew to work safely. I provided safety glasses and hearing protection and encouraged my crew to wear them. And a couple of times a year, I’d hold a safety meeting.
Now I’ll climb back up on my soapbox and answer that question: What does it make safety training when you only do it in the winter, or when you can’t do anything else? It makes it one of the lowest priorities on your to-do list. You’re sending a subtle, but powerful message to your crew when the only time you conduct a safety training session is when you can’t do anything else. Like I said, we find the time to do the important things and the really important things are written on the calendar. Just for the record, as I mentioned above, I was guilty of this approach to safety training. I know many other superintendents who are, too.
Most, no, not most, all superintendents want to run a safe department and do not want to see a crew member get hurt at work. I’ve never asked a golf course superintendent about their safety program and had them respond, “I don’t have a safety program and don’t care about safety.” The answer I usually get is, “safety is a high priority for me.” But when I follow up with, “Great! How often do you hold a safety meeting?” many say, “uh … well … uh … we should do more … sometimes we hold one on a rainy day or maybe in the winter when we can’t do anything else.” Safety training is like exercising, eating right and flossing your teeth; you know you should do them, but it’s hard to stay on a regimen, and a few times a year isn’t effective.
Here’s another thing I often hear from superintendents when they tell me about an accident at their course, “they just weren’t thinking, it was a stupid mistake.” Just not thinking, stupid mistakes and taking a chance because, “I didn’t think it would happen” are unquestionably the greatest causes of all workplace accidents. Changing your crew’s attitude, the way they think – or don’t think – about safety is the best way to reduce accidents. And the best way to change their attitude is by holding a monthly safety meeting.
Every individual safety topic and training session is important, but what’s really important is the cumulative effect of taking the time to talk about safety on a regular basis. When you take the time during a busy week to hold a safety meeting, they will quickly understand you are taking this seriously. You will begin to develop what I call a “Culture of Safety.” That’s what happens when they understand safety is important to you, not as an obligation, but because you care about them and want them to be safe. It becomes more important to do a job safely than just get it done. Crew members will remind each other to wear safety glasses and hearing protection. They become invested in the process and point out unsafe practices and encourage each other to not take unnecessary risks. As one superintendent told me, “it is a total game-changer.”
If you’re still thinking you don’t have time, STOP. That’s ridiculous. It only takes about 30 minutes a month. I know you care enough to find 30 minutes a month to hold a safety meeting. But how do you do it? PUT IT ON YOUR CALENDAR. See, I told you it was easy. Pick a day that works for you, say the second Tuesday of the month and mark it down in bright red each month for the rest of the year for everyone to see. Have the crew stay after lunch and talk about a safety issue or hazard. Don’t worry too much about the topic or what you say. Saying anything is better than not talking about safety at all. You may have a weekly staff meeting on your calendar, a monthly green committee meeting, and maybe a men’s and women’s golf committee meeting. If it’s important and you don’t want to miss it, you put it on your calendar. It will work for your safety meeting, too.
If you really want to ramp it up and make an impression, try what I call the 30/30 plan. Take 30 seconds each day to mention safety. Ask your crew if they have any safety issues they want to discuss and remind them to make good decisions and work safely today. And once a month hold that 30-minute safety meeting.