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Winter planning: preparing for snow & ice removal

December 3, 2015  By  Mike Jiggens

By Randy Strait

AS most know too well, Mother Nature can drop a foot of snow and ice over the ground with a snap of her fingers, transforming fall right into winter. Snow removal contractors are the first line of defence for removing snow and ice and must be focused when the first storm hits. Their equipment should fire on all cylinders and be ready to go in a moment’s notice.

To do that, contractors need to properly prepare for the winter months prior to the first snowfall. Evaluating each aspect of an operation will help contractors reduce liability, increase removal efficiency and contribute to a profitable season.

Strategize with size

To clear each unique property well, snow contractors must consider several factors before ever arriving onsite. First, contractors should evaluate their accounts’ property sizes.

Property size dictates the type of equipment used as well as the amount of machines and operators needed to complete the job. When estimating equipment needs, think twice before rushing out to buy new machines just to suit a new client’s lot. Overstocking equipment wastes money and resources, especially when snow contractors can use the snow pushers they already own.

When considering the size of the property, also consider the size of the snow pusher. Using the largest snow pusher doesn’t always make it the best for the job. For example, a snow contractor with a 19-foot loader-mounted pusher should opt for a 10-foot skid-steer snow pusher to properly handle a mid-size supermarket parking lot. Ideal for clearing narrow parking aisles and handicapped parking spaces, the 10-foot skid-steer pusher can clear snow and ice during the day with traffic present — a common occurrence when people scramble for supplies to ride out the storm.

Many contractors with containment plows, also known as box plows, use a formula based on acres and pushing capacity to determine productivity ahead of time. For example, a 10-foot containment plow with a pushing capacity of 13 yards will take roughly 30 minutes to plow anywhere from two to three acres. Contractors use the formula to strategize their operator schedule and determine priority when it comes to clearing properties according to size. This formula will likely change depending on several snow conditions and characteristics, such as wet snow, which will take longer to clean.

Divide & conquer

Before the snow hits, especially in the case of large properties, establish a well-thought-out plan to clear various lots. With a specific lot in mind, consider dividing the area into sections and assigning each operator his or her own section. Now each operator can focus on a specific portion, increasing efficient snow removal and eliminating the possibility of doubling-up on a single area.

Noting and planning for small details will make a big difference, such as parking lot obstacles including light poles, cart corrals and medians. Prepping for these challenges will provide top-notch customer service and prevent accidents.

Remember to ask property owners for their preferences on clearing curbs and sidewalks. Sometimes they might require only the lot be cleared, but still many expect additional areas for pedestrian traffic to be completed. Prepare to factor in the appropriate equipment and personnel for potential instances that require additional time and resources.

Conserve salt

With snow and ice removal, proper salt management plays an important role in preparation. Salt shortages make it hard for contractors to secure adequate amounts for their workload. Factoring in the high cost of salt and the narrow window of its effectiveness, contractors should look for more ways to optimize their salt usage.

Investing in the right snow pusher allows contractors to remove snow and ice as completely as possible. Doing so reduces or eliminates the need for salt and helps prevent slip-and-fall hazards.

The right pusher will have features that successfully remove ice, in turn cutting salt usage. Consider snow pushers with steel cutting edges. Steel cutting edges effectively scrape even hard-packed snow and ice down to the pavement, reducing the need to salt after. Some manufacturers offer sectional moldboard designs, which allow the pusher to get into dips and depressions in the pavement.

Sectional moldboard designs leave cleaner results, removing more snow and ice with each pass than traditional designs. Another feature that aids in easy and efficient ice removal includes special drop-and-go hitch designs. These hitches let the pusher move freely from the equipment and automatically adjust the pusher to any change in pavement.

Check it out

Keep the fleet properly maintained and serviced, to ensure the equipment doesn’t slow down the crew. Proper maintenance before the season helps crews tackle any job and withstand several hours of tough pushing.

First, always keep the pusher clean and debris-free. Check the pusher components and replace damaged or severely worn parts. For example, contractors might have a damaged or broken cutting edge that needs replacement. With some sectional moldboard designs, each section comes in 32-inches. If one of these cutting edges breaks, contractors would only need to replace the damaged 32-inch section, rather than the entire edge such as with conventional pushers.

Contractors who own their own equipment should consider hiring a mechanic to address any issues promptly. This will minimize downtime, especially during the busy season.

Ready. Set. Go.

When faced with an impending winter storm or blizzard, prepare to respond quickly so the snow doesn’t get too far ahead. A fast response is critical for many snow contractors’ productivity and customer service.

However, bad weather can easily delay response time. Snow events will make travel conditions to the jobsite less than ideal, so the closer personnel and equipment can be to the site, the faster they can rid snow and ice.

Larger businesses, with a sizable fleet of equipment and resources, should consider hiring based on location. If possible, park equipment onsite and find labourers who live near the account to service those areas, so they can access the equipment quickly.

Smaller contracting companies may need to find an alternate way to handle each job in a timely fashion. They might use a phone tree calling system or a chain-of-command based on location and desired minimum response time. By planning this out ahead of time and having a point person in charge near each site, operators will waste less time deciding which area to cover.

Finally, even the simplest policy can save time. Consider backing equipment on the lot, facing the exit, so it’s ready to go in an emergency. This will shave off crucial minutes in the event of an urgent snow situation, leaving less time for snow accumulation and less chance of a slip-and-fall accident.

As winter approaches and snow pushers hit the streets, those contractors who didn’t procrastinate with their snow event preparation will reap the benefits. Taking time to evaluate and change snow preparation strategies not only provides better overall service, but also leads to an efficient snow and ice removal and increased production. Contractors, who’ve taken the proper steps to prepare, can handle any snow event, whether big or small, successfully.

During 40 years in the snow removal business, Randy Strait, owner and president of Arctic Snow & Ice Control Inc., has tackled everything from his own driveway to parking lots at some of the nation’s largest businesses. He believes the key to quality work and reduced liability is to be prepared for each and every snow removal job — no matter the size.
Arctic Snow and Ice Products is the manufacturing division of Arctic Snow and Ice Control Inc., a provider of snow and ice management services since 1978. Arctic Snow and Ice Control Inc. remains an established contracting business, while the products division manufactures the Sectional Sno-Pusher™. For more information, visit http://www.sectionalsnopusher.com

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