Landscape Equipment--Top 10 training tips

By Andrew Greess

Many landscape departments have terrific training programs for workers dealing with specific plants, pests, product labels, etc. However, it doesn’t appear that organizations spend enough time on training employees on landscape spray equipment, judging by the types and numbers of avoidable problems seen in equipment-repair shops every day.

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Use these training tips to create an effective equipment program, which will extend equipment life and reduce equipment headaches. Other benefits include less downtime, lower repair expenses, reduced overtime, and fewer missed or delayed assignments.

1. Begin training on Day 1. Don’t assume employees know.
Don’t ignore equipment in new-hire orientation training. Do employees know how to properly and safely operate equipment? Make sure they understand an organization’s policies on equipment use and chemical application. For example, “XYZ Department’s policy is to operate power sprayers at 2 gallons per minute and 75 PSI. Here is how to check and adjust the pressure.”

Don’t assume that a technician who has worked in landscaping at another organization knows what you expect in your department. Tell the person what is needed, and put it in writing in an operations manual.

2. Train on “why” as well as “how.”
It is not uncommon for landscape technicians to be unfamiliar with equipment.

Some examples that demonstrate this lack of knowledge follow:

  • A technician says the motor doesn’t work and points to the pump.

  • A technician is asked when the filter was last checked, and he replies that he didn’t know there was a filter.

  • A technician’s description of a problem is “my sprayer doesn’t work.”

If a technician has no idea how a piece of equipment works, he will have no idea how to troubleshoot a problem or explain it to a boss or repair mechanic. A good description of a problem can result in faster resolution.

For example, a little understanding of the workings of a backpack sprayer might help a technician solve simple problems, like the sprayer won’t build pressure. Installing an O-ring is something almost anyone can do, and it requires no tools.

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3. Once is not enough. Retrain periodically.
Training Tony Tech on Day 1 does not ensure he will continue to do what you want. People forget. They get rushed. They find shortcuts that often shorten equipment life and end up costing money. Do periodic equipment retraining.

4. Train techs to identify and report problems.
Technicians will live with problems. In many instances, technicians ignore problems in the hope they will go away. Remember—hope is not a strategy.

Equipment problems do not get better, and they do not go away. Much like the slow drip of a kitchen faucet, spray equipment problems ALWAYS get worse. Small problems inevitably become big problems. Big problems cost more and take longer to fix.

When a tech reports a problem, don’t admonish him. It will discourage him and others from reporting problems in the future.

5. Institute safety training.
Judging from the condition of some landscape vehicles, safety is not always a priority. A little attention in this area can prevent injuries, accidents, equipment damage, and chemical spills.

Try sharing one safety tip a month with technicians. Some examples follow:

Do a quick check of equipment before driving off to ensure it is secure enough to remain in place in the event of a hard stop, sharp turn, or accident.

Check to make sure nothing is left sitting on the tailgate, side rail, or roof, where it is sure to be damaged or lost.

Look for, anticipate, and head off problems before they occur. For example, is that hose cracked and worn? Replace it before a chemical spill occurs.

Are all hot, sharp, moving, or otherwise dangerous parts shielded to prevent technician injury?

Are vehicles and equipment kept clean and not covered in chemicals?

How do you deal with a chemical spill? Whom do you call? What do you do? Is your spill kit stocked and in good condition?

Is the equipment selected, designed, and positioned to prevent back injury?

6. Have supervisors perform periodic truck inspections.
Begin with regular, frequent inspections and reduce frequency as inspection results improve. Equipment inspections can be scheduled or on a surprise basis. One company does a truck inspection bi-weekly before a technician collects his paycheck. Another company has one supervisor perform the inspections while another presents a monthly training meeting.

7. Keep easy-to-replace parts in each truck so minor repairs can be completed in the field.
A repair there saves a trip across town to the repair shop. The technician can complete scheduled stops without customer impact.

Key points when creating an emergency-repair kit follow:

  • Focus on minor, easy-to-accomplish repairs that don’t require expensive tools.

  • Customize the emergency repair kit based on equipment, technicians, experience, etc.

  • Consider technician skill when deciding what types of repairs he can perform. Remember: don’t send your ducks to eagle school.

  • Be sure to provide training on how to use repair kits.

Make sure technicians report the repairs they have made. When conducting truck inspections, check the repair kits to see what parts are used. Track repairs to find problem areas. Modify repair kits based upon what you find.

A few dollars expended and a few moments spent training technicians to make field repairs will pay dividends well in excess of costs. The department will benefit, as will the budget.

8. Focus on the big problems.
The Pareto principle says 20 percent of the causes are responsible for 80% of the effects. This principle applies to landscape equipment problems as well. Figure out what the most common equipment problems are and create a quick and easy way to reinforce these items with crew members. For example, these are among the top items:

  • Check and clean the filter.

  • Release the pressure after each stop.

  • Clean out equipment regularly.

  • Secure equipment before driving off.

  • Report problems immediately.

Customize the list based on equipment and experience, and remind technicians and supervisors.

9. Equipment freezes during winter.
To prevent equipment damage and downtime, train technicians on how to anticipate and prevent freeze damage and what to do when it occurs.

Never run frozen equipment or put hot water on it. Let it thaw out or you will cause serious damage.

Winter is already a slow period for most spray professionals. Don’t increase problems by allowing a deep freeze to damage equipment.

10. Drive safely.
A vehicle is likely the most expensive piece of equipment a landscape technician uses. It is not enough to say “drive safely” and give over the keys. Create a driving-safety module. Recruit an insurance agent to help. Find resources online.

Some key points to enforce:

  • No speeding

  • No texting

  • Knowing what to do in the event of an accident.

Spending some time in building and presenting equipment training to a team will pay big dividends in terms of downtime, repair, expense, and happy constituents.

Andrew Greess is a landscape-equipment expert, author, and President of Qspray.com, the landscape spray-equipment website. Connect with him on LinkedIn or Facebook.