Breaking Bad

Features - Operations

Winter is here. Snow industry insiders offer tips on how to address and avoid jobsite safety issues.

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October 14, 2019

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Even with all the advances in technology that have enhanced the snow-removal industry, safety protocols are as important as ever. Plow operators should be cognizant of safety issues well before a snow event and well before they operate a piece of equipment.

Zach Kelley is the director of operations for Sauers Snow and Ice Management in Warminster, Pa., and serves the Philadelphia metropolitan area. Kelley stresses the importance of plow operators familiarizing themselves with their equipment and with safety standards. His employees and service providers receive safety training at the start of each snow season.

“The first time you operate a piece of equipment should not be in the middle of a snowstorm,” Kelley says. “We take time in the months leading up to snow season to train our crew members on the equipment they will be operating. Our goal is that they can safely operate that piece of equipment in all weather conditions. The operators should walk around equipment before using it to visually inspect it.”

Prior to a snow event, plow operators should have a working knowledge of the site they’ll be servicing.

Attilio DiLoreto is the director of operations for Case Snow Management in North Attleborough, Mass. Prior to the start of the snow season, his plow operators visit the sites where they’ll be working to familiarize with its unique features and any potential problem areas.

“The more times you visit the site before it snows, the better you’re going to be on it when it snows,” he says.

DiLoreto emphasizes that plow operators and their managers should have a plan of action in place and be intimately familiar with that plan before a storm hits.

“You review a plan in the office,” he says. “You review a plan in the field. You review every area with your site manager. Review any problem areas that are going to be there so when it does snow (plow operators) know everything that’s there.

“The operators know which area they’re plowing. They know any dangers in that area. If there are emergency exits the manager knows where they are.”

Its best to have as many people become familiar with a plan as possible. “The more people who look at the plan the more chance you’re going to have of picking up a mistake or a problem,” DiLoreto says. “The more guys that are out in the field looking at the site, the less problems you’re going to have in the future.”

When a storm is imminent, operators need to prepare themselves for the conditions they are likely to face, which of course will vary based on changing conditions.

“We have developed a snow response plan that dictates what preparations we make,” Kelley says, and how we communicate with our team. Our snow response plan is specific to what type and size snow event we are having. We prepare very differently for flurries than we do for blizzards and ice events.”

It’s essential that plow operators prepare themselves for a storm physically as well. That includes getting sufficient rest, eating properly, and staying hydrated. Consuming water or a sports drink before working in the snow guards against dehydration; replenishing fluids during the snow event itself is important, but that won’t likely be enough if the operator didn’t properly hydrate ahead of time.

Once the plowing operation begins, DiLoreto stresses to operators the importance of maintaining a safe speed. “There is no reason why I need to plow at faster than 15 miles an hour,” he says. “None. Anything that happens after that speed is only going to be an accident. Or something bad. Or, you’ll break something. That’s in equipment, that’s in trucks, that’s in everything.

“You should always take a look at what the site looks like and understand what you’re driving on,” he adds. “If you come into an area that’s slippery and you’re driving fast, you’re going to have an accident. So, know the ground you’re driving on.”

When it comes to their surroundings, Kelley says take nothing for granted. “It doesn’t matter how comfortable you are with a piece of equipment on a site. Always take the time to look before making a turn or reversing.”

Kelley stresses safety to his team and his clients. “There is absolutely no value in taking that shortcut and adding an unnecessary risk to our team and equipment,” he says. “When clients ask us to cut corners … we use that time to educate others. The ASCA Industry Standards have been a great resource for our company. We love to share these standards with our clients to educate them on the snow and ice industry.”

Rick Woelfel is a Philadelphia-based writer and a frequent Snow Magazine contributor.