Landscaping employees often work with chemicals, including industry-specific chemicals such as fertilizers, weed killers, and various pesticides that are considered hazardous. Safe chemical use is essential when working, protecting both the employee and anyone else close to the job site or workspace.
Landscaping Employee Training
First and foremost, one of the most critical components of safe chemical use is proper employee training. Adequate training covers correct application methods as well as the following safety points. All new employees require company-specific safety training, and refresher courses help all employees, regardless of their skill level or time employed.
Develop a Spill Plan
Construct a company spill plan outlining the protocol followed in the event of a chemical spill. Include detailed information on product clean up, disposal, and decontamination. Also, specify in the spill plan when evacuations are necessary, how to conduct evacuations, and whom to contact when spills occur.
Maintain Safety Data Sheets (SDS)
A copy of current safety data sheets — previously known as safety data sheets SDS — is required in the workplace for any hazardous chemicals used by employees on the job site or around the shop. Safety data sheets align with the United Nation’s Globally Harmonized System of Classification and Labelling of Chemicals (GHS) and provide information on the safe use, handling, and storage of hazardous chemicals. Obtain SDSs through the chemical manufacturer; store them as a paper or electronic copy.
Follow Label Directions
Every chemical product used in the landscaping industry has explicit instructions on the label for mixing/diluting the product and an application protocol. Always follow label directions closely, never mixing the product stronger than recommended, or applying at a higher rate.
Wear Appropriate Personal Protection Equipment (PPE)
Any time employees are mixing, applying, or disposing of chemicals, require that they wear appropriate personal protection equipment. PPE protects the applicator from harmful inhalation or accidental contact with the skin or mucous membranes. At minimal, mandate the use of eye protection, chemical-resistant gloves, long sleeves and pants, and a face mask or respirator.
Apply Chemicals in Favorable Weather Conditions
Timing the applications of chemicals such as weed killers, fertilizers, and pesticides is a critical component of safe chemical use. Only apply chemicals to lawns or landscapes under fair climate conditions. Avoid application when windy or raining. Wind allows for product “drift”, and rain washes chemicals from their intended surfaces, with both potentially contaminating neighboring plants or water sources.
Minimize Personal Exposure
Instruct employees never to eat, smoke, or drink while working with or applying chemicals. Avoid touching the face, mouth, or nose, especially when wearing gloves that may be contaminated. Once finished with the chemical application, thoroughly wash hands with soap and water to remove any residues.
Secure Chemical Transport
When transporting chemicals in company vehicles, never transport them in the cab of the truck. Ensure the lids are tightened and place them in the truck’s bed or equipment trailer for transport. Protect chemicals from weather and secure containers to prevent movement.
Appropriate Spill Response
In the event of a spill, proper response and clean up are essential to prevent further danger to employees or the environment. The specifics of the steps vary depending upon the type of chemical spill, but address every spill in the following three-pronged approach: control, contain, and clean.
- Control – this step ensures the spill, or situation, doesn’t worsen. Place the lid tightly on the container, and upright the tipped container if possible. Don appropriate PPE and immediately shut off any ignition sources capable of creating a spark.
- Contain – after addressing the immediate safety concerns of the spill, switch focus to keeping the spill from spreading further or contaminating adjacent surfaces. Starting from the perimeter, spread absorbent material or neutralizing product on the spill, working towards the center. If possible, block access to the spill, preventing others from contacting the hazardous substance.
- Clean – collect the absorbent or neutralizing material, discarding it in a protective container such as a lidded pail or drum according to local laws or environmental regulations. Also, dispose of contaminated rags, gloves, brooms, dustpans, etc., used in the clean-up.
Safe Container Disposal
Due to their chemical contents, liquid fertilizer, weed killer, and pesticides containers often require specific disposal methods. Never throw containers away without following label directions, local laws, and environmental regulations. Never burn or incinerate chemical containers as the fumes are toxic. In many states, programs are in place to safely dispose of unused pesticides or empty pesticide containers.