Safe Snow Removal

You're out there providing for everyone else's safety, but have you given any thought to your own?

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, ired 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 if 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 to 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.

Driver's ed

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 a 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.

Smart shovelling

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 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.

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