Photos: Jacob Vanoteghem, Home Nursery
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For a business to last nearly a century, it needs to take some risks. But for Home Nursery, an Albers, Ill.-based wholesale grower that has been serving the Midwest for 95 years, smart risk management is another important factor for business success.

Dennis Molitor, the vice president of finance and accounting with Home Nursery, says the company began working with Hortica®, a brand of the Sentry Insurance Group, to ensure compliance with Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations.

“We always like to be more proactive than reactive,” Molitor says. “So rather than have OSHA stop in and say, ‘Here are your violations,’ we took the hint from Hortica.”

Speed limits are posted throughout the nursery.

About every six months, a Hortica representative visits each of Home Nursery’s locations. Molitor, along with Home Nursery’s HR manager Elvin Martinez, tours the facilities with a Hortica safety manager.

These visits cut down on potential hazards, from faulty electrical connectors and extension cords to chemical safety and security.

“They look at everything,” Molitor says. “We spend half a day, and they document the things that would have been violations if they had been an OSHA person. Then we fix them. That works really well.”

Bilingual stop signs at the potting building’s entrance and exit give drivers’ eyes time to adjust.

Next, the group sits down to discuss the Worker Protection Standard, as well as the nursery’s MSDS sheets to ensure everything is as it should be.

Nursery workers are particularly susceptible to certain risks, and Home Nursery worked with Hortica to develop a plan to mitigate those risks. Each month, Martinez coordinates a safety meeting with Home Nursery’s employees. He’ll bring a group of employees in to discuss a topic. Sometimes Martinez leads the meeting, sometimes a Hortica representative runs it. But one of the services Hortica provides is a broad DVD library of training films on topics like “proper tractor operation” or “how to avoid heat stroke.” It’s a way to cover those particular nursery risks in an in-depth fashion.

Trips and falls are a major risk in the nursery. It seems simple, but when employees hurry, they don’t always watch where they are going.

“There are a lot of things on the ground in the nursery and a lot of wet surfaces,” Molitor says. “You have to be aware of them to make sure you don’t trip and fall.”

Lifting is another risk. Working in a nursery is a physical job. Home Nursery’s main growing facility is 250 acres of container and field production. Whether you’re pulling orders or spacing pots, many nursery workers pick up hundreds of heavy containers per day. Proper lifting technique can save employees from injury.

There are also plenty of weather-related risks. Workers should beware heat stroke and sunburn in the summer and aim to stay warm and dry in the winter. For workers who spend long summer days in the field, Molitor says light-colored long-sleeve shirts are great if possible, but wearing a hat, using sunscreen and drinking plenty of water are crucial. One of Home Nursery’s training sessions focused on recognizing heat stroke in your coworkers.

With tractors, forklifts, tree spades, backhoes and loaders, there is no shortage of heavy construction equipment at the nursery. Home Nursery uses the Hortica-provided DVDs in safety meetings to cover proper guidelines for tractor and forklift operations, along with other recommended safety procedures.

Molitor suggests making sure you have trained drivers operating this equipment to eliminate situations like a machine parked on an incline, raising a bucket too high and tipping over. Tree spades present dangerous risks to those who aren’t operating the machine, as well. All employees who will be working near this equipment need to know the proper distance they must stay from the spade while it’s running.

Hats, long sleeves and plenty of water prevent heat stress.

Safety procedures don’t end with operation. Vehicle traffic poses its own set of potential problems. Tractors and wagons pulling orders between poly houses have less-than-ideal visibility when turning on to the main road within the nursery. Home Nursery chose a 15 mph speed limit for all roads within the nursery, and posted signs throughout to remind employees to drive slowly enough to stop if necessary. The nursery also placed stop signs on the inside and outside of the drive-through building that houses its potting operation.

“It is kind of dark in the building and bright outside,” Molitor says. “When you come into the building you can’t see really well until your eyes adjust. So we put stop signs up and we make the guys stop before they drive into the building and before they drive out, so if somebody is walking by the big garage door, they don’t hit them.”

Molitor believes the speed limit and stop signs reduce the potential for accidents.