Good planning, better training and long corporate memories are key to avoiding accidents at work, a conference in Harrogate has heard.
Health & Safety Executive (HSE) principal inspector Dr Andrew Turner told the Association for Public Service Excellence (APSE) seminar Parks in a Changing Climate (20 March) that local authorities have "a particular problem" with corporate memory.
He explained that often something would happen and systems would be put in place to ensure it does not recur. But after a few years those systems would atrophy because of cuts, a change in procurement or people moving jobs, and the lessons learnt would disappear.
For example, in the case of an unstable tree, he said: "By year four they start to forget to check the tree that is in danger and when it blows down they have all the evidence to prosecute them."
Focusing on mowing banks and slopes safely, Turner outlined steps to ensure that companies keep their employees safe and do not fall foul of the law, saying there are many common themes in prosecutions.
"Local authorities invest most in health and safety and take it seriously but often they have the worst outcomes. Why?" he asked. "Over the past 10 years there have been an average of two fatal accidents a year, which were most likely to be mower overturns, and two major injuries a week."
Turner, head of the safety section for agriculture, waste and recycling at the HSE, said health and safety problems usually come from moving vehicles, manual handling, slips or trips, contact with moving machines, being struck by an object or hand-arm vibration syndrome (HAVS).
He said one employer was fined £25,000 with £9,417 costs after 29 of his employees were diagnosed with HAVS, but it is easy to avoid. "People perceive this as a difficult problem but on our website there is information and a tool you can use."
Similarly, the case of a groundsman who suffered four fractured ribs and bruising after his mower overturned during work on a 64 degs gradient at Cirencester Amphitheatre could easily have been avoided using a mobile phone to measure the slope. The manufacturer recommended use only on slopes up to a 24 degs gradient.
"Don't guess," said Turner. "There's an app for that." The employer was fined £12,000 with £17,000 costs.
Planning is another important aspect. "At the planning stage somebody should have identified that there are some areas for which the mower is not suitable. In their case they left it to the operator. The system was that when the mower started to slide, that's when they would start to use a strimmer."
Regular maintenance, on-site supervision, training, complying with manufacturers' recommendations, performance monitoring and being careful with the selection and management of sub-contractors are all crucial, Turner emphasised.
In a risk assessment on mowing slopes, alternative options such as planting, landscaping, spraying, grazing or leaving it alone should also be considered, he added.
A Coping with Slopes event held by BALI and the National Contractors Forum at Draycote Water in Warwickshire last October was so popular - with 150 attendees - that a second was due to be held this week.
The Parks in a Changing Climate seminar heard that in the land-based industries the number of fatal accidents involving workers has gone down from 52 in 1992-93 to 38 in 2012-13 but the total figure has halved (from 300 to 150) across all industries.