Turf & Rec

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Online safety training program lets employees be job-ready on day one


May 14, 2010
By Mike Jiggens

PROPER training of employees engaged in the turf and grounds maintenance industry not only makes sense from a safety standpoint, but also helps boost the bottom line.

thumb_safetywebOften it’s difficult for a landscape contractor or golf course superintendent to assemble his staff for a group training session in one sitting, especially when there’s work to be done outside. Now that personal home computers are a staple for most people, and are driven in most households by a high-speed Internet connection, the means to train employees has become easier than ever, and is as simple as sitting down in front of a computer for as little as a half-hour.

That’s the aim of LandscapeSafety.com, an Internet-based safety training provider based in London, Ont., whose goal is to ensure new employees are adequately prepared to be safe and productive their first day on the job, and to give experienced workers the upgrading they need to continue to be be productive.

“There’s not a lot of good off-the-shelf training to be had,” said LandscapeSafety.com founder Jay Murray, explaining why the Internet-based training method was created.
Murray, a certified landscape practitioner with 23 years of experience who has been operating a $5-million landscaping business with 60 employees, felt the need was there for landscaping businesses and golf courses to have easy access to proper training methods for their employees.

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A survey of 500 landscaping companies he polled in recent years confirmed his suspicions. The results indicated 90 per cent of those surveyed said they would like to do more for their employees in terms of training.

Helping to drive the online training provision has been the growth in recent years of Internet flash streaming.

“If you can watch a You Tube video, you can watch our videos,” Murray said.

A moderate high-speed Internet connection is all that is required for employees to take the online training course. The service is available to industry professionals throughout Canada and the United States, in both English and Spanish. Murray said French-language training is in the works.

Twenty distinct modules specific to the areas of maintenance, construction and golf are available for study. Modules tailored to landscape maintenance include safety training for the operation of large and small walk-behind mowers, trimmers, edgers, blowers, zero-turn mowers and hedge trimmers. Other modules cover the areas of winter walkways, truck and trailer, and Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System (WHMIS).

Each module’s video is 25 minutes long and is presented in an easy-to-comprehend narrative.

“We don’t pretend to make expert users of these workers,” Murray said.

Instead, he said the modules present the means for employees to practise safety when working with specific types of equipment, not only to avoid injury, but to be comfortable with their operation.

When he conducted his initial survey among landscape contractors, the feedback received suggested employers had insufficient time to provide adequate training themselves and had little budget available to hire qualified instructors.

The online training alternative offers the flexibility of being receiver-controlled and at an affordable cost to the employer. Modules are priced for as little as $7 each per employee, with packages costing as low as $69 per employee.

“Why not spend this little on the kid and educate him to give him a flatter learning curve?”
The videos were professionally produced, and experts associated with the various modules were engaged to ensure all important aspects were covered. The input into the video productions also included the use of owner’s manuals for each individual piece of equipment.

“We basically became movie makers,” Murray quipped.

He added he expects to update about a quarter of the modules next year to keep them current.

Once the employee studies the module’s video presentation, he will take an online exam afterwards to see how much of the information he has retained.

Murray said his system of training not only allows a younger, inexperienced worker to get a solid head start on the job without languishing for a period of time, but it intervenes with the “devil-may-care” attitude often associated with younger employees. He said younger workers tend to be more daring when using landscaping equipment, potentially creating a safety risk for themselves. Statistics show that serious job site accidents occur more frequently among younger workers than experienced professionals.

LandscapeSafety.com has solidly penetrated both the landscaping and municipal markets, and is now looking to do the same with golf. The company had a booth in Toronto in March at the Canadian International Turfgrass Management Conference and Trade Show, sharing the concept of online safety training with golf superintendents. Murray said he was optimistic there would be a comparatively higher penetration rate with golf.

The renewal rate among the company’s clientele is about 90 per cent this year, and Murray said he anticipates sales will double every year for the next five years.

“Municipalities love it,” he said. “It’s been really well received.”

Among the company’s clients is Tillsonburg, Ont.-based Courtland Gardens & Landscaping Centre which employs betweens between 70 and 100 people. Among its commercial grounds management contracts are the Toyota Manufacturing facilities in both Cambridge and Woodstock. Courtland Gardens has noted one of the key benefits of signing on with LandscapeSafety.com is the measurable cost savings in equipment repair which had been directly related to the the number of inadequately trained operators.

LandscapeSafety.com has become the official endorsed trainer of the Canadian Nursery Landscape Association.