Safe snow removal
You're out there providing for everyone else's safety, but have you given any thought to your own?
By Cindy Ratcliff, editor
Everyone else in town is at home, enjoying the comfort of a warm bed. But not you. You’re out in the element. In the cold. And, instead of getting some shut-eye before breakfast, you’re pulling an all-nighter to get that parking lot plowed by the start of business tomorrow. Now add heavy machinery into the mix. So you’re cold, tired and you’re operating equipment. You’re an accident waiting to happen. And the results could be disastrous. You could be injured or you could injure someone else. If you’re lucky enough to avoid injury, then there’s always the chance that you could damage property—yours or your client’s. Either way, you’re out big bucks.
So what can you do to make sure this doesn’t happen to you? Well, you can’t very well avoid going out into the elements; that’s your job. And, more than likely, you still need to do night clearing. But there are ways that you can protect yourself and, by doing so, protect others as well as your pocket book.
The dress code
The key to keeping warm when you’re out in freezing temperatures is layering. Warmth is very important because cold air constricts your blood vessels and puts a lot of strain on your cardiovascular system. If you’re out shovelling snow or operating a snow blower, you might be tempted not to bundle up because you know you’ll warm up once you start shovelling. Don’t fall into this trap. Plan to wear layers of clothing so that, if you do get warm while working, you can remove a layer without removing so many clothes that you can’t find a comfortable working temperature for yourself. When you’re layering, keep comfort in mind. It’s smarter to wear a heavy sweater with a light jacket because a bulky coat can put a strain on your shoulders. And don’t forget about choosing the proper footwear, which should not only be warm, but should have treads that are designed to keep you from slipping and falling.
Don’t think that just because you aren’t going to be "outside" removing snow that you can leave your coat at home. Even though you’re in the cab of a pickup while plowing snow with the heater running full blast (more to prevent the engine from overheating than to keep you warm), you still need to have warm clothes with you. What if you need to get out and adjust the plow? Or what it you get stuck in a snow bank and need to dig out of it? You don’t want to be performing these tasks without some warm clothes.
A matter of time
Much of your snow clearing must be done at nighttime. There’s no way around it. Clients want their parking lots cleared by the time business starts the next day following a snow event. And it’s also easier for you to clear an empty lot than it is for you to maneuver around parked cars. So there are several different advantages to clearing snow at night. The disadvantage is obvious: lack of sleep. This is especially true if you are running crews day and night. Sometimes you’ll get into a bind and be forced into a double-shift situation. It can drain you physically and mentally.
Ideally, if you know that you’re going to be out all night plowing snow, you should try to take a nap before hand. If you know you’re not going to have time for a nap and the local weather man is forecasting snow tomorrow, at least try to go to bed early. Fatigue can sneak up on you—especially during nighttime snow removal.
Even with the best planning, there are going to be times when you will be working around the clock to remove snow. You just have to deal with these as they come, but try to make sure that your drivers at least get a break during their shift. Even if they just stop to eat a snack, it will help battle fatigue.
No matter how warmly you’re dressed or how much sleep you’ve gotten, you’re still a danger to yourself and to others if you don’t know how to operate the equipment. Make sure that every member of your crew has been trained to perform his or her assigned task. If they’re driving a plow, make sure that they know how to operate it without causing damage to the truck or to the plow. Also train them to do easy maintenance chores to help keep equipment running. It’s a lot less time consuming for them to do a quick-fix at the site than it is to wait on someone else to come fix the plow. If the plow’s not pushing, then it’s not making money. The same holds true for crew members who are operating a snow blower. The training doesn’t have to be elaborate. In fact, some of the best training resources may be training videos. Check with your local plow and blower dealers for video availability.
Once your crew is trained on how to operate the equipment, you should discuss with them the concept of hidden obstructions, which plays a significant role in snow removal. This is where planning before the first snow event comes into play. You should equip yourself with detailed notes and perhaps even a map of the sites you will work on when the first flake falls. By visiting these sites in the off-season, you will be able to document any obstacles that plowers need to be aware of to prevent damage to the plow or the property. Without this documentation, it’s hit or miss.
It’s nobody’s favorite job, but you can’t skimp on the details when you contract to clear snow for a client. And there’s no easy way to get to those steps and entry ways. They have to be shovelled.
Shovelling is probably some of the most dangerous snow-removal work there is. The chances of back injury are great. But there are a few things you can do to minimize this risk. The most important of these is to focus on the proper technique.
The muscles in the lower back are prone to injury because the motions of snow shovelling put them under tremendous strain. Plus, it is repetitive, which increases the risk for injury. To protect yourself, don’t bend over to scoop snow into the shovel. Rather, push it along by grasping the handle of the shovel. When you have a full shovel load, bend your knees to lift the shovel, while keeping your back as straight as possible. Use the strength in your legs to lift the shovel. Then carry the shovel over to where you want to dump the snow. Do not twist your body in an attempt to toss the snow into a distant pile. This is probably the most vulnerable position for your back.
Your choice of snow shovel can also increase your potential for injury. Consider shovels that are made of durable, lightweight plastic or polyethylene materials. Not only will these be lighter and easier on your back, they also can be more durable than their metal counterparts and snow doesn’t stick to them as readily. Many times, manufacturers incorporate new ergonomic designs for shovels, and these may be worth a few extra dollars.
Also keep in mind that snow shovelling is an aerobic activity. You need to be in good shape to do it. Sometimes, despite all your precautions, you may wind up with a sore back after snow shovelling. Keep in mind that a sore back is not usually a serious medical condition. However, if the pain persists or you experience radiating pain down one leg or general weakness in your legs, you should see a doctor.
Getting your priorities straight
Western Michigan University Landscape Services has a plan of action when it comes to clearing snow on campus.
By Tim Holysz, Western Michigan University
Whether you’re clearing snow for a few commercial properties or for an entire university, the first thing you need to do is put together a plan of action. This includes setting priorities and goals for your snow-removal activity. At Western Michigan University, we’ve done just that. Outlined in the following paragraphs is a brief written strategy detailing how we use all available tools to remove snow and ice from the university campus in order to satisfactorily meet the needs of our campus community.
We have developed this strategy through much planning, and this information is extensively detailed in our eighty-three page "Snow Book," which includes graphics of roads, parking lots and sidewalks; various schedules and crew responsibilities; special needs; weekend events; and emergencies. Our snow-removal plan and strategies are reviewed, edited and implemented every year.
At the beginning of each new winter season, we distribute copies of our Snow Book to various university administrators including the president, vice president of business and finance, chief of police, parking control, director of physical plant, Office of Institutional Equity (ADA) and legal counsel.
Street snow removal
There are approximately 23 lane miles of streets to plow on Western’s campus. These must be kept free of snow and ice 24 hours a day, seven days a week. We have identified two priorities for this activity. One is removal of snow from our primary streets and campus "ring roads." These roads are used to move traffic around or through the campus quickly and efficiently. The next priority involves the secondary streets or campus inner roads that provide access to the buildings and parking lots throughout the core of campus. The difference in attention that we give these roads is negligible. The ring roads may get two or three more patrols per day than inner roads, but both are patrolled dozens of times per day.
To provide effective snow removal from streets and parking lots, our heavy equipment operators have four dump trucks with highway-style front plows. Three of these trucks have deicing application equipment, as well as under-frame "belly" snow blades to scrape pavement bare. Ice-control chemicals and abrasives are applied to paved areas. These crews also use articulating front-end-loader-style machines to clean the loading dock areas, the corners of the parking lots and various smaller areas where the larger trucks cannot maneuver.
All of our heavy equipment operators have a Commercial Drivers’ License Certification (CDL), which is administered by the State of Michigan and regulated by the federal government. We require these CDLs for anyone who operates our heavy equipment. In addition, we require that our supervisory and management staff obtain CDL’s for instructional purposes and "back-up" emergency situations. During emergencies, we are ready to put equipment operators on an altered schedule to best deal with the situation. If extra equipment is needed, we have a list of local contractors we can call on to assist us.
Materials such as bulk road salt are kept at the "Salt Dome" on East Campus. These supplies are monitored continuously and replenished as needed through bulk contracts with the State of Michigan or blanket orders with local vendors. But as spring approaches, we try to let our supplies dwindle.
Parking lot snow removal
The same equipment operators who maintain the street snow removal also plow the 100-plus acres of parking lots on campus. In general, these lots are cleaned with the following priorities in mind:
Faculty/staff parking lots,
Primary visitor lots,
Food Service loading docks and courts,
Student commuter lots, and
Apartment and residence-hall lots.
The crew is split into teams and works more than one category at a time. Our night crew (which operates from 10 p.m. to 6:30 a.m.) clears staff and student lots with three trucks. Additional equipment operators come in at 3 a.m. and use the front-end loaders to clean corners of lots and loading dock areas. A skeleton crew is on staff during the day and evenings to keep streets and lots open and accessible. Weekends are also covered by qualified plow and equipment operators around the clock.
During major snowstorms, we split all available operators between two 12 hour shifts around the clock. And in the fall, we identify contractors who we can call to help clear snow with their heavy equipment.
Sidewalk snow removal
The light-equipment operators handle the 39 miles of sidewalk snow removal on campus. The campus is divided into three regions, with six operators and plow equipment assigned to predetermined routes. These light-equipment operators start at 3 a.m. Monday through Friday. Two others are assigned to the night shift, and another operator works three afternoons and weekends during the day. We have also trained additional operators to run the light-equipment plows for occasions of heavy snowfall or to fill in when needed.
Areas that are inaccessible to the light-equipment are cleared by hand. The majority of these areas are steps and access ramps—more than 200,000 square feet, total. Some sections of sidewalk also have to be cleared by hand. This hand work is done by the regional groundskeepers who use students to supplement their crew. The grounds-shoveling crew works from 6 a.m. until 2:30 p.m.
The custodial staff clears most (approximately 306) building entrances to about 20 feet out. There are some buildings that do not have custodial staff early in the morning. Those entrances (232 of them) have been identified for the grounds crew to clear. Rec/Spo (Recreation/Sports) Region staff clear entrances at all recreation facilities (approximately 46 doorways). Many entrances are cleared by custodial staff just before the end of the night shift. Those entrances are monitored by the grounds crew during the day.
Staffing levels do not allow for all steps and walks to remain open. The areas that are closed generally are routes of convenience rather than necessity. On weekends, only the buildings scheduled to be open are cleared. A small crew is regularly scheduled for weekend and evening snow removal. More can be called in to help if necessary.
To better accommodate the needs of disabled students, a notice is sent out by the Disabled Student Resources and Services Office asking for information that helps us ensure their winter mobility. They are encouraged to contact our office with schedules and routes, which we can incorporate into our snow-removal plans.
For those students who respond to the mailing, we can ascertain their routes and keep them clear and accessible. If several students are using different entrances to the same building, we can assure them a specific entry will be kept clear. We also clear handicap-accessible building entrances and monitor them throughout the day for problems.
This season we are continuing an afternoon and weekend shift for shoveling and deicing these areas. Groundskeepers (two) will be on duty until 8 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday evening and weekend mornings.
Weekend and evening snow removal will be overseen this season by two supervisors, each carrying a pager. One supervisor oversees snow removal for streets and lots (heavy equipment), and one oversees snow removal for walks, steps and ramps.
The university police will contact the appropriate supervisor via the two-way radio in the event of an emergency during normal working hours, or via the beeper after hours. The supervisor will then coordinate snow-removal activities to fit the situation.
This year, we have again contracted with a weather forecasting service to provide us with specific data on our area in Kalamazoo, Mich. We also have direct weather information access through satellite link into the offices of landscape services and the Snow Crew Headquarters at the physical plant on east campus. We believe that this will give us an additional edge to fight the snow and ice that the weather conditions bring us.
Tim Holysz is manager of landscape services for Western Michigan University (Kalamazoo, Mich.).
Attendees of the International Lawn, Garden & Power Equipment Expo get a lesson in snow removal from industry experts.
By Cindy Ratcliff, editor
Snow and ice may have been the furthest thing from their minds when they arrived, but by the time attendees of the International Lawn, Garden & Power Equipment Expo left the show, they had been reminded that the next snow season is right around the corner. The Expo, which was held in Louisville, Ky., last July, featured an all-new Snow & Ice Pavilion, where manufacturers displayed their snow-removal equipment and supplies. As a special part of the new Snow & Ice Pavilion, Expo coordinators joined efforts with Snow & Ice Manager magazine to sponsor a series of educational sessions called "Ice Breakers." These sessions focused on topics that are important to the snow and ice industry.
Two of the features speakers for Ice Breakers were Joe Althouse and Dwayne Shaufler. Althouse is a technical service specialist of deicer products for Dow Chemical. He provided information profiling and comparing deicers, and offered an analysis of each. Shaufler told attendees that proper equipment maintenance and servicing is the key to the life of their equipment. Here is a synopsis of what each speaker had to say.
Joe Althouse: Deicers
I’ve been associated with Dow calcium chloride business for about two years. In those two years, I’ve spent a lot of time studying how deicers work as well as what some of the issues are, and would like to discuss the biggest issue facing end users at this moment, which is also one of the biggest opportunities.
The biggest issue that I see for end users is that there is a tremendous amount of conflicting performance data out there in the literature, in the advertising and, for your particular end user, I’m sure that it’s a very confusing situation. Everybody’s product seems to be the best at everything, and it’s very difficult to sort that out. One example: A lot of ice melt literature will include information on how much ice that product will melt. Dow’s literature for calcium chloride deicers includes this information, as do other competitive products, such as magnesium (mag) chloride and sodium chloride. One of the issues that you’ll see is that, if you compare them, you’ll see a conflict. You’ll see the mag chloride literature making mag chloride look good, and the calcium chloride literature making calcium chloride look good. It’s not a commonly known fact that a solid mag chloride is 50 percent water. It is a mag chloride hexahydrate salt. And when that ice melts, data can be presentedto show that that water is part of the melt volume. When Dow presents ice-melting data, we subtract out that water of hydration. So that’s one example of how you’ll see conflicting data in the literature.
Another example of conflicting data in the literature is associated with environmental issues. (Some literature) compares the toxicity of calcium chloride to ant and roach spray. I can testify that the ants that live in my house in Michigan are thriving quite well even though my sidewalks were treated with calcium chloride. So you’ll see a lot of square pegs trying to be fit into round holes and apples to oranges comparisons. So conflicting performance claims is a big issue and about the only way to get out of that is to start spreading the word about third-party standards and testing. We really need objective testing and we need objective standards to measure performance so that we can work through some of these conflicting issues. I take every opportunity I have to kind of plant seeds to see if consumers and producers can group together to establish an independent testing organization so that end users really know what the product is going to do.
One of the biggest opportunities in this industry might be for marketing anti-icing to individuals who already use deicers. I know that departments of transportation (DOTs) are doing anti-icing, which consists of applying a liquid chemical to a surface prior to the snowstorm. In doing so, you prevent a bond from forming between the snow and the ice and the surface that you’re apply the chemical to. The benefits of doing this are that you use a lot less chemical, and when you plow that surface or shovel that surface, it comes off like a pancake off a hot griddle that’s had butter on it. If you don’t anti-ice and you go to shovel and plow, you’re going to have a slippery surface underneath there, and you’ll have to apply more deicer to melt through that slippery surface.
Dwayne Shaufler: Snowplows
The key to the life of your equipment is service. It’s vital that plows be serviced during the season and after the season. All too often we come along at the end of August or early September to find that "I’ve got parts missing; I’ve got to get this; my sander’s not working, it’s frozen up; I’ve got a broken chain," or any number of problems. At that point in time, you start to scramble because your service dealer is already booked during that time.
We recommend very, very strongly that when the season is over, you take a good, hard look at your equipment. Service it. Start by getting the salt and sand out of the hoppers. Be sure that everything is greased and oiled to protect it, and you’ll have a lot fewer problems when it comes time to put the plows and equipment back on the trucks and get them ready to roll come September.
Driver training is another important component to successful plowing. Don’t forget that a fully equipped, ¾ or 1-ton pickup can easily get up into that $35,000 to $40,000 range. It’s a major investment. And when you let crews come in and drive that equipment without ample training or ample knowledge of just what a vehicle is all about, you could find yourself out a lot of money. The same holds true for the plow equipment and the sander that you put on that equipment. All of it is expensive, even by today’s standards. A fully equipped hopper/spreader, V plow and 1-ton truck can come pretty close to costing you $50,000. You turn that over to a young man who’s never plowed before, and you’ve got a lot of potential problems that you’re looking at.
Training drivers is important. And from a manufacturing standpoint, I cannot stress that enough. If you’ve got drivers who are inexperienced in the plowing business, take the time to show them how to use the equipment and how to work with the equipment. Show them how to remove snow from parking lots, in and around vehicles, away from buildings and wherever they are going to the plowing.
Something else to keep in mind as we approach the snow season is communicating with customers. When you take on a new job, one of the first things to do is to communicate with the owner about the property. What kind of snow-removal job or salting or sanding job is he looking for? Does he want it wiped, cleared, scraped and cleaned, or is he looking just to gain access in or out. Communication is a major factor, and a little sit-down discussion with the owner of the property can save a lot of problems later on. Does the owner want your crews on their property at one inch of snow? Two inches of snow? Do you come back when you get three more inches? All of these things should be talked about with the owner of the property. You also need to take a good, hard look at the property. Do you have areas where there is gardening taking place? Are there curbs, obstacles that might be a hindrance to you when you plow? And if you’ve got a number of accounts, it’s a good idea just to take a few notes. "Tom’s place has a 3-inch ground hole in the middle of the parking lot, better watch for that." "Joe’s place is a service station and he’s got the tank." It’s necessary that, if you’ve got a few accounts, to make a note or two. And the very first time you go out and plow that property, you go slow and you take a good hard look at what you’re plowing, because everything looks different when it’s got a coating of white on it.