Health and Safety Risks to Garden Centre Workers
Just as in other workplaces, those employees who work in a garden centre face risks to their health and safety from numerous different sources.
A garden centre will typically not be thought of as a particularly high risk environment in which to work; that is, when considered against other workplaces such as chemical plants or nuclear power stations for instance. It is easy for managers - and the employees themselves - to think that risks to their health do not exist, or do not need to be taken as seriously.
The truth is that no place of work is without risk, and that death or serious injury can occur from the most unlikely of sources. Quite often, accidents and incidents are in fact more likely to occur in a place of work which is thought of as being "lower risk", as (wrongly) less attention is paid to health and safety because of the very fact that the workplace is thought of as low risk. A misguided belief that there is little danger, coupled with complacency, is typically one of the major reasons why accidents happen in the workplace.
Whilst the potential consequences of an accident in a garden centre may be less severe than an explosion in nuclear reactor, it does not mean that health and safety plans and systems are not needed. Even without the possibility of a nuclear explosion, accidents can still befall a garden centre worker which could result in death, illness or serious injury and so need taking very seriously.
Although there are many, some of the most likely potential health hazards and risks that garden centre workers may encounter are described below:
Just like the checkout operators at a supermarket who have to handle loads, or those moving stock around from the storage area to the shelves, garden centre workers will also encounter manual handling issues.
Not only do garden centres sell plants and flowers, but they will also sell a whole range of other equipment, accessories, large bags of compost etc. Many of these items will be heavy and awkward to move and manipulate, meaning there is a high risk of manual handling injuries such as pulled muscles, sprains, strains, possible dislocation, and back problems, which is one of the most common reasons for sickness absence from the workplace.
A combination of manual handling training and the provision of equipment such as trolleys and lifting aids will help to reduce the chances of workers suffering from one of these conditions and having to take time off work.
A comprehensive risk assessment may also show the need for making changes to the workplace or certain processes, for example situating heavy equipment nearer to the stockroom so that staff do not have to move it so far, or locate it on a lower shelf rather than having to lift it up to a higher one.
Hazardous Substances - COSHH
A garden centre is also likely to sell and use chemical products, particularly fertilisers. These hazardous substances can, in mild cases cause slight irritation to a worker's skin if it comes into contact with it, right through to death if somehow accidentally ingested in large quantities.
These products also pose a risk to the environment if an accident causes a release into the surrounding waterways. Employees may therefore benefit from COSHH (Control of Substances Hazardous to Health) training, particularly bespoke COSHH courses which are tailored to incorporate the specific substances that they use and may encounter in the garden centre.
Like any building, whether a workplace or residential, a garden centre will also need to pay careful consideration to fire safety and prevention. A fire risk assessment will identify potential causes of fire - sources of heat and ignition, presence of combustible materials, sources of fuel and sources of oxygen - along with identifying those who are at significant risk.
The garden centre will also require emergency fire escape doors, assembly points, fire alarm activation buttons (as well as regular testing of the fire alarm) and appropriate fire extinguishers.
The plants and flowers in the garden centre will need watering, often either by hand or by automated sprinklers. They will also typically have stone tiled floors which are easy to clean. It is highly likely that some of the water will find its way onto the floor, and presents a genuine slipping hazard for unwary and/or infirm members of the public, as well as other members of staff.
Steps need to be taken to reduce this risk as far as is reasonably practical. After this, sufficient signs need to be put up warning everybody (customers and staff members) that the floor is wet and poses a slip hazard.
Many garden centres are built in whole or in part as a giant greenhouse in order to keep the plants on display healthy. Whilst good for the plants, these hot conditions can be uncomfortable for workers in the summer, as well as some customers (particularly the elderly), who may be overcome with the heat and faint, with the potential for serious head injury on the hard floor or nearby objects.
Along with elderly customers, garden centre employees may also be more susceptible to the heat if they have to work long hours in this heat. Hot temperatures and heat is a health and safety issue that can occur in all sorts of different industries and workplaces, which makes it an important consideration for any health and safety risk assessment.
The examples mentioned above are just some of the many risks to health that are present in a garden centre and highlight that, whilst it may not be the first workplace that springs to mind when thinking of dangerous jobs, there are still numerous health and safety issues that need to be considered. These considerations are both a legal requirement and from the viewpoint of the welfare/morale of employees.
A combination of risk assessments, common sense, and increased awareness through health and safety courses for managers and for employees can help to tackle those issues, and create a safe working environment for staff and customers alike.