Spring pesticide applications draw near, don’t forget safety

Updated Jan 26, 2021

Man Spraying Pesticides on Plants for Landscaping PurposesBy Liz O’Neill

Depending on where you operate, the winter months may bring fewer phone calls and service appointments—which means more time for strategic planning. If an updated safety program isn’t already on your list, the following pesticide application issues will hopefully get you motivated. Coming up on spring, consider these emerging issues:

Service Safety

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) requires that all professionals who apply pesticides for hire must be certified or working under someone who is certified, ensuring they have the proper education to protect clients’ health and surrounding environments.guest-post-attribution-box

Furthermore, 21 states have adopted laws requiring public or neighbor notification when professional pesticide application occurs. But landscape and arboriculture employers can go one step further by creating safety programs that reinforce best practices. Reminding clients’ (and their neighbors) to close windows, cover outdoor grills, or take clothing off nearby clotheslines are just a few examples of protocols worth establishing.

Client Communications

The EPA does not allow the use of terms like “safe” in pesticide labeling because it is considered false or misleading. Even though the EPA does not have the authority to regulate landscapers or arborists (who don’t sell or distribute pesticides), these professionals may be subject to enforcement by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) if they make similarly false or misleading claims about the application of pesticides.

With that in mind, it’s worthwhile to review your sales scripts, print and digital marketing materials, and again, employee training manuals—to be sure all pesticide applications are appropriately defined.

Local Community Bans

Increasingly communities are banding together to restrict the use of certain pesticides, herbicides— even some noise pollution culprits, such as leaf blowers.

In Connecticut, Washington D.C., Seattle, and dozens of other municipalities, pesticide applications are prohibited on the lawns of schools and daycares—if not banned altogether. As your business is expanding into new markets, it’s a good idea to brush up on local politics. Your state’s department of agriculture or environmental protection should be able to assist you in securing a list of current or pending bans.

Pollinator Risks

Beekeepers across the country lost about 44 percent of their hives last year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture—and pesticides are at least partly to blame. As previously reported, the EPA has determined that neonicotinoid imidacloprid can harm bees, but the agency has yet to propose any restriction measures. In the meantime, proactive landscapers and arborists have an opportunity to differentiate their businesses.

After all, protecting pollinator species isn’t just good for public relations; it’s good for preserving the flowering landscapes and plantings you install. If you want to build a bee-friendly brand, heed the following recommendations:

  • Eliminate prophylactic and cosmetic uses of nitroguanidine neonicotinoid products (e.g. coated seed).
  • Eliminate applications (e.g. soil drenches, trunk injections, basal bark applications, etc.) on bee-attractive crop plants during bloom.
  • Offer organic alternatives and organic lawn signage for environmentally-conscious customers.

Hazard Communication

According to the Occupational Health and Safety Administration, hazard communication was the second biggest OSHA citation issue for landscape and horticultural service employers. So don’t get complacent about material safety data sheets (MSDS) requirements. Having material safety data at your fingertips, wherever your crews are operating, can help emergency responders take the proper measures if anyone is accidentally exposed or injured.

Workers’ Compensation Risks

According to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data, over 14,000 landscaping employees—including self-employed business owners—reported incidents in 2015. Also according to the most recent, available breakdown of exposure types among this group (2003), more than 500 incidents can be attributed to chemical exposure. The surest way to protect your team members (and contain your workers’ compensation costs) is to regularly review safe operating procedures.

Pollution Liability Risks

Surprisingly, many landscaping and tree-care companies still lack the type of insurance coverage that would protect them from professional negligence—including pesticide spills or exposure incidents. Pollution claims can include incidents wherein hazardous materials contaminate an environment and/or cause people to become ill. In the case of pesticides and herbicides, professional liability insurance (aka errors and omissions insurance) can also protect against negligence that damages a client’s landscape, hardscape, or general property. If you have questions about your company’s potential exposure, contact an insurance agent who specializes in landscaper’s insurance.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Liz O’Neill is the content director at Cavallo & Signoriello Insurance in Mansfield, Massachusetts. Her organization specializes in landscapers’ insurance, workers’ compensation, and loss control programs for green industry professionals.

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