Safe Company Profile: Belknap Landscape Co.

May 15, 2018 -  By
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Tailgate talk Informal safety briefings help ensure everyone is on the same page.

When Belknap Landscape Co.’s spring safety meeting routine got a little stale, Mark Smith, Belknap’s construction and tree operations manager, tapped outside resources to shake it up.

The company began the annual safety meeting 15 years ago. For many of those years, “It used to be just us as managers standing in front of 75 people and doing this talk,” Smith says. “But (the staff) hears us talk and sees us every day, so I thought, ‘Let’s change this up a little bit.’”

He went to work approaching vendors to be a part of the spring safety meeting. This year’s event featured demonstrations, activities and talks from sponsoring vendors Milton Cat Equipment, SiteOne Landscape Supply, Ready Equipment, LRGH-Occupational Therapy, NH DOT Consultants, Cross Insurance and Eversource Power Co.

The vendors donated their time, equipment and an array of prizes, such as Bluetooth speakers, to hand out during the day as participation awards to the 68 team members assembled.

The management team begins planning the annual safety meeting about a year in advance. The company’s investment includes the labor cost for the staff for the day. With 68 people attending this year, the total was approximately $11,000, plus $1,500 for a catered breakfast and a full lunch for the team and vendors.

“It’s just a way to make it a lot more fun, too, with prizes and outdoor events,” Smith says. “Most people in this industry aren’t in it to sit at a desk all day, so I wanted (the event) to be more relevant. The team then can get out into the fresh air and touch and feel some pieces of equipment and exercise certain practices we’ve been taught that day.”

This year’s theme, “A Day in the Life,” came from the idea that Belknap employees fill a variety of professional roles each day, such as driver, landscaper, equipment operator and more.

“We talked about, ‘What does the day at Belknap look like?’ I asked myself why we’re out there and it’s to make sure everyone gets home to their families,” Smith says.

Belknap, a $7-million firm that’s part of the LandOpt network, does 50 percent maintenance for commercial and residential clients and 50 percent design/build for a mostly high-end residential clientele. Depending on the season, the company employs 85 to 100 people.

Smith noted that in 2017, Belknap’s primary workers’ comp claims were for poison ivy, small lacerations (such as workers sustaining small cuts from
pruning shears) and light muscle strains.

“Those are all things that just occur—and we’re doing pretty well if that’s what we’re dealing with, but there’s always room for improvement,” he says.

Persistence and consistency also have been key to maintaining a good safety record, according to Smith.

“With safety, some of these changes can be scary to make—for example, going drug-free, as the company did 15 years ago,” he says. “You don’t know how it’s going to be or where you’re going to land, but in the end these efforts have improved our culture immensely.

“You have to be confident that some of these changes, as difficult as they may be, there’s a reason,” he says. “You’re setting a new standard, and working to make the profile of the green industry better.”

If you don’t have the budget or the time to invest in a large-scale safety meeting, Smith has a few recommendations for improving your safety program.

Start small. Safety meetings and trainings are crucial, so “don’t let money be the determining factor—just start somewhere,” Smith says. He also cautions against trying to change everything at once; instead, focus on one or two items you would like to improve and build on those.

Use your resources. Scheduling meetings, trainings and audits with organizations and vendors you already have relationships with can be a useful, cost-free way to ensure safety training is woven into the everyday culture at your company.

Belknap takes advantage of Department of Transportation (DOT) consultant visits. The consultant conducts driver audits and pretrip inspections and reviews DOT laws, since those change regularly. The company also conducts quarterly safety audits with its insurance agent where they analyze data about incidents and near misses.

Belknap also uses free resources on the Tree Care Industry Association’s and the New Hampshire Landscape Association’s websites as part of its safety programs.

Get creative. When Belknap signs new contracts for equipment, it ensures that the contract includes proper training from the supplier’s expert. Smith explains, “It’s a win-win. We get the best training possible and there’s less reliance on our staff to provide it. The benefit for the company is that they are training our people to run their equipment so we can do more business, which allows us to do more business with them.”

For more tips to create a winning safety culture, check out our May cover story.

Photo: Katya Danilova, dorogamedia.com

Abby Hart

About the Author:

Abby Hart is the managing editor of Landscape Management. A native Clevelander, she spent 10 years in Chicago, where she was operations manager of a global hospitality consultancy. She also worked as managing editor of Illumine, a health and wellness magazine; and a marketing specialist for B2B publications. Abby has a degree in journalism from Boston University’s College of Communication.

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