The concrete cutting saw is a particularly dangerous tool. As Jeff Rak, president of Land Creations Landscaping in Columbia Station, Ohio, likes to say, if someone doesn’t know how to operate it properly, “they can get injured pretty quickly and lose something they don’t want to lose.”

That’s why Rak trains every one of his field workers on how to safely operate a concrete cutting saw. And not just the saw, but every piece of equipment his company has.

“The way our company is set up, we prefer all our employees to be able to operate all the equipment,” Rak says.

In fact, employees need to be trained on so many machines that it’s hard to do all the training up front, so the company has also incorporated on-the-job training.

“We have new crew members shadow foremen and watch how they operate a piece of equipment and how they do the right cuts,” Rak says. “And meanwhile, the foremen are working with them to make sure when they start cutting they know exactly how to operate that piece of equipment.”

Another phase of Land Creations’ training is the “tailgate meetings” every Wednesday morning at the shop before the crews hit the road. The company will choose one piece of equipment each week and talk about how to operate it properly and what safety gear should be worn while doing so.

“It gives everyone the opportunity to run the piece of equipment while they’re being supervised, plus we’re watching them so it gives us all a chance to see who can do what safely,” Rak says.

Photo: Caterpillar

Training newcomers and seasoned employees

On a new employee’s very first day, Land Creations gives them a pair of safety glasses, earmuffs and dust masks, and they need to sign a document stating that they will have that protective gear with them every day so they can wear it when operating equipment.

“It’s a big, important thing in our company,” Rak says. “We are very strict on that and always yelling at guys because they don’t want to wear their safety gear or say that their glasses are foggy. We issue them new safety glasses as needed to try to keep them covered and safe.”

On that first day, both the policy manual and safety manual are reviewed, and the employee is required to sign off that they’ve reviewed these in order to get their first paycheck.

“We don’t trust the guys who come in and say, ‘I know how to run this piece of equipment,'” Rak says. “We won’t let them just jump on the machine and start running it. We will work with them at the shop to make sure they really do know how to do it, and we keep an eye on them.”

Christy Webber & Co. also doesn’t just take the word of new employees when it comes to their skill level with operating heavy-duty machines. Jason Sloat, vice president of assets and risk for Christy Webber, says they give a test to every new employee on the residential design build side who is going to be running skid-steers or small wheel loaders.

“As part of the interviewing and onboarding process, we will take them out, put them in a machine and have them demonstrate their skill level,” Sloat says. “We’ve run into problems in the past with taking employees’ word for their experience level and learned our lesson.”

Twice a year, all of the field staff at Christy Webber are required to attend a safety orientation class, once at the beginning of snow removal season and once in early spring before the landscaping season. In both of those classes, equipment operation and equipment safety are covered.

Other training mechanisms Land Creations utilizes are training DVDs from equipment manufacturers or the National Association of Landscape Professionals. In the spring, a rep from their local Caterpillar dealer will come out to discuss not only safe equipment operation but also where grease points are and how to do general maintenance. A second follow-up meeting covers how to properly strap a piece of equipment down on a trailer and transport it.

Practice runs in the back lot of their shop are also mandatory.

“Before we give anybody a piece of equipment to operate, we typically, for example with an excavator or skid-steer, go to our back parking lot and let them operate it and move some material around,” Rak says.

Last year, after being inspired by an exercise at the GIE+Expo where attendees were challenged to pick up a golf ball out of a box of sand with an excavator, Rak set up a skid-steer safety training road course at his shop where crew members had to try to pick up and stack different objects with buckets and forks.

“We thought it would be fun and at the same time offer training,” he says. “We could challenge each other, have fun and learn from each other’s mistakes as well.”

Holding employees accountable

Rak hasn’t yet gone so far as to penalize crew members who continually violate the company’s safety policies, but he will recognize those who consistently wear their safety gear.

“Sometimes in our meetings I will call people out who always wear their safety gear by giving them a gift card,” he says. “That’s one way we try to reinforce our dedication to safety.”