A Day in the Life

Risk Assessment Walk-Through: Grounds Maintenance Team

A day-in-the-life series based on experiences of real workers

Working on a maintenance team for a local authority or council is a varied, dynamic role. In the course of a typical week, it’s not unusual for grounds maintenance workers to trim trees, maintain parks and public spaces, perform maintenance for social housing, or work on minor road repairs and maintenance. In fact, maintenance team workers are likely exposed to some of the greatest variability across all industries when it comes to kinds of work completed, and types of tools used.

And this variability in workload and equipment results in increased variability with regards to the type of risks to which workers are exposed. In particular, maintenance team workers are exposed to potentially dangerous levels of risk from exposure to vibration and noise on a regular basis. Their use of machinery can also result in workers coming into potentially dangerous proximity of moving vehicles and similar hazards. In sum: maintenance team workers operate in a dynamic and even unpredictable way that can easily lead to interactions with potentially dangerous levels of risk from multiple sources.

Reactec: a solution trusted by local authorities

Historically, risk management within local authorities has been undertaken with traditional methods (like spreadsheets or pen and paper) for tracking things like worker assignments or tool usage. The result is deeply siloed data which isn’t easily accessible and - therefore - cannot be easily applied to identify trends or patterns, or to unlock opportunities for more efficient, more proactive ways of working.

But with an advanced ecosystem of workplace wearable technology powered by cutting-edge Analytics, Reactec has helped over 130 UK local authorities take better control of their total risk environment. R-Link is Reactec’s third-generation risk management technology: it’s a lightweight, purpose-built solution that collects and collates critical information about your workers’ exposure to risk before automatically transforming it into valuable insights that you can use to drive better health and safety outcomes for your workers while improving your overall compliance efforts.

To help you fully understand the added value of the R-Link ecosystem, we’ve put together a timeline that follows a worker through a typical day. This is part of our “Day In The Life” series, where we detail the experiences of workers in various sectors and roles to show how they regularly interact with risk, what their employers are doing about it, and what their exposure actually looks like.

Below is an hour-by-hour account of a typical workday for Dierdre (1), a grounds maintenance worker for a local council. Deirdre spends her days moving between projects that can include tree-cutting, minor repair work, and general landscaping. On any given day, she is exposed to vibration and noise from several tools, including chainsaws and hedge trimmers. Deirdre also regularly operates ride-on mowers and mini excavators, which expose her to near-miss incidents.

A day in the working life of Deirdre, maintenance team member

Setting the health and safety scene:

Deirdre’s team is safety-focussed. The council that employs her has several health and safety initiatives in place and as a manager, Deirdre herself tracks tool rotation and worker assignments, and always requires appropriate PPE on worksites. In terms of managing their risk environment, the Council relies upon manufacturer-declared values and third party risk assessments for monitoring and managing workers’ exposure to vibration and noise, and provides safety and certification courses for team members that need to operate heavy machinery or specialty equipment.

Deirdre’s team doesn’t use any smart technology, like R-Link, to monitor or manage risk in the workplace.

Let’s take a look at a typical workday for Deirdre.

0700:
Deirdre arrives at work. Today, Deirdre’s team is focussed on clearing out an abandoned public park. The space has been long-neglected and is overgrown with trees, brush, and grass. Over time, several outbuildings have fallen into disrepair: various materials including trash, glass, brick, and tiles need to be cleared from these areas. The project is large and will happen in phases over the next several weeks. Today, Deirdre and her team will focus on trimming back trees and overgrowth, and clearing an old garden storage shed.

0700 ➝ 1100:
Deirde and her team use chainsaws and electric brush cutters to trim tree branches and cut through thick, brushy overgrowth around the park. The chainsaws, in particular, generate a lot of vibration, and the team uses them intermittently for several hours.

At one point, Deirdre is cutting some particularly thick tree branches. The best tool for this job is a chainsaw, but her co-workers are using the chainsaws, so she decides to use the brush cutter, which takes longer and requires more effort. As a result, she’s exposed to nearly twice the amount of vibration that a risk assessment would have expected.

After spending several hours clearing overgrowth, she’s exposed to vibration above the EAV (Exposure Action Value), the daily amount of vibration exposure above which employers are required to take action to control exposure.

1100 ➝ 1300:
While some team members remain focused on clearing the trees and overgrowth, Deirdre and one co-worker begin working on the storage shed. The shed is constructed of brick and the structure is still strong, so Deirdre and her co-worker only need to clear out the garbage and materials (including old tools, bricks, wood, and tiles) from inside and around the building. To do this, Deirdre will use a mini excavator.

Deirdre has used a mini excavator before, but while she’s operating it near the gardener’s shed, she nearly collides with her co-worker, who walks behind the machine just as Deirdre begins reversing. No one is hurt, but the near-miss will require Deirdre and her co-worker to file an incident report later on.

1400 ➝ 1500:
After lunch, Deidre’s crew resumes their work. With most of the trees and overgrowth cleared from one area of the park, they can now cut the grass. While her team moves on to clearing another area, Deirdre uses a ride on mower to complete this task.

Deirdre wears appropriate PPE while she uses the mower, but she is still exposed to a potentially dangerous amount of vibration due to the condition of the mower itself, which is several years old and very well-used. As a result, it generates more vibration than a mower in new or perfect condition.

1500 ➝ 1600:
As the day wraps up, Deirdre’s entire crew is working hard to finish their tasks. In close proximity, the team operates chainsaws, brush cutters, and mowers. Taken together, these tools produce an extraordinary amount of noise: A chainsaw on its own can produce upwards of 100dBA, while hedge trimmers can produce nearly 90dBA, and ride-on mowers can also produce a similar amount of noise.

Per the HSE, if employees are exposed to an average noise level of more than 85dBA over an eight-hour period, they are required to wear hearing protection. Deirdre requires her team to wear ear protection when operating power tools or heavy equipment, but in their rush to finish their work day, several members of the crew forget to wear their hearing protection, and Deirdre doesn’t notice.

One day, multiple sources of risk

Over the course of one day, Deirdre and her team were exposed to risk from several sources, including vibration and noise. Deirdre also had a near-miss while operating a mini excavator.

Despite Deirdre’s competency as a tool and equipment operator and despite the measures that her team takes to ensure their health and safety - including wearing PPE - Deirdre and others were still exposed to a potentially harmful amount of risk during a standard shift.

But Deirdre’s exposure to potentially harmful levels of risk from vibration, noise, or proximity isn’t the biggest issue in this scenario. The biggest issue is that - despite her best efforts - she didn’t have any real control over it.

R-Link: Bridging data and analytics gaps for local authorities

Even for safety-conscious local authorities, it’s very possible for workers to be exposed to potentially dangerous levels of risk from common tools, equipment, or materials. Manufacturer-declared values, risk assessments, and health surveillance programmes are useful to gain baseline understanding and control of your risk environment, but they don’t give you the information that you need to most effectively refine your controls or implement better, safer ways of working.

Real time or near-real time data about individual workers’ exposure gives you more than in-the-moment alerts and notifications. In fact, some of the most powerful capabilities of R-Link lie in its power to help you make sense of this real-time data, over time.

For example, had Deirdre automatically received regular reports breaking down her team’s risk from exposure to vibration, she may have noticed that a mower was performing poorly and exposing users to more HAV than usual. This information - called ‘actionable intelligence’ - would have enabled her to identify a hotspot and driven her to take action (i.e., servicing the mower).

And if she’d had information that overlaid data from employees’ exposure to multiple sources of risk - including vibration and noise - she could take her analysis one step further, and gain a 360-degree view into her risk environment. With this additional layer of context, she could identify whether she has workers who are consistently exceeding exposure thresholds, and take action to mitigate the problem, such as training or supervised tool use. To learn more about how operator competency and tool condition can impact the amount of risk to which an employee is exposed while using vibrating tools, you can watch this video.

Plus, with R-Link’s cutting edge proximity detection technology, Deirdre could have more easily avoided the near-miss incident with her co-worker. With alerts for when workers stray too close to hazardous situations, R-Link makes it possible for teams to seamlessly start creating safer workplaces.

Local authorities have wide-ranging responsibilities to the communities they serve. The health and safety of the crews who upkeep and rehabilitate public spaces is paramount to ensuring that these essential services are delivered.

The easiest way for local authorities to take better control of their risk environment and ensure positive health and safety outcomes for their maintenance teams is to deploy a solution that’s purpose-built to support their workers in dynamic environments.

Reactec has decades of experience working with teams, including dozens of local authorities, to help them elevate and streamline their approach to health and safety.

1. Deirdre and her team are fictional, and our assessments of her exposure to risk is based on a fictional account of a typical working day. To produce this timeline, we relied on our extensive real-life interactions with local authorities..

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