Regular readers will be aware that, in recent months, there have been two events linked to the risks of lone working, one resulting in a near-miss, and the other tragically resulting in loss of life, in the groundcare profession.
Pitchcare have commissioned this article in the hope that it can help turfcare practitioners to understand, interpret and mitigate against the risks, but both Pitchcare and the author, Paul Worster, recognise it would be totally wrong to comment on the specifics of either case
All of us who work in groundcare are, by the very nature of the tasks we undertake, occasionally exposed to lone working. Whether you are a volunteer groundsman mowing or spiking a bowling green or cricket square - maybe in the evening after you've finished your 'day-job' - or perhaps, like me, used to working as part of a larger team, there is always the possibility of having to work alone from time to time.
Lone working does not suddenly make routine tasks much more dangerous as all tasks carry their own known safety precautions. However, there is always the 'what-if' scenario to be considered.
What-if... I slipped and broke a bone or laid myself out? What-if.... I were attacked or robbed and left semi-conscious? What-if... I was suddenly taken ill?
How can I put some system in place to ensure that, although I am currently alone, help would very soon be on its way if I did not check in with someone?
My golf club is 54 holes on two sites. This does mean that we have a reasonably large team but, equally, that they are spread over a larger area. Lone working, by necessity, does happen and we do need to control the risks.
Typically, men and machines disperse from the machinery base at first light. I am not keen on people working in pitch darkness - apart from being inefficient and potentially dangerous, this time is far better spent on staff training and development.
One course is on common land and is well-walked and used. As such, it would be highly unusual for anyone to be completely alone for very long.
The two new courses are much more private and, whilst one of them winds around the clubhouse area, with members able to start off around five different holes, the other is much more 'out and back' and the golfer does not normally reach the last few holes until late morning. So, in theory, a greenkeeper could lie injured for some time. We mitigate this by being vigilant and observing the progress of routine course preparation, knowing, for example, how long it normally takes to complete a task and reacting if someone is overdue.
This, I suspect, is not the real problem. Carrying out hazardous tasks alone, and early morning working alone are the major issues.
I always ensure that hazardous tasks are never attempted by a single person. This covers chainsaw work and felling, scrub clearing with power tools, big excavations, and work on or close to water bodies or steep drops. This type of work is carried out by at least two people - one of whom might be termed a 'banksman'.
A banksman is a person who is not directly involved in the actual work, but is in attendance to give bystanders or passers-by (golfers and public) advice and information and ensure their safety, and to monitor progress and provide or summon assistance in the case of any issues with the work itself.
The other main case of lone working in golf is early morning weekend work. This one is a regular occurrence, particularly at golf clubs, and needs to be managed properly to ensure safety.
We manage this by asking people to check in with a supervisor before leaving the site. If the supervisor doesn't hear anything, he attempts to make contact.
A successful approach to this issue requires a Risk Assessment - and this doesn't call for a ten page legal document - this is something that every competent greenkeeper can carry out.
Think about the site. Are there:
- Steep drops?
- Deep water?
- Slippery slopes?
Think about the task:
- Does it call for Hazardous Equipment to be used?
- Does it require specialist skills and experience?
- Do the risks vary with the time of year (e.g. ice, frost, snow etc)?
- How long does it take to carry it out under normal circumstances?
Think about the operatives:
- Are they competent, capable and in good health?
- Do they have the means to make contact with a designated person in emergency?
- Would they be missed by anyone at home?
- If so, how long before someone became worried and raised the alarm?
- Do they have the contact numbers for the supervisor?
- Is there another person with whom the operative can check out with each day?
Think about how necessary the task actually is, if you found yourself to be short-handed:
- Does it have to be done right away or can it wait until assistance is available?
- Can another member of staff be diverted away from a secondary task to assist?
- Can a third party, e.g. manager or professional, be drafted in to keep tabs on the operation?
The Risk Assessment doesn't need filling in every time someone comes in by themselves at a weekend - however, it does need to be made available to staff so they understand and adopt the control measures. You need to prove that it is given credence and the tenets are understood and applied; this can be covered by annual or even bi-annual sign-off with all employees. And it needs to be applied by you, the supervisor, in understanding and interpreting the risks, and ensuring these clearly identified risks are minimised by not putting staff into potentially dangerous situations.
This I think is key. Yes, anyone can fix, for example, a broken panel on the shed roof but, actually, you eliminate all possible risks by engaging a specialist contractor. It may cost several times more than it would be if carried out 'in house', but if there is a problem, the contractor is by far the cheaper long term option, as he carries the insurance, has the correct equipment, has the specialist trained staff, and is completely used to carrying out the work.
A culture of safety is required in the modern workplace. Safety is the primary consideration at the outset of a task. It doesn't take long and this becomes second nature. I speak here as someone who once tipped over an excavator in a bunker with three other greenkeepers working in the same bunker. It missed them - somehow.
Safety is the Primary Requirement and the understanding and mitigation of risk achieves this.
About the author: Paul Worster is Course Manager at Minchinhampton Golf Club and a former BIGGA Chairman. He is now a director of FEGGA and believes in strong Greenkeeper Associations preparing and equipping their greenkeeper members for management.
The Kubota tractor image was entered into our January 'Reflections' photo competition and is used by kind permission of Dean Ward, Assistant Greenkeeper at Wakefield Golf Club