Fatal Injuries Among Grounds Maintenance Workers - United States, 2003-2008

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Publication: MMWR. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report
Author: Pegula, Stephen
Date published: May 6, 2011

A total of 1,142 grounds maintenance workers (GMWs) were fatally injured at work during 2003-2008, an average of 190 each year. 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. In 2008, approximately 1.52 million persons were employed as GMWs, constituting 1 .0% of the U.S. workforce (1). During 2003-2007, an average of 1 3.3 per 1 00,000 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). This report characterizes events leading to GMW fatalities and differences in fatality characteristics across demographic groups among GMWs, based on an evaluation of 2003-2008 data from the U.S. Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) program. The report also identifies workplace interventions that might reduce the incidence of fatal injuries. Major events leading to GMW occupational fatalities included transportation incidents (31%), contact with objects and equipment (25%), falls (23%), and traumatic acute exposures to harmful substances or environments (e.g., electrocution and drowning) (16%). To reduce the incidence of such fatalities, employers, trade and worker associations, and policy makers should focus on effective, targeted workplace safety interventions such as frequent hazard identification and training for specific hazards. Diversity among the populations of workers requires use of culture- and language-appropriate training techniques as part of comprehensive injury and illness prevention programs.

Annual data for 2003-2008 on occupational fatalities resulting from traumatic injuries were obtained from CFOI, a national surveillance system for work-related traumatic injury deaths maintained by BLS. Occupations in CFOI were classified using the 2000 Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) system. Cases were defined as all fatalities among persons classified as either GMWs (SOC 37-301) or first-line supervisors/managers of landscaping, lawn service, and groundskeeping workers (SOC 37-1012).* Case characteristics, such as events, were coded by CFOI using the Occupational Injury and Illness Classification System. Industries were classified by CFOI using the 2002 North American Industry Classification System (NAICS). The CFOI program uses multiple source documents, an average of almost four unique documents per case, to identify and describe all fatal occupational injuries in the United States. Common source documents include death certificates, media reports, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reports, coroner/medical examiner reports, and workers' compensation reports. For a fatality to be included in CFOI, the decedent must have been employed at the time of the event, engaged in a legal work activity, and present at the site of the incident as a job requirement. Fatalities that occur during a person's normal commute to or from work are excluded from CFOI counts (4).

An average of 13-3 per 100,000 employed GMWs died each year as a result of injuries on the job, compared with an overall rate of 4.0 fatalities per 100,000 U.S. workers during 2003-2007f; a total of 1,142 GMWs died during 2003-2008 (Table 1). Among those, 901 (79%) were employed in the private-sector landscaping services industry (NAICS 56173). Another 43 fatalities were incurred by GMWs employed by private-sector golf courses and country clubs (NAICS 71391). Among the 70 GMWs fatally injured while working for a government entity, most (54) were working for a local government.

In 172 instances (15% of deaths) during this period, GMWs were struck by a falling tree or limb and died. Another 145 GMWs (13%) were killed after falling from or falling because of a tree (e.g., knocked off a ladder by a falling branch), almost all of whom were involved in tree-care tasks. Highway transportation incidents while on the job accounted for 122 fatalities (11%). Nonhighway vehicle overturns were responsible for 102 (9%) deaths during the 6 years. The majority of these involved riding lawnmowers or tractors. Contact with overhead power lines caused 97 (8%) fatalities, of which 27 (2%) resulted from a cutting hand tool contacting a power line. In addition, 34 (3%) workers drowned. Distributions of these events varied across the GMW occupations (Table 2).

Approximately 99% of the fatally injured 1,142 GMWs were males. Approximately 27% of the fatally injured GMWs 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; 44 (4%) were aged <20 years, and 174 (15%) of GMWs were aged <25 years when they died. For the entire United States, workers aged <25 years accounted for fewer than 10% of fatal work-related traumatic injuries.

Hispanic or Latino workers constituted approximately 36% of GMWs (1) and approximately 31% of fatally injured GMWs. The average age at death for all Hispanic and Latino GMW fatalities was 35.6 years, compared with age 45.0 years for GMW fatalities among persons of other races/ethnicities. In nearly five of every six fatalities involving a Hispanic or Latino worker, the worker was born in a country other than the United States, particularly Mexico (218), Guatemala (3 3), and El Salvador (19). Although foreign-born Hispanic or Latino workers accounted for 26% of fatalities among GMWs, they accounted for 22 of the 34 (65%) work-related drownings in this occupational group.

Approximately half (568 deaths) of the GMW fatalities occurred in seven states: California (137), Florida (136), Texas (91), Virginia (56), North Carolina (52), Georgia (49), and Ohio (47) (Figure). A total of 463 (41%) of the GMW fatalities occurred at private residences.

Editorial Note

GMWs typically are employed as intermittent labor at private residences, recreational facilities, public buildings, parks and cemeteries, and other locations. Most GMWs work yearround and many change work locations throughout the day. GMWs complete tasks such as lawn care, landscape installation and maintenance, and tree care and removal. In the course of this work, GMWs frequently operate on- and off-road vehicles, and often use heavy equipment and various types of machinery and power tools. GMWs frequently work at heights and along busy streets and highways (5). Weather-related hazards can change throughout the day and across the seasons. As a result, GMWs are likely to encounter wet ground surfaces, especially early in the day, which can reduce traction, and heat stress is a common hazard during summer in many regions.

Wide-ranging injury prevention strategies that emphasize intervention for specific hazards and tasks (Table 2), focus on key worker groups, and are language and literacy-level appropriate are needed to reduce fatalities among GMWs. CDC's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and its partners previously have recommended specific types of training and comprehensive safety and health programs for grounds maintenance operations (6,7). These programs should provide formal training to workers to ensure proper use of personal protective equipment (e.g., fall protection gear and seat belts). 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. Training might include tree care, trimming, and removal, and safe operation and maintenance of all vehicles in use, such as riding lawnmowers, tractors, trucks, and other highway vehicles. All hazards (e.g., overhead power lines, tree work, bodies of water, unstable and slippery ground surfaces, steep grades, trenches, and roadway traffic) must be identified at all worksites and appropriate safety training provided.

The findings in this report are subject to at least three limitations. First, workers with other occupational titles might have died while performing similar operations and tasks , such as roadside maintenance. Second, inclusion of cases is dependent on identification of work-relatedness. Such determinations can be difficult for certain types of incidents, such as those on private property. Finally, the Current Population Survey (1) is a monthly household survey that might underreport employment for some workers, such as those without telephone access or permanent addresses or those who are undocumented. Underestimates of the workforce would result in overestimation of the fatality rates in this report.

Small businesses, which are common employers of GMWs (2), often do not have the resources to employ occupational safety professionals, and their owners and supervisors might lack the knowledge, skills, and resources to identify safety hazards and to develop safe work practices. NIOSH and OSHA have developed guides for small businesses that identify government and other sources of information (8,9). Trade associations also are useful sources of health and safety information that is specific to the landscape services industry (6).

* GMWs are further defined as persons working in die following occupations, based on the 2000 SOC system: first-line supervisors /managers of landscaping, kwn service, and grounds keep ing workers (SOC 37-1012); landscaping and grounds keep ing workers (SOC 37-3011); pesticide handlers, sprayers, and applicators, vegetation (SOC 37-3012); tree trimmers and pruners (SOC 37-3013); and grounds maintenance workers, all other (SOC 37-3019).

[dagger] Fatal injury rates were calculated for 2003-2007, rather than 2003-2008, because CFOI changed its mediod for calculating fatal injury rates in 2008. These fatal injury rates are employment-based. Fatal injury rates currently published by CFOI are hours-based. Additional information is available at http://www.bls.gov/iif/oshnoticelO.htm.

Additional information on fatalities in tree-care operations is available at http:// www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm5815a2.htm.

During 2003-2008, job-related exposure to environmental heat caused the deaths of 12 GMWs, including eight who were Hispanic or Latino.

** Brief, on-site training modules that remind workers about specific hazards and proper use of equipment.


1. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Current Population Survey. Washington, DC: US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics; 2008. Available at ftp://ftp.bls.gov/pub/special.requests/lf/aa2008/pdf/cpsaatll.pdf. Accessed April 26, 2011.

2. Poulin Buckley J, Sestito J, Hunting KL. Fatalities in the landscape and horticultural services industry, 1992-2001. Am J Ind Med 2008; 51:701-13.

3. Wiatrowski WJ. Fatalities in the ornamental shrub and tree services industry. Washington, DC: US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics; 2005. Available at http://www.bls.gov/opub/cwc/ sh20050719ar01pl.htm. Accessed May 2, 2011.

4. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Occupational safety and health statistics. In: Bureau of Labor Statistics handbook of methods. Washington, DC: US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics; 2010. Available at http:// www. bls.gov/opub /ho m /ho mch9_a.htm. Accessed April 28, 201 1.

5. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Grounds maintenance workers. In: Occupational outlook handbook, 2010-11 edition. Washington, DC: US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics; 2010. Available at http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocosl72.htm. Accessed April 28, 2011.

6. CDC. Fatal injuries among landscape services workers. Cincinnati, OH: US Department Health and Human Services, CDC, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health; 2008. Available at http://www.cdc. gov/niosh/docs/2008-l44/pdfs/2008-l44.pdf. Accessed April 28, 2011.

7. CDC. Work-related fatalities associated with tree care operations - United States, 1992-2007. MMWR 2009;58:389-93.

8. CDC. Safety and health resource guide for small business. Cincinnati, OH: US Department of Health and Human Services, CDC, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health; 2003. Available at http://www.cdc. gov/niosh/docs/2003-lOO/default.html. Accessed April 28, 2011.

9. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Small business handbook. Washington, DC: US Department of Labor, Occupational Safety and Health Administration; 2005- Available at http://osha.gov/ Publications/smallbusiness/small-business.pdf. Accessed April 28, 2011.

Author affiliation:

Reported by

Stephen Pegula, MS, Bur of Lahor 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, 513-841-4492, dutterback@cdc.gov.

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