Q: I enjoyed your article on future sports field employees. Oh, to be young again! Reading it got me to wondering if university turfgrass programs provide training or instruction on proper mechanics (for lifting), proper diet, proper safety, and the importance of taking time off work to recharge? Some of my work habits contributed to my back, hip, and knee problems. In addition, I have watched too many great turf managers with great jobs getting out of the turf management side of the industry due to burnout.
– Mike Schiller, an old, proud past STMA president[Authors Note: I always enjoy getting questions, especially from friends in the industry that I have not heard from in a while. Mike was STMA’s tenth president, and brought great wit and wisdom to his workplace and to countless annual STMA meetings up to his retirement. I was not surprised that, even in retirement, he is thinking about ways to benefit future sports field managers.]
A: This is really a great question for not only university instructors, but also for everyone who works in this industry. I believe we must all do our part to improve workplace safety, and that includes taking care of our physical and mental health.
The first approach I would suggest is to address the workplace environment. For this, I believe it is best to seek professional assistance. Start by looking within your organization for an occupational health and safety expert. These professionals are trained to identify and prevent safety hazards related to work and the work environment. They often provide programs to promote health and safety within organizations by developing safer, healthier, and more efficient ways of working.
An alternative is to look for university-sponsored programs. Some universities include occupational safety as part of their extension training, similar to how they provide extension training in turfgrass management. With just a few minutes of searching, I found a large list of health and safety webinars available online. Many of these are free due to sponsorships by industries that provide health and safety products or by safety awareness groups. It also never hurts to ask around within your network for what others have done related to workplace safety training.
We have heard numerous times how we can increase our personal health and safety while working. We know the definition and examples of personal protective equipment (PPE). Worksites require PPE for spraying pesticides or operating equipment, but what about other uses? For this it is often helpful to get regular reminders to increase our awareness. A great example of this was the excellent article written by Chris Ball (May 2022 SportsField Management) titled “Why Skin Cancer Prevention Should be Part of Your Crew’s Daily Safety Routine.” It provided me a great reminder to grab a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, sunscreen, and perhaps a long-sleeve shirt when I head outside. We often do not realize the damage we cause ourselves until it is too late.
Mike’s question specifically asked us if we teach health and safety to our students. In truth, we probably do a poor job at addressing this topic. In one of my classes, there is a single 50-minute lecture devoted to safety. Additionally, it is often mentioned again during lectures related to chemical use. That may be the only formal information provided, as I am not sure what others teach on the subject.
On the positive side, we bring in guest speakers each year to talk to the students, and several of them during the last few years have addressed the issue of work-life balance. I am hopeful our students get good examples during internships and early in their careers. Now Mike has provided you and me that added incentive to do better.
Grady Miller, Ph.D.
Professor and Extension Turf Specialist
North Carolina State University
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