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January 2020

Protect Your Team


Off-Season Focus on Safety Pays Many Dividends 

By David Gould

This time of year is when course operators step back from day-to-day matters and conduct an overall reappraisal of business practices. One of the areas most worth addressing is safety and accident-avoidance, from one end of the property to another.

Why make safety a priority? The reasons are multiple and interwoven. Study after study have shown that staff morale depends on your employees’ belief that their workplace is a safe environment. When ownership puts strong emphasis on safe practices, it shows a concern for the wellbeing of workers and customers, meanwhile protecting the bottom line from financial losses associated with mishaps.
Consensus among experts is that programs for ensuring safe conditions should begin with a full-staff gathering to explore the subject. This by itself helps lift morale, for the obvious reason that workers value being listened to. Furthermore, even the most junior staff members are able to point out legitimate risks or hazards they have noticed, meaning everyone’s voice gets heard.

A recent Gallup report showed that high employee-engagement scores produced a dozen positive business results, and “reduction of safety incidents” was the most dramatic of them all: There were 70 percent fewer of these costly incidents among businesses with high-engagement workers.

And “costly” is a key word here. Unsafe conditions can lead to missed work, large medical bills, lawsuits and other threats to profitability. Even when no incident occurs, your golf operation could find itself whacked with OSHA penalties ranging up to $13,260 per offense when the inspectors come to visit.

“Good safety is good business,” declares Bill Rehanek, senior vice president of operations for Billy Casper Golf. “Our company conducts annual safety audits of every property and we hold mandatory monthly safety meetings, year-round. We have online courses our employees can take, and if a property is experiencing higher- than-average accident claims that property has to make a higher-than-average contribution to the annual coverage premium.”

Even just talking about safety – in training sessions, via posters and in employee reviews or interviews – makes an impression with inspectors from the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration (OSHA). If you as an operator hold up your end of the bargain – developing policies, providing safety training and enforcing guidelines internally – even a fairly serious accident on your property may not bring reprisal. In other words, when an accident occurs despite management’s concerted efforts to keep working conditions safe, OSHA can and will find fault with the salaried or hourly employee whose negligence led to the event, and impose no fines on the employer.

Because golf operations involve many business segments – turf care, food and beverage, the driving range, on-course play, etc. – creating policy and procedures across the board can be daunting. Course maintenance alone is a complex safety-and-wellness proposition. Keeping tabs on the latest OSHA policies and best practices is an ongoing pursuit for the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America (GCSAA), which regularly includes updates in its member publications. Your GCSAA-certified superintendent can and should be the key employee for safety in his or her department.

On the turf side of the business, there’s also a for-profit company called Golf Safety that distributes safety-oriented materials and information at no charge. These include a downloadable Poster of the Month, available on the website, that comes in Spanish as well as English versions. Brief, to-the-point articles also are available on a regular basis, with titles like “15 Items That Should be In Your First Aid Kit” and “OSHA Violations – Who’s Fault Is It?”

While the superintendent should spearhead turf-related safety and your chef should do the same for food safety, training and motivating the whole staff is the best practice. A golf operation that’s serious about its “culture of safety” will respond to a kitchen worker who wants a promotion by assigning him to view and summarize the most recent food safety and inspection streaming videos available from the federal government’s Food Safety and Inspection Service. Requiring a step like this links safety to advancement in every team member’s mind.

Likewise, the assistant golf professional, who is primed to become first assistant, could be required to gain safety expertise via a no-charge American Red Cross course in first aid, CPR or use of an AED (automated external defibrillator). Associating raises and promotions with improved safety skills is a cornerstone of safety culture within an organization.

Whenever management wishes to develop high awareness of a company value, there’s the carrot-stick option of rewarding desired behavior or punishing undesired behavior. The safety-culture experts tend to favor positive reinforcement, but they see value in basically token penalties for slip-ups. One example is the $1 fine jar for failure to comply with PPE (personal protective equipment) guidelines. So running a leaf blower without ear plugs or performing club repair without a pair of goggles on would require contributing to the jar.

“Part of educating the workforce is acknowledging that many tasks can be done more quickly if the safety factor is skipped over,” says Rehanek. “A piece of turf equipment with no safety guard is quicker and easier to clean. A heavy object might get moved sooner if you don’t have to find a fellow worker to make a team lift. Those are the shortcuts that might be tempting but in the end will cost you dearly.”

The best way to get started on a true safety culture is to understand that the same level of detail that makes your product and service excel is what’s needed to prevent unwanted calamities. And keep in mind that “safety first” is the one directive to employees that provides them peace of mind about coming to work each day.

David Gould is a Massachusetts-based freelance writer and frequent contributor to Golf Business.


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January 2020 Issue

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