By Randy Strait
As cold temperatures and snowstorms appear on the weather radar, many landscape contractors start offering snow and ice removal services. The transition from managing summertime to wintertime services puts these contractors into a high-stress environment that can create a slippery slope of potential injuries, equipment damage and lawsuits if safety measures aren’t followed.
Before moving snow this season, enhance jobsite safety by considering which pusher practices and features keep the operator, equipment and property safe.
Put safety first
While it may sound simple, some of the most basic safety measures can be the first forgotten during the hectic snow season.
Prevent the danger of cold exposure by always wearing and bringing extra warm clothing, boots, hats and gloves — especially if the operator needs to shovel or in case of a breakdown. Wear high-visibility clothing, such as vests and hardhats, and make sure to follow all requirements from local OSHA regulations.
Carry a well-charged phone and charger or a quick-charge battery attachment to ensure emergency services can be quickly contacted, if needed.
Wear the proper harnesses, seatbelts and lap belts, and always drive at safe speeds. The proper speed depends on the terrain, pedestrian traffic and size of the pusher. Pedestrians and vehicular traffic always have the right of way. Cars that try to rush around wheel loaders and skid-steers that push snow sometimes create unsafe circumstances. Because of this, operators need to be extremely aware of their surroundings at all times, especially since it is harder to brake and maneuver with a heavy machine in slippery conditions.
When transporting multiple pushers, contractors need to acquire width permits and hire vehicle escorts to lead and follow the trailered pushers. For the carrier equipment, contractors need to get the proper insurance and registration from the state. Taking the right transportation actions saves businesses from future fines and prevents accidents.
Additionally, use and bring the appropriate tools for hooking and unhooking the pusher to/from the carrier equipment. And always make sure the pusher is secure before use.
Remove ice effectively
Each year, ice brings safety and liability concerns — especially since lawsuits for slip-and-fall claims can top a half-million dollars. The pusher’s lot-cleaning results go a long way in keeping customers safe and preventing liability issues. Typically, the responsibility for clearing the lot of all snow and ice falls solely on the contractor, making it extra important to properly remove snow and ice.
Prevent issues fast with a pusher that removes snow and ice on the first attempt. This is especially important during business hours when customers are coming and going. A steel edge on the right pusher will scrape even hard-packed snow and ice down to the pavement, reducing the need to salt, and increasing customer safety.
Avoid and protect against property hazards and obstacles
How pusher components react to outside hazards, such as curbs, medians and parking lot islands, plays a large role in keeping a contractor safe and the customer’s property unscathed. Some manufacturers design pushers to protect the operator and withstand harsh impacts with obstacles, all while minimizing damage to property.
A pusher with a sectional moldboard, spring-loaded trip edges and mechanical side panels will lift up and over raised objects. A one-piece rigid pusher with non-moving components, on the other hand, can collide with unexpected obstacles, quickly stopping the entire unit and throwing the operator forward, resulting in possible injury. Hard jolts like this can also cause cracks in the arms of the carrier equipment.
Should an operator hit a hidden curb, some pusher designs feature mounting blocks that will absorb the impact and pressure, protecting the pusher, carrier and operator. Mounting blocks protect the carrier’s bushings, hydraulic system, transmission and motor. Those blocks can be replaced for considerably less money than replacing a damaged carrier and more than that, they keep the operator safe and property protected.
Besides choosing equipment that will prevent injury and property damage, contractors can take steps to evaluate their contracted property before the first snowfall to increase safety. Contractors should note obstacles in the work area such as light poles, cart corrals, protruding manhole covers, speed bumps and the possibility of 24-hour parking lot traffic. Snow removal companies can spend tens of thousands of dollars each year repairing damage done to curbing, parking lots and streets that have been hit by rigid, fixed side panels that don’t adjust to hidden obstacles.
If damage does occur, it’s best to document it right away. Take photos and communicate with the property management quickly to make arrangements for repairs and handling traffic flow. Mark the obstacle with cones so it’s visible to drivers. This keeps customers safe and maintains a contractor’s business reputation.
Ensure proper operation
Understanding safe operating procedures for both the carrier equipment and snow pusher prevents damage. Always conduct a pre-trip inspection of the pusher and carrier machine to ensure that everything meets standards and functions properly. Just as during summer jobs, perform proper servicing to the carrier machine, double-checking for correct oil levels and tire inflation.
Operators should reference manufacturers’ online resources — including instructional videos or operator manuals — for proper operation of the carrier, the model’s positioning, plowing angle, appropriate snow stacking techniques and pusher attachment. Improper operation can prematurely wear pusher parts, leading to significant damage. For example, the violent jarring from shaking the pusher or hitting it on the pavement to remove snow can add stress to joints and components — especially in frigid weather — resulting in costly damage.
The equipment’s ease of use contributes to safe operation. When operators can easily handle the pusher, it increases his or her confidence and focus. This can reduce operational mistakes and potential damage. For example, a pusher with a slip-hitch system eliminates the hassle of adjusting the pusher each time it’s dropped — the way standard hitch designs do. It moves up and down independently from the carrier and automatically and continuously adjusts to the pavement grade, resulting in fewer missed areas and less follow-up plowing. This system allows even the most inexperienced operators to simply and safely operate the pusher.
Create a safe and successful season
Many factors impact an operator’s safety, including the equipment and the customer’s property. To maximize safety, snow management providers need to review all aspects of their operation — from their pusher’s safety features to their plow technique. Doing so allows them to improve and make changes before they sacrifice safety during the busy and hectic snow season.
Randy Strait is owner and president, Arctic Snow and Ice Products.