A total of 1,142 grounds maintenance workers (GMWs) were fatally injured at work during 2003--2008, an average of 190 each year, according to figures just released by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

GMWs accounted for 3.4% of all occupational fatalities, and 31% of those GMWs were Hispanic or Latino. Approximately 83% of the Hispanic or Latino GMWs who died were born outside the United States.

During 2003--2007, an average of 13.3 per 100,000 employed GMWs died each year, compared with an overall rate of 4.0 fatalities per 100,000 U.S. workers. The rate of on-the-job fatal injuries among GMWs has remained elevated relative to other workers for >20 years (2,3).

NIOSH researchers evaluated data from the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) program.

Transportation accidents accounted for the largest percentage of fatalities (31%), followed by contact with objects and equipment (25%), falls (23%) and exposures to harmful substances or environments, such as electrocution or drowning (16%).

NIOSH recommends that employers, trade and worker associations and policy makers focus on effective, targeted workplace safety interventions -- such as frequent hazard identification and training for specific hazards – to reduce the fatality rate among GMWs. Additionally, the diversity of the workers requires culture- and language-appropriate training techniques.

Most of the fatalities tallied in the study occurred among workers employed in the private-sector landscaping services industry. Golf courses and country club fatalities came next, followed by government entities – usually local governments.

During the period studied, 15% of the deaths were from being struck by a falling tree or limb; 13% were due to falls that were almost all related to tree-care tasks. Highway transportation incidents while on the job accounted for 11% of the fatalities and nonhighway vehicle overturns (i.e., riding lawnmosers or tractors) were responsible for 9%. Contact with overhead power lines caused 8% of the deaths, of which 2% resulted from a cutting hand tool contacting a power line. In addition 3% of the workers drowned.

The vast majority (99%) the fatally injured 1,142 GMWs were males and 27% were self-employed, compared with 20% of all fatally injured U.S. workers during the same period. Fatally injured GMWs tended to be younger than all fatally injured U.S. workers.

The report was compiled by Stephen Pegula, MS, Bur of Labor Statistics, US Dept of Labor. David F. Utterback, PhD, Div of Surveillance, Hazard Evaluations, and Field Studies, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, CDC. Corresponding contributor: David F. Utterback, CDC. “GMWs typically are employed as intermittent labor at private residences, recreational facilities, public buildings, parks and cemeteries, and other locations, according to the report. GMWs frequently operate on- and off-road vehicles, and often use heavy equipment and various types of machinery and power tools, often at night and along busy streets and highways. Due to weather-related hazards, GMWs are likely to encounter wet ground surfaces, especially early in the day, which can reduce traction. Heat stress is a common hazard during summer in many regions.

NIOSH said injury prevention strategies should focus on specific hazards and key worker groups and should be language and literacy-level appropriate. “Some GMWs specialize in specific tasks (e.g., tree care), so they encounter a more limited, although severe, set of hazards. However, nearly all GMWs are on crews that might engage in a large variety of tasks over the course of a day and week. Worksite hazard identification should be completed by knowledgeable persons at the beginning of each day and before work begins at other sites throughout the day.

“The frequently changing and mobile nature of groundskeeping work makes it difficult to train crews effectively. GMW employers and supervisors should use tailgate or toolbox safety training techniques and repeat and reinforce safety topics regularly. Topics should be specific to the work tasks, location, and season.”