The snow and ice management industry is driven by intense pressure from the public and clients to maintain the highest levels of service during the worst weather year after year. Working in these conditions poses serious safety issues for snow and ice professionals. Safety is not only critical to the welfare of the public, clients and employees, but it is essential to avoiding accidents and property damage that lead to lost productivity, expensive repairs, and costly increases in workers’ compensation and insurance premiums. With careful attention to a few basic principles, most jobsite accidents are preventable.
Winter will be hitting a major portion of the country. In fact, some areas have already had a taste of winter woes. Not everyone is plagued by snow and ice removal problems; the basic safety tips can be applied in similar operations involving the use of construction equipment and moving materials. Besides, it has been know to snow even in places like Las Vegas, Phoenix, Atlanta and the like.
1. Avoid obstructing vision when stacking snow.
Before snow removal begins, a plan of how and where you are going to pile the snow should be created. Stacking snow around entrances to buildings, parking lots or on street corners can lead to accidents, some potentially fatal. Always move the snow to an area that will not block the visibility of pedestrians or traffic. Snow stacked in front of entrances poses a hazard by preventing people from exiting the building in the event of an emergency.
2. Mark obstructions in the plow area.
Every job site will have some obstructions, such as fire hydrants, parking lot shopping cart holders, specially designated parking spots (i.e. handicapped spots) and drainage areas. Mark all obstructions prior to the plowing season. You should keep snow piles a minimum of three feet away from all sides of hydrants or any fire department connection. Snow should never be piled in front of designated parking places. When plowing a store parking lot, always remove the snow around the cart holders by hand. Never push the cart holders with the plow. This can cause damage to your equipment as well as the cart holder, which can be costly to replace.
3. Clean drainage areas.
Drainage areas should be marked prior to the plowing season. Melting snow and ice can create hazards if the drainage areas are not kept clean. Clean drainage areas will ensure melting snow and ice will not cause any other hazards such as water damage to buildings, loss of parking spots, slip and fall hazards, etc.
4. Be cautious of thaw/refreeze if stacking snow on an incline.
Have a map of the area you are plowing and plan where the snow piles are going to be located before you begin your work. Be aware of the entrances and the exits as well as the ground elevation. Never pile snow on an incline where snow and ice can melt, flow into high-traffic areas and then refreeze. Visualize where the water from the melted snow is going to go and plan ahead to ensure the snow pile you create will not be a hazard once it melts.
5. Know your surroundings when operating heavy equipment.
Snow removal sometimes involves the use of large machines. Operators should always familiarize themselves with their surroundings and perform a walk-around inspection before operating the machine to ensure no one is in the operating area. Check your mirrors and sound the horn before moving the machine. Parking lots can create many hazards; cleaning snow during open store hours is one of them. Remember that pedestrians and other vehicles do not always recognize you are there, even though you are in a large machine. Cars and people have the right of way, so be sure to proceed slowly with extreme caution. Always be alert!
6. Be aware when backing up.
Before moving the machine, always test the backup alarm to make sure it works and is loud enough to be heard over the normal noise of the machine. To do this, set the parking brake, start the machine and move the control lever to the REVERSE position. The alarm should continue to be heard until the control lever has been moved to the NEUTRAL or FORWARD position. If the alarm does not sound, DO NOT OPERATE the machine until the problem has been fixed. Be sure to sound the horn and wait 5 seconds before moving the machine in any direction. Your mirrors should be adjusted and cleaned for visibility. When pedestrians and traffic are present, use caution and check your mirrors frequently.
7. Follow cold weather machine recommendations.
Make sure that you read the information in your Operation and Maintenance Manual for selecting the lubricants to use in cold weather. To better prepare the machine for weather conditions, try using block heaters, enclosures for compartments and storage facilities when not in use. Before the beginning of cold weather, install the correct lubricant in each compartment and provide cooling system protection for the lowest expected outside temperature. Premix the antifreeze solution for the cooling system. At a minimum, the freeze-protection solution should be equal to the system-protection requirements. Check all rubber parts weekly: hoses, tires, fan drive belts, all electrical wiring and connections for any fraying or damaged insulation. Keep all batteries fully charged, fill the fuel tank at the end of each shift and check the air cleaners and the air intake on a regular basis when snow is present. Steering response on equipment with hydraulic steering may become very slow at very low temperatures. This can happen even if the correct oils are used. If the engine is started, run the engine until the engine reaches operating temperature. Do not remove the air cleaner element when snow packing occurs. This could cause severe engine damage. Instead, rework the air intake so air is taken in under the hood. Cold weather can have many effects on your machine. If the engine is shut down for more than 16 hours, the engine will cool down to the outside temperature. Maintaining your machine per the Operation and Maintenance Manual (OMM) and performing a walk-around inspection before and after every shift can mitigate most safety issues.
8. Do not push snow across a street or open road.
Some parking lots and other sites you service pose challenges due to their proximity to streets. If at all possible, avoid pushing or back-dragging snow across an open road, as this creates an unsafe condition. In the early morning hours, oncoming traffic will not be expecting heavy equipment, and general braking in winter conditions will be affected. By putting your equipment on the road, you are creating a hazard. Also, dragging snow and ice across a street can leave large pieces of debris in the road, which poses a hazard for oncoming traffic. If you must work on or near a roadway, be sure to use signs, high-quality reflectors and lights to warn oncoming traffic.
9. Be prepared for cold weather.
Bottom line … it is cold, dress for it! Even though you are inside a warm cab, you still need to be prepared for the elementswhen you exit the cab. Cold weather can cause serious injury as well as death. Monitor the weather regularly and pay special attention to hazardous weather conditions. Be sure to dress appropriately by wearing layers of warm clothing with proper ventilation. Stay dry by wearing water-resistant clothing and a windproof outer shell. Be sure to keep a spare set of clothes on hand. Wear the appropriate head protection and make sure it is equipped with an insulated liner. Protect your hands and feet with insulated gloves and socks. Restrict exposure when the temperature is below -17 degrees Celsius (0 degrees Fahrenheit) or the wind chill reaches -30 degrees C (-22 degrees F). When working in these conditions, make sure that you stay in touch with other crewmembers by phone or radio at least once per hour to ensure safety.
10. Stay safe.
Start your day off the right way! Always perform a preshift inspection of the area you are going to plow and a machine walk-around inspection. Never assume anything. Document your actions and be sure everyone around you is working safely. Mountand dismount your machine using three points of contact. Remember: You are working with snow and ice; slips and falls are a leading cause of injury. Wear your seatbelt when operating equipment and be alert. End your day with a post-shift inspection and a machine walk-around inspection. Be sure to refill the fuel tank and any other fluids that may need it. Many people depend on you for safe travel in bad weather conditions. At the end of your shift the goal is simply: Safely Home. Everyone. Every Day.™
Editor’s note: This article is courtesy of Caterpillar Inc., Peoria, Ill. Caterpillar invites you to view and use additional Cat safety training resources by visiting safety.cat.com.
The article appeared in December 2009 issues of the ACP magazines.