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. It is easy for managers, and the employees themselves, to think that just because their place of work does not contain such high-risk material as other places of work in industries such as chemical plants or nuclear power stations, 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.
For starters, 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 have 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 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.
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.
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 as 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.