Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Are Your Workers Safe?

What will kill you? That’s the focus of TIME magazine’s Dec. 4 cover story.

The author says that in a world where bird flu and mad cow disease dominate the headlines with scary hyperbole, it’s no wonder we’re not really fearful of the things that probably will kill us, like fast food, tobacco use and our daily commute.

That’s because our everyday risks are tolerated more due to repetition; repetition quells the fear. So it’s easy to take our safety for granted during everyday tasks.

Superintendents and their crews encounter a slew of everyday job hazards that appear less threatening with each recurrence, but they’re not. Ear protection and respirators are Occupational Safety and Health Administration requirements for many tasks, but you probably don’t need to look very far around the property to see someone taking a shortcut.

When I did tree work, our safety gear was akin to combat: hardhat, leather gloves, long sleeves, eye protection, ear protection and chainsaw chaps (they make vests, too). We would smirk at them — especially the chaps — like we were less of men by wearing them.

But it didn’t seem so silly the day a pair of chaps saved my knee from a running chainsaw. It was an awkward cut on a branch that evidently supported a couple tons of felled timber. About midway into an angled cut, the tree rolled, the saw kicked, and I grazed my leg in an attempt to save my feet from certain crushing. The chaps’ fabric filled the saw and shut it down. I was left with damaged safety gear, but not even a nick on my knee.

Nothing is predictable when working outside. Then there is the human element. A higher percentage of accidents occur after lunch, according to OSHA. That’s precisely the time when we look to make out jobs just a little bit easier. Your workers aren’t trying to hurt themselves, but each shortcut increases myriad risks for injury.

How do you emphasize the importance of safety practices and protocols?

— David Frabotta, Senior Editor

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Burned Out or Moment of Clarity?

Few frustrations get the goat of superintendents more than fickle boards that tighten budgets without telling members to expect some changes.

You’re not alone. Many superintendents voice concerns about the pressures of meeting expectations with less money each year.

“It’s a love/hate thing. I love the job and love the property and all that, but to go through all the struggles again (with the board) and have them never really figure it out is like beating my head against the wall,” says Dan Williams, who resigned as superintendent of Riverview Country Club this month.

After 27 years, Williams says he’ll miss the profession, but he’s emotionally exhausted from trying to educate 27 different boards about what it takes to maintain a golf course. As negotiations begin this year, he’s bowing out.

“There are too many cuts, and I’m tired of taking the brunt of it,” he says, “And it’s never good enough. You strive to make it the best it can be, but I don’t think people understand that.”

Career changes require gumption, confidence, passion and drive. Once the thrill is gone, it’s difficult to be successful. I admire anyone with the self-awareness and courage to sail into uncharted territory to rediscover professional passion.

In Williams’ case, he’s sailing without a map. He doesn’t have a job lined up, and he’s not really sure what profession he wants to try next, although he says sales has piqued his interest.

But he does know one thing: “I’m looking forward to sleeping in on Saturdays.”

I’m sure Williams would appreciate any job leads you might have heard about in the industry. But please, wait until a decent hour to give him a ring.

How do you rekindle the passion for your work?

— David Frabotta, Senior Editor

Friday, November 03, 2006

Labor Crunch Could Get Tighter

If good help has been hard to find during the past few years, it doesn’t look like it will be any easier in 2007. The federal unemployment rate fell to 4.4 percent in October, its lowest level since May 2001.

Curiously, the five-year low coincides with the fewest jobs created in a month — October saw 92,000 new non-farm payroll employees — although more than 375,000 jobs were added in August and September combined, according to revised numbers from the U.S. Department of Labor. Service-providing industries propelled the growth, while employment declined in manufacturing and construction.

Employment for most major demographics showed little change, but jobless rates for adult women and Hispanics fell in October.

Wages appear to be edging higher than expected amid heightened competition for workers. The average hourly wage is $16.91, up 3.9 percent so far this year.

The low unemployment rate, creation of new jobs and salary hikes have many economists shrugging off fears of a recession as confident consumers near the holiday shopping season. Although national gross domestic product (value of goods and services) slowed to its lowest level in three years in the third quarter, many economists have attributed the trend to cooling housing markets.

With an economy expected by many to be firing on all cylinders by the end of the year and into 2007, labor will continue to be hard to come by.

So, what will you be doing differently this year to recruit/retain valuable employees?

— David Frabotta, Senior Editor