Thoughts on Safety and Snow Removal

When we think of “safety” with regards to snow removal, there are some significant considerations that have to be taken into account.  The timing of the work that is required comes into play.  The vast majority of work done in winter snow removal operations is done at night.  This presents some challenges that don’t normally incur during landscape operations.  Additionally, a good portion of the work is done “behind the wheel”, and this too is different than most landscape/tree care/irrigation/excavation work.  

In landscape work, we involve vehicles to transport us from project to project.  In winter, vehicle operation is one of the primary tasks and not just a method of transportation.  Additionally, with the work being done mostly at night – attention to safe driving practices becomes even more important.  True, we work in driveways and parking lots which are (for the most part) vacant.  But fatigue can take its toll and become a larger factor during nighttime snow removal operations than it is during daytime landscaping operations.  This can be especially prevalent when the snow event goes on for days requiring “round the clock” working conditions.  Plow drivers need breaks too – sometimes only to get a bite to eat and a shower.  They can be revived for many hours with just a short, well timed break from the action. 

What can we do to ensure that employees are safe during plowing operations? Here’s a couple tips that will help.  If you know it is going to snow, encourage your people to take a nap, or to go to bed early.  That way they are well rested for the all night plowing that can come with wintertime snowfalls.  If they have been plowing 8 or 10 hours, allow them to take a break to eat.  Sometimes just taking the break can be more beneficial than sleep.  Encourage them to take snacks, food and pop/soda with them in the truck.  Never allow alcohol to be consumed during a snow event, even during a well deserved break from plowing.

Plow drivers tend to work in a shirtsleeve environment because of the need to have the heater going full blast in order to keep the engine from overheating.  However, they should have warm clothing with them in case they get stuck and have to dig themselves out of a snow bank.  They should be able to dress warmly even if just hooking up a tow strap so as to be pulled out of that snow bank.  If any type of repairs need done on the plow – warm clothing will be welcome when having to work outside the cab of the truck.

These people are the lifeblood of our business.  They need to be assured we care about them.  Even if they don’t like it – insist that proper safety measures are practiced.  It’s one of the most important things you can do to show you care.  

Snow plow operators/employees/service providers should be required to view the properties they will service during plowing operations before the season begins.  Finding curbs and manhole covers during a snowstorm can be dangerous to the operator as well as opening up the possibility of severely damaging the truck and/or plow.  And remember, ALL plow operators must wear a seatbelt while plowing.  If it is necessary to have a passenger in the plow truck – seatbelt use should be mandatory for these individuals too.

Sidewalk snow removal crews also require proper attire to work out in the elements.  While they will be warm while using a snow pusher or shovel, once they stop the physical activity a chill can set in if they are not properly dressed.  Heat escapes the human body more quickly from the uncapped head than from any other part of the body.  A wool hat with a face mask can temper this heat loss, and also ward off frostbite during windy conditions.  Additionally, warm feet are very important when working on a sidewalk snow removal crew.  Good, warm footwear is a “must” if workers are to be productive.

Some companies will supply sidewalk workers with proper attire – carhart jacket, carhart bibs, waterproof boots and hats.  Considering how much revenue these people generate for the companies they work for – and how little they are paid per hour – this is a small investment that can pay back big time.  

No production oriented sidewalk crew member should be utilizing any type of “shovel” when moving snow from a sidewalk.  This can lead to numerous, unnecessary workman’s compensation claims due to the fact that most “shoveling” requires bending and improper use of back muscles.  Supply these workers with “snow pushers” that will not allow actual shoveling of snow.  Snow is then “pushed” to either side of the walkway, rather than lifted off the walkway surface.

If the snow is deep and requires the use of a snowblower, provide ramps to allow the snowblower to be rolled off the truck instead of lifted.  Prior to the season, have an instructional session with sidewalk snow removal personnel so that they know the proper way to direct the snow from the discharge chute.  Additionally, make the operators review the owner’s manual – paying special attention to the ‘safety section’.  These individuals also need to know the proper way to change shear pins, check oil, and the proper method for starting the unit (if it is not ‘electric start’).  

Leading snowblower manufacturers tell us that THE number one cause of operator injury comes from trying to unplug an iced up machine without turning off the engine (and consequently the snowblower).  As elementary as it may seem, you should stress that the unit be turned off, key removed and sparkplug wire be disconnected prior to doing any service to the unit.  Additionally, while smoking can shorten anyone’s life span, filling up the snowblower with gasoline while smoking a cigarette can shorten even more.

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