What you need to know about federal safety standards

OSHA is the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and a division of the United States Department of Labor. It began in 1970 with the signing of the Occupational Safety and Health Act into law, and regulates both general industry and construction. General industry covers every type of business except construction.

You will find that some of the construction requirements say you should go to general industry for that material, and in some industries you could fall under both classifications. Landscapers could be classed as both. For example, if you are working on new construction or doing a renovation project on an entire yard, you would be on the construction side. However, if you were installing a few plants, mowing the lawn and doing that weekly for the same client, you would be considered general industry.

OSHA inspection priorities are as follows:

  1. Imminent danger
  2. Catastrophes
  3. Worker complaints and referrals
  4. Targeted inspections-high injury or illness ratesor severe violators
  5. Follow-up inspections

The purpose of OSHA is to make sure that every working person in the United States has a safe and healthy place in which to work. This is done by writing standards for different types of jobs, and these standards have the force of law. Compliance officers enforce these standards. They are federal law enforcement agents like the FBI or DEA, and they can get a warrant from a U.S. district judge to search your place of business if you don’t let them in.

When OSHA finds a violation of a standard, they write a citation. This is a civil violation of U.S. law and the business owner must do two things: they must fix the problem and, in most cases, pay a fine. If someone dies on your work site or in your workplace, the CEO, owner or partner can be found guilty in criminal court and go to prison.

If OSHA does not have a standard for a particular safety or health issue (such as ergonomics), they will use the general duty clause to write a citation. The general duty clause says employers are required to “furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees.” Basically, that you knew or should have known a work practice was dangerous and did nothing to make it safer. You may ask, “How do I know what OSHA wants me to do?” And, OSHA’s answer is basically, “It is your responsibility to find out because you are responsible for the safety of your employees.” There are many ways you can find out what OSHA’s regulations are. You can read the general industry or construction book, you can go to classes, you can hire a consultant or you can wait for OSHA to come and tell you.

To make life a little more difficult in regards to OSHA, you must provide training for your employees. Some training is required yearly, some every three years and some one time only. If you don’t provide training, that is another violation.

The following standards, in order, were the most frequently cited by Federal OSHA from October 2009 through September 2010 in the Landscape and Horticultural Services Group:

  • 1910.132, General requirements for personal protective equipment;
  • 1910.67, Vehicle-mounted elevating and rotating work platforms;
  • 1910.135, Head protection;
  • 1910.133, Eye and face protection;
  • 1910.1200, Hazard communication;
  • Section 5(a)(1), the General Duty Clause of the Occupational Safety and Health Act;
  • 1910.333, Selection and use of work practices;
  • 1910.23, Guarding floor and wall openings and holes;
  • 1910.178, Powered industrial trucks; and
  • 1910.269, Electric power generation, transmission and distribution.

These are the top 10 standards in general industry. You must train on all of the above topics. What if your company is working with a contractor on construction? Some of the training requirements are portable wood and metal ladders; flammable and combustible liquids; respiratory protection; occupational foot protection; hand protection; and excavation requirements.

This is just a sample of the different requirements that companies working in the landscape and horticultural group must follow. Other companies that work in the same master SIC classification would be subject to many of the same topics. These, unfortunately for the business owner, are not all the training requirements OSHA has for this industry. Again, if you are not providing training, you are subject to an inspection and possible fines by OSHA.

Lawn and garden services

There are least three SIC Code 078 classifications that a landscaper or horticulturist may come under according to OSHA. These would be SIC 0781, SIC 0782 and SIC 0783. For example, SIC Code 0782 is “Lawn and Garden Services” and describes establishments primarily engaged in performing a variety of lawn and garden services, including bermuda sprigging services, garden maintenance, Garden planting, lawn mowing services, sod laying and more.

This is a brief look at some OSHA requirements that you have to follow in regards to employee safety. There are many more, just in the most frequently cited standards for each of the above SIC codes, and they do expect you to know which ones.

There are four basic ways to get help with understanding what OSHA wants you to do to become a safer workplace. First, OSHA and some of the OSHA Training Institute providers (such as Georgia Tech) offer consultations where will find out more about what is required and how these work and affect your business. You can also find this information on the OSHA website, www.OSHA.gov, which is another place where you can also find training requirements. Another way is to hire a consultant to come in and help you do the things necessary to be compliant. Finally, you can ask a friend in your business to tell you what to do and what to train on, but this is not recommended.

Chris Marsh owns Ogeechee Training Service and works with clients in a variety of industries in the southeastern U.S., providing both training and/or consultations. He is authorized by OSHA to provide outreach training in both general industry and construction.