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Survey 99


Lack of use of Protective Gear

Participants sometimes were unclear about the use of safety gear. They did not take into consideration the quality of available eye, ear and breathing protection. Protective gear was not explained so as not to influence answers. However, if the question, "Do scarves count?" was asked, participants were told "no". In an effort to be non-influential and to not bias answers, the Survey erred by being nonspecific in this area.

It is clear that blower operators and other members of the work crew are not using necessary protective health gear. Some blower manufacturers do recommend such gear in their operation manuals, in both English and Spanish. However, we believe that many of the actual operators never see these recommendations.

We were not surprised by lack of safety gear worn by other work crew members.

Personal observations recorded soon after, followed by speaking with workers, themselves, to clarify what kind of eye, ear or face gear they are wearing would result in more accurate information.

Though claims are often made that there are no alternatives to blowers, this has been shown to be untrue. We have seen that blowers are primarily used by hired landscape workers. Perhaps it is because there are no alternatives which workers like as well as blowers. Most people who volunteered the information that they do their own gardening chores said they use methods other than blowers, we assume with success.

See Appendix for Alternatives to blowers.



It is clear that both employers and hired workers need to find a common ground in order to discuss landscape design, maintenance practices and pay rates as easily and reasonably as is the case with other business decisions. It appears that residential landscape workers are often paid the same rate many years without employers offering pay raises or adjusting workload by landscape changes or more frequent tree trimming. It also appears workers often assume their employers have a much higher standard for outdoor cleanliness than may actually be true, or necessary.

With one exception, employers did not offer pay raises. Generally, they were not asked for pay raises. Yet, three-fourths of employers said they would be willing to discuss pay adjustments–not assumed to be pay raises, but perhaps

adjustments in the workload. That should encourage gardeners and landscape workers to have discussions, with no need to make demands on employers, knowing they might reach an agreement on workload and pay.

Perhaps this will encourage workers to time the difference on each property when using blowers, and again with alternative methods such as vacuum, mulching mower or rake and broom, and discuss any difference in work time. This would be a good time to bring up the subject of regular pay raises, based on the cost of living or some other formula.

There were no surprises regarding the frequency of regular landscape maintenance - once a week; and the total amount of time appears to be about 45 minutes; and the use of blowers, where used, is from 5 to 30 minutes.

Nor were we surprised by the size of the work crew. The usual work crew of one or two workers (frequently the owner of a small business alone or with an assistant), has been supplanted in recent years in many localities/neighborhoods by a work crew of two to four, especially as large landscape companies are managing several crews.

Though the question of economics is not directly a health or environmental issue, concerns regarding the possibility of methods other than blowers taking more time do directly impact the worker's health if income is lowered and/or the workday is extended.

We believe that, where this might be the case, the additional time would be small on a daily basis, but add up over a month. Conversely, if blowers continue to be used because of the fear of economic problems, the health and environment of every resident and most workers are at risk. The health of landscape workers has an economic value. We believe worker health concerns greatly outweigh any possible timesaving from the use of blowers. Any economic differences can easily be ironed out between employer and worker - even if that means adjusting landscape design, accepting a less pristine final product, and/or decreasing the area assigned to be maintained by the worker instead of pay increases. Several chores or areas to be maintained might be alternated with others, each done bi-monthly, for example, instead of weekly.

It is only large blower manufacturers whose economics will be influenced, and only large blower manufacturers who can afford the wide scale publicity and public relations actions which have resulted in much press coverage and erroneous information. Their attempts to prohibit bans have taken an inordinate amount of taxpayer's monies, by demanding much time and energy from public officials. Attempts to prohibit bans have caused strife and distrust between groups that should be working together for the betterment of landscape workers and other California residents.

It is of great concern that many workers state they are afraid to speak to employers because they fear they will be fired. Perhaps employers, themselves, need to be encouraged to approach the workers on a yearly basis. Certainly, business education information and/or classes should be given to gardeners through their associations, or perhaps with a pamphlet put out by manufacturers or the Small Business Administration. These pamphlets should cover basic small business practices and how they relate to landscape maintenance businesses. The pamphlets should be offered free or low cost, and prominently displayed at blower retail distributors.

Opinions of Participants

In the past, it has been both stated and implied that grassroots organizations that promote blower bans were a select group, and that the majority of Hispanics would disagree with us. The experience of Survey taking was to the contrary. Hispanics also supported more restrictions and/or bans. California residents who agree come in a variety of ages, income levels and ethnic backgrounds.

The high incidence of participants who agreed or strongly agreed they would like more restrictions or more bans was surprising. But in light of the fact that more people are home when landscape maintenance is being done, it is understandable. While people in middle and working class neighborhoods have smaller lot sizes and may have two-income families, they may hire yard workers because they haven't the time to do the work themselves. We can assume that one family member might work in a "home-office" and/or outside of the traditional hours of 9am-5pm, and need to sleep or attempt to work at home during part of the day. If the lot sizes are small, they may be disturbed by blowers operated on many different surrounding properties, for up to 30 minutes each, perhaps on several different days of the week.

Just as nonsmokers in the 1950's put up with or made light of cigarette irritants, Participants were ambivalent about the extent to which they should respond to two questions. They would say, "Blowers in my neighborhood do not disturb me—just a little," then remember several things that had a negative impact on their quality of life. Or, "I don't change our routine because of blowers, except to close the windows."…One lower income Hispanic first said he did not want more restrictions, except, he "would like to not hear the noise so early" on the morning by blowers near his home. A young lifeguard who had concern for blower operators' livelihood also stated she had to alter her jogging route every day in an attempt to avoid blower noise and fumes.

It is hoped that Survey99, at a minimum, demonstrates the interest and concern about this issue among the general population.

ZAP recommends that further health studies specific to the use of blowers be performed so we can all be informed of the facts – and whether we should be more concerned, or less concerned about our health, as it is affected by blower use.

A minimum three-year moratorium on state legislation should be enacted to allow time for the completion of appropriate and necessary health studies on the impact from the use of gas-powered landscape equipment on the health of workers and residents alike.