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Don’t get caught skimping on safety in golf course maintenance shops

Shops must comply with all safety regulations

May 13, 2022  By  Mike Jiggens

An eyewash station is a must in golf course maintenance shops. An employee’s vision may depend on it if he gets chemical or another hazardous substance in his eyes. Photo credit: weerapong/Adobe Stock

A disorganized golf course maintenance shop is an accident waiting to happen. Whether there are batteries stored on the floor, tools carelessly leaning against walls, flammable materials stored under stairwells, electrical outlets overloaded or any one of a dozen other safety infringements, a major fire, a serious injury or a loss of life could occur.

Golf superintendents attending the virtually delivered Canadian Golf Course Management Conference in March learned the “do’s and don’ts” of proper maintenance shop organizational practices to ensure their facilities meet the highest possible safety standards and are poised to pass an unexpected safety audit. 

The online presentation was delivered by safety consultant Bill Godkin of Amherstview, Ont.-based CESafety. The company specializes in performing risk analysis audits, delivering safety training and designing safety programs necessary to achieve government compliance. Clients minimize the risk of injury and fines and save money on insurance premiums.

He said the golf superintendent is the person charged with keeping the maintenance shop in order, and the one responsible for ensuring all safety hazards are eliminated. Inattention to safety hazards results in consequences, he added.


“Things you look at every day could be a safety hazard that you’re simply not aware of,” Godkin said. “An outside set of eyes will find things that you look at every day, and you’re not aware of it being a safety hazard.”

Close calls and minor injuries could lead to serious injuries when maintenance shops are left in disarray, he said.


Godkin said the first thing he looks for when walking into a maintenance shop is the state of its housekeeping, adding it’s also what government officials check first. Suggesting there’s no excuse for a shop that’s in a state of disorder, the condition of its housekeeping is the best place to start to identify and eliminate safety hazards. A floor-to-ceiling approach is an ideal means to find things that are out of place and decide where improvements can be made.

By scanning the floor, potential tripping hazards such as hoses or batteries can be readily identified. Water from rain or melting snow can be tracked onto a floor, presenting a slipping hazard. 

Addressing such hazards will eliminate tripping and slip-and-fall accidents.

Battery storage
Godkin said the storage of batteries on the floor is a common occurrence in maintenance shops. He suggested creating battery storage areas and to wear long-sleeved neoprene gloves when handling batteries. Smaller, disposable gloves are useless against battery acid, he pointed out, adding goggles should also be worn for eye protection and to have baking soda close at hand to neutralize spills.

“Make sure you store the batteries away from anything flammable or combustible because battery acid and flammable liquids don’t mix well.”

Items that are at eye level or slightly below need attention, Godkin said, adding they may “stick out” and possibly tip over. Such items include rakes and shovels. Ladders that aren’t in use should be secured against a wall.

“Some of the nastiest hazards I see in a shop are stored overhead.”

Items hanging over a shelf’s edge can fall and strike someone. They should be stored elsewhere, removed or discarded, he said. Items that aren’t firmly secured overhead can be jarred loose by the vibrations of a running tractor engine, causing them to fall onto someone below. These items might be out of sight and out of mind, but nevertheless present a hazard.

Godkin suggested golf course maintenance staff schedule a cleanup day to dispose of unwanted items and place everything else in a safe and logical manner. 

“That will free up storage space and eliminate some safety hazards. If you have surplus equipment you’re not using anymore, see if you can sell it. Put the money back into your budget.”

A cleanup day could include setting out empty water barrels for the secure storage of shovels and rakes and painting walkways to encourage visitors to not stray from those areas. Cleaning the floors to remove dirt and oil will reduce the risk of tripping and slip-and-fall accidents. 

Godkin recalled an incident in which a stepladder was placed against a wall, but there was grease or oil on the floor below. As a worker began to climb the ladder, the ladder’s feet gave way on the slick floor, causing both the employee and ladder to crash to the floor. The worker was seriously injured, and the club was fined $20,000 for not performing basic ladder safety.

Ladders should have non-slip feet and be free of damage. Ladders are graded based on weight-load capacity with a Grade 1 ladder recommended for use in a maintenance shop. Godkin said they are rated for upwards of 300 pounds of load capacity. Although Grade 2 ladders are also commercial grade, they are rated for about 225 pounds. Grade 3 ladders are mainly for consumer use and have a load capacity of about 200 pounds.

Chemicals must be stored according to a proper chemical storage program. Flammable or combustible items must never be stored under a stairwell or any form of egress. Fire extinguishers should be checked monthly and their tags initialed. Godkin said fire extinguishers should be easily accessible, and all staff must be trained to use them properly.

Gas storage is an especially important aspect of meeting the proper safety standards, he said. Outdoor gas tanks generally have adequate barrier protection and the tanks themselves are double walled. But single-walled tanks require barrier protection and secondary containment to hold 110 per cent of the largest tank’s volume. A fire extinguisher must also be within 15 metres of tanks. 

Gas tanks should be double walled
Godkin recommended gas tanks not be purchased. If they’re leased or belong to a local fuel provider, they should be double walled. If tanks are single walled, the company providing them should be told to replace them with double walled tanks. 

“Virtually every single client I’ve suggested that to has done that. They’ve found their diesel fuel and gasoline provider were more than happy to do that.”

An emergency fire escape plan, with designated exits and proper signage, must be enacted, and smoke and carbon monoxide detectors should be in working order and checked regularly.

Electric tools’ cords must be inspected for signs of damage, and all plugs must have proper grounds.

“You have to have ground fault circuit interrupter protection available in your shop.”

An electrician can install 20-amp GFCI outlets at various places around the shop. Superintendents who choose to do this should paint the face plates a bright green colour, Godkin suggested, noting it will give workers added incentive to use them and demonstrate to visiting government inspectors that there is ideal GFCI protection.

He added outlets must not be overloaded, power bars need to be checked for their condition and breaker panels are properly labeled and clear of obstructions for up to one metre of distance. The Canadian Electrical Code states objects cannot be stored in front of or below an electrical panel within a one-metre distance.

“It really bothers me when I see things like portable fuel containers stored beneath an electrical panel.”

Extension cords cannot be left about and pose tripping hazards. Instead, he said, extension cord reels should be positioned overhead, allowing workers to pull the cord downward when needed. Overhead lighting should be adequate – at least 50 foot-candles of illumination – and all electrical equipment must be CSA-approved, Godkin added.

Chemicals and other materials must be stored in an orderly manner and be easily accessible. He said only authorized personnel and licensed applicators should have access to a chemical storage room. As an added safety precaution, superintendents can fill an inexpensive tub with splash-proof goggles, long-sleeved neoprene gloves, sanitizing wipes and an eyewash bottle, and keep the items close at hand in the event of an emergency.

Incompatible materials must never be stored together, Godkin warned, citing battery acid and gasoline as a good example.

Purchasing a secondary containment pallet will help contain leakage from drums. Keeping kitty litter on hand will help in the event of spills. Containers of flammable materials must always be tightly sealed, and all work areas must have adequate exhaust ventilation.

“You are responsible for safety,” Godkin told his audience of superintendents.

Personal protection equipment (PPE) should be readily available, and all employees must know how to wear it properly, he said, adding superintendents may wish to monitor their staff once a week to ensure those operating mowers and other equipment are properly attired in the right safety gear.

Ladder safety is of the utmost importance in a maintenance shop. Make sure ladders can adequately bear the employee’s weight and that they have non-slip feet. Photo credit: Artur Golbert/Adobe Stock

Keep safety data sheets current
Safety data sheets must be current and readily available and be compatible with the latest Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS) regulations. Industry suppliers can provide the most up-to-date safety data sheets for everything they sell. WHMIS safety reviews should be conducted annually.

“I guarantee that from one year to the next, someone’s going to forget something,” he said, suggesting safety data sheets should be looked at each spring because changes often occur during the winter months.

Godkin recommended industrial-grade metal shelving be favoured over wooden shelves, noting the latter tends to warp, crack and give off splinters when exposed to chemicals, heat, cold and moisture.

A significant offence he often sees in a maintenance shop is a bench grinder without a guard on one or both of its wheels. 

All hoses, including hydraulic and air hoses, should be labeled accordingly and regularly inspected, he suggested.

Safety showers and eyewash stations must be available, clean and accessible and be within 55 feet or 10 seconds away from shop employees. Eyewash stations must have an upward water flow and be cleaned, flushed and inspected weekly.

“Do it every Monday morning. Someone’s vision may depend on it.”

Eyewash bottles are merely supplementary devices used in first aid. If an employee gets chemical in his eyes, he must get a co-worker’s attention and be guided to the nearest eyewash station for eye flushing. Godkin said it’s important for someone to yell out what is happening to ensure another individual summons an ambulance and provides paramedics with the chemical’s safety data sheet information.

Eye flushing may need to continue for upwards of an hour, if necessary, until the attending paramedic determines it’s time to go to a hospital. Godkin said it’s why he recommends splash-proof goggles be worn when dispensing liquid or powdered chemical.

In addition to proper eye protection, hearing protection is required when noise levels reach 85 decibels or higher. Thresholds should ideally be lowered to 65 or 70 decibels, he said. Workers who choose to wear ear buds to listen to music and drown out excessive noise can be easily distracted when operating machinery, he cautioned.

Checklists should be filled out for all motorized equipment and kept on file for at least a year, he added.

First aid kits must always be close at hand, Godkin said.

“You must always have someone on site who is trained in first aid, whenever your club is open. Post the names of those trained in first aid with the first aid kit. This way you know exactly who has the proper training in the event of an emergency. Make sure to keep a logbook inside the kit to note what contents have been used and what needs to be replaced. Also, post the names of those trained in the use of defibrillators beside the kit.”

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