"Essential" Business: Natural Grass Field Maintenance & COVID-19 Crisis


The COVID-19 crisis continues to escalate across the USA and across the world. State Orders include closure of "Non-Essential" or "Life-Sustaining" businesses to "Shelter In Place" or just "Stay At Home". If your City or State currently does not have such an order, it most likely will by the end of the week.

Because here is strong language and the threat of criminal punishment with each order - we at Natural Grass Advisory Group are getting a lot of questions about it. Stadiums, sports facilities, and even some parks have been ordered to CLOSE. But what does it mean for the natural grass field maintenance operation with that stadium or facility? CAN you still work? SHOULD you still work?

FEDERAL & STATE ORDERS REVIEW

Most of these State Orders work off a base of information from the GUIDANCE ON THE ESSENTIAL CRITICAL INFRASTRUCTURE WORKFORCE from the United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS). In these guidelines, there is no specific line item for anything that specifically includes the "Green Industry" (lawn care, landscaping, golf course maintenance, sports field maintenance). In multiple sections DHS makes it clear that facility and infrastructure maintenance is essential - For Government Facilities (Schools, Parks, etc) and for Commercial Facilities. See graphic above. Sports facilities have to be CLOSED to the public - but seems that all "critical" or required maintenance can continue.

Several States have offered clarification or specifically addressed Grounds or Facility Maintenance. Maryland Office of Legal Council issued an Interpretive Guidance with their Essential Business Only order detailing businesses deemed "essential" that includes - "Building and property maintenance companies, including without limitation plumbers, electricians, HVAC service companies, roofers, environmental services companies, exterminators, arborists, and landscapers." New York today issued a clarification for the entire "horticulture" industry that includes - "The placement and ground maintenance of sod, landscaping plants, flowers, ornamentals, and trees on residential and commercial grounds".

Pennsylvania has one of the most clear resources to clarify "Essential" in which "landscaping" is included with Professional Business Services - Services to Buildings and Dwellings.

In each State that we have reviewed, no State addresses natural grass maintenance specifically (for fields or golf courses). But all the guidelines reinforce the importance of "Infrastructure Maintenance" - which, from the legal experts we have spoken too, would allow natural grass field maintenance to continue (we have not reviewed ALL State Orders, so there could be something different out there). In fact, outside of PA, most every State is still allowing all commercial and residential construction to continue - which could / would include natural grass field construction and / or renovation work to continue along with maintenance.

(** This is not to be treated as "legal guidance". Each facility should have an internal discussion to ensure you are working within all Federal, State, and Local Orders**)

"ESSENTIAL" BUSINESSES HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT ALL WORKERS

Just because the natural grass field maintenance industry is allowed to continue operating, that does NOT mean that things should be "business as usual". There is NO BUSINESS AS USUAL during this National Emergency. All "essential" business have the responsibility to follow ALL guidelines from the United States Centers For Disease Control (CDC) Interim Guidance for Businesses and Employers to Plan and Respond to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19). Also "essential" businesses must meet regular and new COVID-19 workplace standards from the United States Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

Even with keeping to these government guidelines, there are additional protections and measures that are required for the unique working environment of natural grass field maintenance. And we are all required, by law, to ensure that ALL workers are safe / protected from COVID-19 that might be brought into the workplace by a co-worker. These extra protections WILL slow progress on many tasks. These extra protections WILL NOT allow some tasks to be completed at all. But these extra protections are REQUIRED BY LAW. THIS IS NOT BUSINESS AS USUAL. Professional Grounds Management Society (PGMS®) has created one of the best "Covid-19 Resource Documents" that we have found to address protections more specific to the "Green Industry". Here are some details, with some additional ideas as well:

Key Considerations 1. Essential nature of PGMS® members work a. Grounds departments are considered essential for most institutions 2. School/daycare closures a. Public school closures and impacts that has on staffing 3. Equipment a. Shared equipment and contamination 4. Work environment a. Feasibility of “social distancing” and the “non-remote” nature of the work 5. Covid-19 Virus a. Incubation period is long, meaning people are contagious before they begin to exhibit symptoms. If one member of the team gets sick, what’s the likelihood of the rest of the team getting sick?

**6. Seasonal demand of "essential maintenance practices"

a. Spring (now) is a very demanding time with aeration, fertilization, seeding (in cool-season areas), and starting Rye-to-Bermudagrass transition (in warm-season areas). Recommendations 1. Awareness that emergencies evoke anxiety and the importance of exhibiting concern and care for your staff’s well-being is paramount.

*** BE A POSITIVE LEADER - The amount of anxiety that each staff member is experiencing is different. But that "is what it is". So it is essential that every staff has positive support and a manager that is willing to be flexible on scheduling due to sickness or lack of child care. 2. Hold a staff meeting to proactively address the scope of work, discuss important personal safety precautions (hand washing, not touching your face, using sanitizer on equipment, vehicles (door handles, steering wheel, etc.), and coughing into a tissue or your elbow. a. Discuss workload & social distancing (6’ away from others), avoiding handshakes / hugs.

* Talk about it, Talk about it, and Talk about it more - EVERY SINGLE DAY. Everyone on the staff must buy in, or every person on the team could potentially suffer b. Can staff have alternating schedules to maintain social distancing? This may also help for staff members who are affected by school closures.

* Having an alternating schedule is a brilliant idea. You can stagger Start Time each more to reduce the # of staff members clocking in / taking break / eating lunch / clocking out at the same time. You can go to shifts, having some people work mornings and some people work afternoon / evenings. Or you can go to scheduling staff members for different days. Any / all ideas should considered to increase social distancing and decreasing potential exposures. This also can reduce the impact if a staff member does contract COVID-19. The staffers that are around the infected person will have to quarantine for 14 days incase they were exposed. Essential Maintenance will still need to continue - but that can not happen if everyone on the staff is quarantined.

c. Can formal staff meetings be moved to a virtual setting or tele-conference? 3. Stakeholder care a. Post signage about your work site about the proactive steps you are taking to help keep people safe and provide alternative ways for people to access grounds services. 4. Planning for “skeleton” staffing a. If this situation continues to worsen and you are forced to limit operations to “essential personnel and mission critical items,” what positions within your area(s) would fall into these categories? 5. Planning for return to normal staffing levels a. When staffing levels are able to return to pre-Covid-19 levels, full staff meeting to build morale and support staff who may have been sick. For employees who do test positive for Covid-19, please work with your institution to determine appropriate quarantine measures.

Thank You to PGMS for working on and sharing these insights! Use them as base to work up from after you study the CDC and OSHA guidelines.

"ESSENTIAL" / "MISSION CRITICAL ITEMS"

#4 of the PGMS recommendations is a key item in preparation for the COVID-19 crisis to continue or worsen. Not just because the Government may force even more of a scale down, but also because of potential budget cuts. We are getting MANY inquires from Facility Managers and Sports Field Managers to provide guidance on / to define what "minimum" natural grass field maintenance would look like if / when budget cuts begin. Many facilities are going to be able to get Governmental assistance on lost revenue due to this crisis. But budget cuts are still likely inevitable, so it is time to start preparing. - JM

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