Grounds-maintenance crews underestimate how dangerous their workplace is, according to a health and safety chief who said there had been 18 fatal accidents in recent years.
"Many people regard grounds maintenance as low-risk, but statistics suggest that this is clearly not the case. There is no reduction in accidents and the sector is comparable with construction," said Health & Safety Executive officer for agriculture and food Frances Hirst.
Between 2002 and 2011, there were 18 deaths among ground maintenance and gardening staff, she told an Association for Public Service Excellence conference on parks and green spaces in Manchester last week.
More than 2,500 major injuries led to damage such as amputations and broken bones while more than 1,100 injuries lasted longer than three days. One of the deaths, she said, happened when a heavy post fell from a truck, crushing a park worker.
Others came about by grass cutters rolling on top of drivers and there have been 36 serious accidents in seven years caused by overturning mowers. This, Hirst suggested, could be the tip of a much bigger problem because accidents could go unreported if no serious injury happened.
Part of the problem was the loss of jobs in procurement departments and a failure to replace the staff with experienced employees, Hirst warned.
This was leading to poor tender specifications and a failure to ask the right questions to ensure what happened on site was what was asked for, she added.
"Key areas we need to consider are training of contractors and in-house staff. Can they do risk assessments and do they pass the information down the line? Are vehicles - especially on slopes - the right ones for the job?"
Teams need to work more closely with suppliers to check that vehicles can tolerate slopes, said Hirst. Arboriculture is also a key area to look at, with local authorities needing to check operator certification and monitor work and equipment.
Meanwhile, litigation is on the rise, Hirst said, especially civil claims involving hand and body vibration. Equipment maintenance need close monitoring and supervisors need to have the right "health surveillance" in place to prevent problems arising, she added.
The number of fatalities in grounds maintenance between 2002 and 2011 - 18 Fatalities.