October 15, 2017
By Terry Murphy CLM

Terry MurphyI was having lunch with a friend last week who is a safety professional for a large Toronto contracting firm. We started talking about safety and year end, which prompted the idea for the subject of my column this month.

As the end of the construction and maintenance season draws near, many, if not all companies rush to complete their projects in order to get their final invoices out to customers for payment. Doing whatever it takes to get the job done on time often results in serious accidents and safety violations of the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA). Don’t let this be the case in your company. Slow down, be efficient and ensure your employees work safely. And for heaven’s sake, don’t start a project unless you have called ON1CALL for locates!

I won’t go through a litany of safety do’s and don’ts, but I will provide some points for you to consider. I remember a study that was done about 10 years ago by MBA students at the University of Waterloo for the Skilled Trades Alliance of Hamilton. The study sought to determine the reasons why young apprentices leave the company they work for. Surprisingly, money, specifically the amount of pay, was not the main reason apprentices left — it was actually reason number seven. The second most common reason why apprentices left a company was because the company owner did not have a high regard with respect to safety. Respondents said people were constantly asked to work more quickly, which caused many workers to disregard safety policies and cut corners, which ultimately resulted in workplace accidents. This is more likely to happen at year end as opposed to any other time of the year, because owners and supervisors also want to finish jobs before the winter layoff commences.

Seasonal weather

More hazardous working conditions also exist simply because of the changing season: it gets dark earlier in the afternoon, inclement weather can make driving and operating machinery more dangerous due to snow and ice — all of which have an increased chance of accidents on the job or on the road.

In case you are curious, the number one reason why apprentices left the company they were working for was due to poor communication from management/ownership. Young apprentices commented their boss never talked to staff about things happening in the company, how they were performing or anything about the future plans for the business or its financial condition. People naturally want to know about things they invest a great deal of their time and energy into, which helps to explain why they went elsewhere. The larger the company, the less feedback and communication occurred. Sound familiar?

Talk safety

How can we avoid these kinds of dangerous safety circumstances? I suggest at the end of September or early October, owners/managers should call a very important safety meeting to remind all employees that while he/she expects them to work quickly and efficiently, they also want employees to always work safely. Nobody wants a serious accident in the landscape profession to happen at any time, certainly not just before the winter break. Safety meetings are a necessary evil and are required by the OHSA as they remind employees they have a legal obligation for not only their own safety, but that of their fellow employees as well.

Here are some of the specific safety items I would suggest that you cover in your meeting as you enter the final months of a busy season:
  • Remind employees that safety is everybody’s responsibility. Each person is responsible for their own safety.
  • Review the specific roles and responsibilities for each the three groups of employees covered under the OHSA: owner/general manager, supervisor and the worker. Supervisors must ensure people follow the Health and Safety policies of the company. Workers have to wear the proper Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) their specific job requires. For example, operating a chainsaw requires different PPE than laying sod.
  • All company employees need to reminded there are laws and company policies regarding harassment and violence in the workplace. Review these policies.
  • Each employee should understand they have a legal obligation to bring any unsafe working conditions to the attention of their supervisor so he/she can address the problem.
  • Every truck should have a first aid kit, accident reporting paperwork and a copy of the “Green Book.”
  • Most importantly, always call ON1CALL for locates and dig safely.
  • Include any more topics that involve specific risks depending on the tasks your employees are performing.


Don’t get sloppy and negligent as you race to the finish this year. We all forget things, and need constant reminders — safety is no different. Repeating the same rules, responsibilities, policies and expectations at regular health and safety meetings with all your staff works in much the same way as successful advertising and branding — the repetition sticks. These meetings are necessary and part of your overall responsibility as an owner or manager. Schedule a safety meeting and communicate with your staff. You’ll not only be helping them to return home safely at night, you’ll also be satisfying the number one reason why young apprentices (and other employees) leave a company to work elsewhere. Have a great year end and a productive safety meeting.
For comments, questions or suggestions, please contact Terry Murphy at tvmurphy@ca.inter.net.