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health and safety

One bad week

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Life is never perfect. It will throw you some curves once in a while. I was thinking about this last week while planting fastigiate cherry laurels at a beautiful city site.

It was a perfect sunny morning and the site was nicely flushed out in new green foliage. One added bonus was that I had eight specimens of Prunus laurocerasus Genolia to plant. I had never planted this fastigiate species.

Broken body

And yet my body was slightly broken. It was almost comical. My right arm was swollen from a wasp sting earlier in the week; my left upper arm was swollen from a tetanus shot and my right shin still had stitches in it from a mid-week pruning accident.  I was extremely happy to take my son to his Friday night soccer tournament, buy coffee at Starbucks and just watch.

Stinging insects

It’s almost impossible to avoid stinging insects when you spend your whole day in the landscape. I was raking up debris after pruning shrubs and, since the leaves were stuck in rocks, I had to use my hands for the final step. And that’s when a nasty wasp sting alerted me to a nest inside wooden steps. That was on Monday.

By Wednesday my arm was nicely swollen and itchy.

 

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Shot soon after the sting, before swelling.

 

And that’s when I started pruning in tight backyards. The only way to access the shrubs was to step on metal grates which separate the houses from the shrubs.

Now, I have some field experience so I visually inspected the grates before stepping on them. Then I got cocky and fully concentrated on pruning.

Bam, the metal grate slipped out from the house side and I plummeted 3-4′ straight down. Luckily, the extendable shears kept the blades away from me.

Unfortunately, as I went straight down my shin hit the edge and created a nasty puncture wound. So, I drove myself to emergency and now I’m recovering. The gash is healing but the shin is sore so planting cherry laurels wasn’t as much fun as it usually is. Planting requires dropping to my knees and using a shovel. I managed.

 

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The new cherry laurel screen is in the back. Prunus laurocerasus Genolia.

 

It’s a long season in the field for landscape professionals. You can expect to work in all kinds of weather and don’t be surprised if one of your weeks goes sideways. But I’m sure you’ll manage.

Why you should never trust metal grates

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Why you should never trust metal grates

 

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Never trust metal grates on your sites. I found out the hard way today after safely working on top of several sets while pruning shrubs. Then I got cocky by concentrating on my shrub pruning and not testing the grates. And one failed! As they sometimes do.

Luckily, I was using extendable shears so when I plummeted down the moving blades were far away from me. Unfortunately, during the brief fall my right shin met the hard edge causing me immediate discomfort. If I hadn’t been wearing rubber rain pants and long pants my shin would have been much uglier.

I retrieved a first aid kit from one of our work trucks and, after washing the wound and dressing it, I drove myself to my local health clinic. There I was coldly told that the doctors there didn’t do stitches.

Emergency

Aha. So, I walked to emergency nearby and waited.

After two interviews and a check of my vital signs I was moved to a bed inside. And I was ready with a print out of the July issue of the Altucher Report. Emergency doesn’t mean urgency. It takes forever to see a doctor.

Once, when my son was a little baby he wouldn’t stop coughing so I rushed him to the same emergency. By the time the doctor on duty showed up, my son was soundly asleep! Emergency, yeah right.

Dr. Quon checked my puncture wound and confirmed that I would need freezing and two stitches. And everything went well until he left his summer intern in charge of closing the wound. Let’s just say she struggled a little bit.

It also didn’t help that the patient next to me moaned non-stop until she got the medication she begged for.

 

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This is the family friendly photo of my shin puncture wound waiting for two stitches.

 

Conclusion

Let’s review: a) never trust metal grates on site because inevitably one will fail and b) make sure your company vehicles have first aid kits; you will need them one day and it also complies with WCB rules.

And don’t get cocky, stay safe.

Why eating lunch alone is bad for you

By | health and safety, Landscaping | No Comments

My regular work day includes a thirty minute lunch with no other formal breaks. When I first started with my current company, not having morning and afternoon breaks felt weird but there was an upside. I finished early. So, to ease my body into the new schedule, I would take quick micro-breaks to drink and eat a snack without sitting down. Now, in my fourth season, it’s all fine.

Lunches

I normally eat lunches alone because we don’t have huge crews and I need the mental break from physically demanding work. Unless my co-worker Allan is nearby, because I often poach some of his excellent Arabic tea.

Once, completely exhausted by lunch in hot weather, I collapsed in my truck and the workers turned me in to the boss. Vas sleeping, as if! I was meditating. Incredibly, this came up in my work performance review.

Not alone

And according to an article published in the Globe and Mail (“Eating lunch alone at work can have adverse effects“, Friday July 27, 2019) I have plenty of company. Almost half (42%) of working Canadians eat lunch alone every day.

Eating lunch alone isn’t really normal. It happens when people start working. Then, eating with colleagues seems like a gift we can’t afford to accept.

I find that as a supervisor in charge of field production, many workers don’t really want to spend an extra half hour with me. Unless, of course, it’s cold or rainy outside and my company truck is warm.

Adverse effects

I had no idea eating alone came with so many adverse effects. According to research mentioned in the article, “people who eat most meals alone may express feelings of loneliness and social isolation”. “Eating in solitude is more strongly associated with unhappiness than any single factor, other than having a mental illness.”

Benefits

There are many benefits to eating together and scoring free Arabic tea is just one of them. How about improved communication with co-workers, stronger relationships with co-workers, increased happiness, job satisfaction and greater productivity.

Considering the many benefits listed above, I think I will try to eat the odd lunch with our crews.

What happened when I tried organic birch water

By | health and safety, Reviews | No Comments

This blog post is proof that I will do anything to create new content, including the consumption of new products that may or may not be good for me. One such product is Sealand Birk’s new organic birch water imported with love from Denmark.

99 cents

I was cruising the snack aisles at London Drugs recently and my favourite coconut water wasn’t on sale. Then I saw the cool slim cardboard 250 mL cans of Sealand Birk’s organic birch water. It was on sale for 99 cents; regular price $2.99. I tested the original version but there are many other flavours: Elderflower, Ginger & Lime, Blueberry, Raspberry, Lemon/Mint and Rose. London Drugs only offered the original version.

 

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The Nordic birch forest trees get tapped in early spring when the sap starts running but before leaf-out happens.

This is what the Sealand Birk website says:

Discover the qualities and natural taste of delicious birch water, tapped from the tree. Sealand BIRK connects with your body and supplies not only great taste but also the true, organic sweetness of nature’s own hidden treasures.

Harvested from birch trees in Taiga forests of Finland and Lithuania. Birch water is a sweet, healthy and certified organic alternative to artificially sweetened beverages.

Low on Calories
Contains plenty of organic naturally occurring antioxidants, electrolytes, trace minerals, xylitol, fructose and vitamins that is easy for your body to absorb and enjoy. You benefit from nature itself.

Sweetened by Nature
The taste is fresh and you can experience it without any second thoughts: Sealand BIRK is naturally low on calories. The pure birch water is harvested in early spring at the perfect moment to maximize nutritious value. The taste is refreshing packed with nutrients and organically sweet.

Born on Organic
No preservatives, no additives. Sealand BIRK is born organic. There is no point in trying to improve on nature. Sealand BIRK is a new age beverage for the international consumer market

 

Vas survives

The first taste of the original version was interesting. It was like water with a hint of lemon. I wish I could describe it better but I’m a landscape blogger, not a food critic. The second can went down well and the next four were totally fine. At 99 cents per can it’s a steal but not at the regular $2.99. At that price I will buy coconut water again.

If you see Sealand Birk organic birch water on sale anywhere, give it a try. It’s an interesting drink.

Does your mosquito repellent actually work?

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The headline above was the actual headline from an article published in the Globe and Mail on Monday, August 6, 2018. In it, writer Wency Leung reports on the results from a New Mexico State University study. But, first, a quick story.

Vas almost dies

The article above came out a few days after I almost died in the field while stump grinding. I was removing two tree stumps close to Kanaka Creek in Maple Ridge, British Columbia and I couldn’t believe the number of mosquitoes around me. I kept working but after a while, totally desperate, I called my boss to bring me repellent. Any repellent. I didn’t care. I was suffering.

Because I was alone with a rented stump grinder, I couldn’t really leave my work site. My boss eventually rescued me.

 

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This expensive gas station bottle saved me in the field.

 

 

The study

The study looked at all sorts of products from scented candles, skin patches, wearable devices to sprays containing essential oils. The result? Most of the products were useless except for the ones containing DEET and oil of lemon eucalyptus.

About mosquitoes

One of the study authors explains that “mosquitoes are attracted to the carbon dioxide we exhale, and to the molecules that are created when our skin bacteria break down components of our sweat.” When you stump grind for a few hours you generate a lot of sweat. That’s the way we like our employees to work.

“The insects have odour  receptors and they’re specialized in what they can smell.” The magic of DEET is that it “binds to specific odour  receptors of mosquitoes and over-activates them; and over-activation is as bad as blocking them completely.”

This is the key: “Without smell the insects  can’t switch from host-seeking to biting mode.” Aha.

According to the article, DEET has been used for over 70 years and is considered very safe.

Conclusion

Save your money and stay safe in the landscape by purchasing repellents containing DEET or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Next time I’m sent to work by Kanaka Creek I will be ready.

Close calls in the landscape

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I know, safety is not a sexy topic and this blog post will not likely stress Google analytics.  My most read blog posts are about making side-hustle cash from landscaping and about immigrant landscapers. But still, it’s amazing how many close calls there are in the field.

It really doesn’t take much to get injured in landscape maintenance. I witnessed two such events and I want to publish them here as a warning. (Disclaimer: don’t worry, nobody died.)

Hand aeration

We aerate lawns with machines to allow more water and oxygen to reach the root zone. It’s a common spring task built into contracts. But when the lawns are very small or difficult to access, we use hand aerators. It’s a simple tool which punches holes as the worker forces it down into the lawn.

One of my co-workers was rushing and having too much fun at the end of the day and as he furiously punched holes, he slipped and drove the metal tool into his foot. It hit above the steel-toe portion of his rubber boot and he was in serious pain. So much pain, he refused to be photographed for a future safety blog post. It took some time for the bruise to heal.

 

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Weeding

I know what you’re thinking, how can anyone get injured while weeding. But, again, it was late in the day when people are tired and distracted. The young female worker was weeding a nasty tree well full of small weeds. As she bent down to hand pick the weeds, firmly focused on the green mass by her hand, she completely missed a lower tree branch. Then her eye collided with the wooden stub. Sadly, she also declined to be photographed for my future blog on safety.

Luckily, her vision wasn’t affected but it was a close call. Not many workers wear protective goggles on site all day. You would never think of weeding as dangerous.

Conclusion

Stay alert in the landscape and watch out for hazards. Most injuries occur just before lunch when people are tired and their blood sugar levels are low. But as we’ve seen above, the end of the day can be just as bad for injuries. That’s when workers are tired and distracted by their after-work activities. Stay safe!

Summer dangers in the landscape

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There I was raking out a bed and to get under a rhododendron I had to bend down and use my hands. Seconds later my left thumb was in excruciating pain. Then I quickly clued in: my hand had just passed over a ground nest full of wasps. So I hosed off  my thumb for several minutes, finished the day and left for home in a foul mood. My left hand was swelling up with every passing hour.

There are many dangers facing landscapers in the field and in summer, insects are danger number one. Still, this was my only sting all season. And as long as I can do my job, I ignore all wasps. It’s usually the residents that panic.

One week later I ran into a tree nest full of wasps which is much easier to detect when the wasps are flying in and out. And I was ready, too! I had my spray can ready so I gave it a nice shake and aimed it at the opening. Out came a lot of white foam.

 

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This is much easier to spot than….

 

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…a ground nest.

 

Here is the key point of this blog post: when you buy a spray can for wasps and hornets, buy the gluey stream type not foam.

The foam coated the opening and the entire part of the nest facing me. Some wasps even escaped from the opening. Two weeks later I found live wasps still inside the nest. This doesn’t happen with the glue type spray can. The toxic glue comes out in a steady stream and plugs up the nest opening. Case closed.

Hint: use goggles and pray that the wind is blowing away from you.

I waited for two weeks before removing the nest. When I examined it, I found two wasps still alive inside. Hours later the pest control technician found some nest leftovers and questioned me about it. Most likely I had just prevented him from generating a fat invoice. Safety first!

Late summer wasp problems are common in landscaping so be careful. And if you buy a spray can to control the insects, do NOT buy the foam version.

 

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Buy this type of spray, NOT foam.

 

Notes on leaf blower wars

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As a member of various Facebook lawn care and landscaping groups, I often run into interesting discussions. But recently I read about an outright war in Newton, Massachusetts. A local resident named Karen Bray is working on banning leaf blowers from Newton.

I don’t want to repeat the entire fight in this blog post. You can easily Google it. So let’s just say that Karen Bray hates leaf blowers; and local landscapers don’t care for her opinions. The rest is fun tabloid stuff.

The key argument is that leaf blowers emit fine particulate matter that lodges in the lungs of kids and blower operators. I’m not a doctor but this could definitely be true. For this reason I prefer to blow solo. When 2-3 workers blow at the same time it’s a mess.

Since leaf blowers come up once in a while, it might be good to share my personal thoughts.

 

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It would take significantly longer to clean up leaves on this site without blowers.

 

Strata leaf blowing

Large strata properties would be difficult to maintain in the fall without leaf blowers. Sometimes there are three workers blowing together which wouldn’t make Karen Bray very happy. But the fastest way to clean-up leaf avalanches is to blow them into piles. And for every Karen Bray, I know a strata owner who wants every single leaf cleaned-out. The same goes for building maintenance workers. They love leaf blowers because without them debris would get dragged inside their buildings.

Without leaf blowers strata landscape maintenance costs would either go up or service standards would go down. It just isn’t practical to send five workers out with brooms and rakes. Usually there is a lot of work to be done in a day and the crews are under pressure.

There are some strata sites that demand a later start. So instead of starting machines at 8am, we start at 9am. This allows the crew to perform other tasks such as bedwork; and the residents with night shift jobs get an extra uninterrupted hour of sleep. No big deal. No fights on Facebook.

Residential leaf blowing

Because most residences are smaller, there are things you can do when you encounter opposition from the neighbourhood. You can start your blower at a normal time and you can use the smallest backpack blower for noise sensitive environments.

I use one because I couldn’t afford to pay for a big $700+ machine. And it’s worked out fine. It handles fall clean-up just fine. Obviously, the extra power would be nice when I have to clean-up pine needles, for example.

Leaf blowers have been successfully pushed out of Vancouver’s West End but I don’t know how that affected the neighbourhood and their landscapers.

We also have silent gardeners offering services for people like Karen Bray. I’m sure their clients have to pay more and chances are they are happy to do it. It’s probably a good niche.

Blower-free 2014

I personally don’t care for leaf blowers. It’s a necessary evil. I find the noise annoying when I’m not personally blowing. When I blow, I just notice the work. In 2014 I worked under a municipal gardener who barely used a blower all season. And I confess, it was glorious. Whatever mess we made we swept up with brooms. But again, this was gardening NOT strata maintenance. So we mostly covered planted beds. Grass crews covered work that required heavy blower use.

Conclusion

In conclusion, I believe that the leaf blower wars are over-the-top. Yes, the noise is annoying. All landscape companies should do their best to blow at decent hours of the day and just long enough to get their work done. Smaller backpack blowers for noise sensitive environments are available. Some mess could be raked out and broomed.

Strata complexes tend to be larger in scale and, considering the amount of work to be completed, it isn’t practical to use rakes and brooms. There is often great pressure to complete a lot of work quickly.

I’m certain that any leaf blower bans would lead to either higher maintenance costs or worse looking neighbourhoods.

Five hernias, really!

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Five hernias! That was the news an experienced landscaper delivered to his boss. That’s not good. Experienced, senior workers are expected to do a lot in the field. When they go down, production can suffer. Sometimes hernias require surgeries and rehab. They definitely lead to light duties for affected workers. For months.

I’m not a medical doctor, nor is this blog about diseases and ailments. But we must note that hernias happen when abdominal muscles fall out of place. There are many types of hernias. Not one of them is fun.

Key issue: you can get a hernia by lifting heavy objects improperly. That definitely applies to landscaping.

The worker above is incredibly stubborn and set in his ways. By examining his mistakes we can educate future landscape workers and thus avoid future medical issues.

 

  1. Don’t make tarp “bombs”! If your company uses tarps to collect green debris do a simple pull test once in a while. Can you still pull your tarp along? If it’s becoming difficult, tie it up using slipknots and get a new tarp. This is especially important when you work in hard to access corners of your landscape.
  2. Don’t be a hero! If you or your team mates made a tarp “bomb”, get help lifting it. You won’t look soft. You definitely won’t be a hero in a doctor’s office. Get help with heavy tarps. Big bombs can happen when you are short on tarps, for example. Whatever. Just try not to make them.
  3. Don’t be a tarp slave! Move your work truck closer to your tarps or use a good commercial wheelbarrow. Do not be a tarp slave. It destroys your back and can give you a hernia. It’s also inefficient. Consider my favourite story: working on a boulevard with my crew, weeding and cultivating, I looked up and saw four workers walking away. Each worker had a tarp on his back and I didn’t see them for another 15 minutes or more. That was extremely upsetting since we had a wheelbarrow 15 meters up the boulevard from me. One worker could have done the trip to the truck, maybe two. Not four.

 

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Vas as tarp slave, only do this for short distances

 

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Note slipknots for easy release; if it’s too heavy, get help