Employees are the greatest assets of parks and recreation departments, and municipalities and other agencies implement benefits and reward systems to attract and retain great people. But there are many demographic changes affecting the available labor pool--the workforce is aging, younger workers are demanding more than just a paycheck, and good employees are becoming even harder to find. As employers, parks and recreation managers need to do more to create a superb work environment. Because of these changes, it is critical for managers to ask: Does my spray-equipment strategy support my human-resource strategy?
The following offers some considerations to assist in evaluating spray equipment to determine whether it’s up to the challenge of protecting and retaining employees--specifically spray-technicians. (Note: While this article focuses on spray equipment, many of the concepts apply to other types of equipment.)
The first and most obvious consideration is safety. Have you examined equipment to ensure that all hazards have been minimized? Here are some risks to evaluate:
1. Acute injuries
· Can a technician reach all components without incurring a bump, scrape, abrasion (e.g., are sharp edges, corners, rust spots eliminated)?
· Can a technician operate all components without incurring a bump, scrape, abrasion, cut or burn (e.g., can he or she roll up a hose without banging a hand)?
· Are all moving parts (including hot engine parts) shielded?
· Do any components overhang the truck, creating a bump hazard?
2. Back injuries
· Can a technician reach and operate key components without unnatural movements or unnecessary strain?
· Can equipment be lifted out of a truck without creating back strain?
· Is the equipment appropriate for the technician in terms of weight, access, etc. (particularly crucial with an aging workforce)?
3. Chemical exposure/Slip hazards
· Are chemicals building up on equipment, creating a chemical-exposure risk?
· Is the equipment designed for easy cleaning to prevent chemical buildup?
· Are walk surfaces free of chemicals to prevent employees from slipping?
· Are walk/standing surfaces treated with non-slip materials?
4. Vehicle load/Control hazards
· Is the load secure, balanced and appropriate for a truck’s capacity?
· Are all components properly secured to a vehicle (e.g., toolboxes, sprayers, water tanks, backpacks, etc.)?
· Is the water in the tank properly baffled to reduce surge that impacts vehicle control?
Here are some ways to find answers to the above questions:
· Ask employees.
· Spend a day observing equipment use in the field.
· Use the equipment.
· Borrow improvement ideas from colleagues, and observe their equipment.
Most spray-technicians want to do a good job, but they can’t if equipment is unreliable and subject to breakdowns. In my experience, unreliable equipment is a leading cause of job dissatisfaction among technicians.
Has your spray equipment been designed for reliability? Are key components readily accessible for preventative maintenance? If not, key services cannot be performed, and breakdowns will occur.
Can technicians access key components--such as the line strainer (filter)--to prevent problems from occurring? Are quality components used? When analyzing component quality, don’t just consider expensive parts, such as engines and pumps, because even low-cost items like fittings and clamps can be reliability-killers.
Is the equipment designed so that technicians can meet department and personal objectives? Are extra steps required to do simple activities because of the way the equipment is laid out? Are commonly accessed components strategically placed for productivity?
Again, observe how employees use the equipment in the field. Ask them for ideas on improving equipment productivity. Some equipment upgrades may be justified through productivity gains. For example, some employers use electric-rewind hose reels, not just as a productivity improvement, but as a way to retain employees. Rolling up 300 feet of water-laden chemical hose in the afternoon sun can be tiring and unpleasant. One less back-strain will more than pay for the incremental cost of the electric reel. Look for equipment productivity improvements to provide operating results as well as employee satisfaction.
Take a close look at spray equipment to determine if it is helping or hurting in attracting and retaining employees. Involve employees and vendors in this review. They will appreciate your interest in their safety and well-being, and likely will be excited about contributing. Safety issues should be addressed immediately. Other improvements can be built in as old equipment is replaced. Conduct this review regularly until you have designed the optimal pest-management equipment for the department and employees.
Andrew Greess is the president of Quality Equipment & Spray, which designs and builds custom weed-control spray equipment. He can be reached at www.qspray.com or follow him on Twitter. For more information or to share your thoughts, check out his blog at www.sprayequipmentblog.com