A couple weeks back we posted an introduction to our newest team member- our Phantom 4 drone. And I have to admit, since the Phantom arrived it’s been serious drone fever around here. Drones are not only fun and cool, but that little gizmo is also proving to be one of the most useful gadgets ever invented, from a landscape company’s perspective.
But, there’s another side to drone ownership.
As a landscape company, we have to satisfy lots of different regulatory agencies. There is a long list of things a landscape services company must do to stay legal and compliant. Many people aren’t aware of what goes into landscape industry compliance. This is unfortunate, because not every landscape company does all these things consistently—and when they don’t, it can put their clients at risk.
Keeping Our Landscape Drone Legal and Safe
Let’s take our Phantom, for example. Buckle up and I’ll take you on a brief tour of all the things we’re having to do to make sure we’re operating this thing in a way that is legal and safe:
- If a drone is to be used for any recreational or commercial purpose, it has to be registered as a UAS (unmanned aircraft system) with the FAA.
- Anyone who flies a drone commercially must have a remote pilot certification. This is more complex than it sounds. Remote pilot applicants must undergo Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) security screening, just like any pilot. And, they must pass an aeronautical knowledge test at an FAA approved testing center. This comprehensive exam covers not just drone-specific topics, but many things manned aircraft pilots need to know such as weather and airspace and a whole slew of aeronautical rules. Certifications are good for two years; after that time certificate holders must pass a recurrent knowledge test to remain certified.
- Speaking of rules, if we’re going to use drones for business in any way we have to comply with all rules, regulations, and guidance set forth in FAA Part 107. This is a rather lengthy document. It’s part of the Code of Federal Regulations and it’s a long piece. Basically what it means is that we have to know and comply with a ton of rules. For instance, the aircraft has to weigh less than 55 lbs including any payload; it has to fly in what’s known as Class G airspace (so you have to know what that is); you can’t fly above 400 feet, in the dark, over 100 mph, directly over people...you get the picture.
There are lots of little things, too. For instance, you have to perform and document a pre-flight check every time you launch a drone. And privacy is a major issue. People have a right to privacy, and there are plenty of comical and not-so-comical stories out there about someone shooting down someone else’s drone. In our case, we only use our drone for low-altitude flight on properties we manage or are actively working on, and primarily for mapping and analysis—but there are plenty of people out there who are not using them that way. Regulations can only dictate so much: it’s matter of being civil and considerate as well.
(By the way, if you have or are considering getting a drone, I highly recommend checking out KnowBeforeYouFly.org. As we all know, government sites can be, shall we say, a bit tricky to figure out. This site has been a godsend in helping us figure out exactly what we should and shouldn’t do with our drone to get and stay FAA compliant.)
If you’re thinking to yourself “this is a lot to remember for just one piece of equipment,” you are right. But it’s just the tip of the iceberg in terms of landscape industry compliance.
A Laundry List of Landscape Compliance
Here’s a short list of rules and regulations we make a point of following to a “T” here at T. Lake:
Safety: We’re big on safety anyway, but our larger customers require that we maintain several safety certifications. We maintain at a minimum OSHA 10 and beyond. We are also certified in a number of other third party vendor systems, so we understand safety not just in general but for specific job sites. Most of these certifications must be renewed annually.
Employee Screening: In the State of Georgia, all businesses are required to use E-Verify, which is an internet-based Department of Homeland Security system that confirms that all new hires are legally eligible to work in the U.S.
At T. Lake, we not only E-Verify, we also use a company called PreCheck to background check every employee. It is a criminal background check that covers activity in both the civilian and military sphere. We do this because we think it’s important to know who’s on our team and will be on your site—just another way we insure the safety of our clients.
Training: 52 weeks of the year, every Tuesday morning, if you drop by either T. Lake location you will witness a minimum 30 minute training session. In addition, at least once a quarter we hold all-day training sessions that go into various topics—tools, safety, irrigation, lighting, customer service, etc. – in depth and we often bring in industry experts and vendors. Do we have to do this? No. In fact, this morning one of our guys mentioned that people he speaks with at other landscape companies are flabbergasted at the amount of training we offer. But one of T. Lake’s core values is personal growth, and we also have a high regard for safety and quality, so to us it’s a fair deal.
Industry certifications. Programs like ICPI paver installer certification and NALP landscape industry certifications certify that our folks have both knowledge and experience to do the job and teach to others which ensures competence and professionalism for our clients.
Insurance: Worker’s compensation insurance is required by law if you have three or more employees. It helps pay medical bills for employees who may be injured on the job. We’ve always had it, and it is very important for our clients because if a worker gets injured on your property and their employer does not have this insurance you are then liable for their injury. Personal injury attorneys know this and will come after you. (By the way, not only do we always carry full worker’s compensation insurance, we also have one of the best EMR ratings (used by insurance companies to gauge risk based on past incidence of injury) in our industry, because we stress and train safety.
Worker’s compensation is just one of a whole laundry list of insurance types that apply to the landscape industry. Some are mandated by law, some are optional. In addition to standard vehicle and property insurance, these include things like liability insurance, to cover our clients in the event that we damage their property while on the job, pollution coverage, and all kinds of other special insurances you wouldn’t necessarily think about, to cover the strange things that usually don’t’ happen but sometimes do. We believe in better safe than sorry, which is why we invest in limits of insurance well beyond what is normally required, to protect both us and our customers.
Landscape architecture license: To become a landscape architect, you have to go through an accredited college, and it’s usually a 5 year degree. Then after apprenticing for two years, you have to sit an exam with a passing rate of only 13%. Most people have to take it three times to pass all the sections. Then you apply, and have to have impeccable character to be licensed. And once you’ve gone through all that, you have to earn 12 hours of CE credits every two years to maintain your license.
Pesticide Applicator Licenses: The US Department of Agriculture requires any individual who will be spraying landscape or agricultural chemicals to take a test and prove themselves competent to understand safe handing, disposal, storage, and cleanup of pesticides, for the protection of the environment, water supplies, health of employees, your children, your pets, etc.
Pesticide Contractor Licensing: In addition to individual applicator licenses, the company itself must be licensed in order to legally provide pesticide services. In many cases, small operators may have an applicator’s license, but don’t’ realize they also have to have a contractor’s license—along with specific chemical insurance coverage. Next time you need your property treated, ask your contractor to provide you with copies of both applicator and contractor licenses. If they can’t, you’re the person at risk and legally exposed should anything untoward happen.
DOT Registration: According to the federal motor carrier act, any commercial vehicle bigger than a passenger vehicle must be registered with the Department of Transportation. All T. Lake trucks have a DOT registration number on both sides.
That means 1) we pay a fee, and 2) besides having to be certified and signed off every year in DOT inspections, our trucks are inspected all along the highways and byways just like tractor trailers. The enforcement guys pull us over to make sure that we have fire extinguishers on board, are not hauling regulated or hazardous chemicals, that the chemicals we do carry are appropriately handled and in the right quantities, that we have the right spill response to materials, that we have good tires and brakes, and so forth – in a nutshell to see that we’re operating safely and correctly without being a hazard to ourselves and others.
Does Your Service Provider Keep Up With Landscape Industry Compliance?
In the words of Dennis the Menace on Christmas morning, “Is that all?” The answer is, no, this is not all we have to stay on top of in terms of landscape industry compliance—but it’s enough to paint you a pretty good picture of what it takes to stay legal and operate properly in this industry.
So next time you pick up the phone to call your landscape service provider (or especially next time you’re sitting at your desk reviewing a lowball bid), ask: Does your provider have all this?
If their trucks don’t have logos, clearly marked DOT numbers on the sides, then they’re breaking the law. Ditto if they’re not using the proper government channels to be sure people working on your property are known and legal. Or if they’re spraying without a proper license. And so on.
Do these things take time and money? Heck, yeah.
Is it worth it?
That’s your call. If you value quality, and the safety of your property, employees, pets, and kids—not to mention doing things above board and legal—then we think you’ll agree it is.
To speak with us about safe, compliant residential or commercial landscape services, give us a call at 478-272-3878 Dublin, 478-750-7733 Macon, or contact us here today.