The Weather Outside Is Frightful

The removal of snow and ice during winter months in North America can be some of the most difficult and stressful work maintenance or facilities supervisors will manage throughout the year. The seasonal challenges range from managing a crew or number of crews and large storms with significant snow and/or ice to fatigue from long hours and hazardous conditions for both employees and campus residents or visitors. A good supervisor will be asked to tackle these problems all while staying within or below budget. Even with budget considerations, snow and ice management on your campus must be examined with the overall goal in mind; maintaining a safe environment for pedestrians and vehicles, allowing people to go about their daily lives, and limiting risk.

Before going head on with a storm, a number of items should be evaluated to ensure you are making informed decisions that will work with your budget and with the desired outcomes specified above.

In-House Vs. Contracted Work
You may have already made the decision to do all the work in-house, not subbing work out to professional snow and ice management companies. Either way, there are some pros and cons by each method, and some things you should take into account:

In-House Pros:
  • More control over crews/timing of removal.
  • Possible cost savings, but only if your crews are properly trained.
  • No outsourcing of risk to a third party.
  • No contracts to sign with a third party.
  • No bidding procedures necessary.

In-House Cons:
  • You must have proper equipment and, more importantly, back-up equipment in case of equipment failure.
  • Purchasing of de-icing or anti-icing materials must be made in advance for at least portions of the season to ensure you do not run out mid-storm.
  • You must coordinate one or more crews to ensure you are adhering to all state and federal laws governing this type 
of work.
  • You are responsible for proper training of crew members and planning for snow and ice events.
  • Potential of damaging property that you will be responsible for repairing.
  • You will be responsible for monitoring the weather and determining the necessary staff/equipment.
Added risk if safe conditions are not provided for campus patrons (exposure to slip-and-fall claims).

Working With a Contractor
Outsourcing Pros:
  • You are hiring a specialist to do the work, so you don’t need to be the expert. Questions to ask include: Is the contractor a Certified Snow Professional? Are they members of the Snow and Ice Management Association?
  • In the long term, possible cost savings may result for the institution if you form a strong relationship with a solid, dependable contractor. Locking in a good contractor for a two- or three-year contract with defined costs will make budgeting for snow and ice much easier.
If you hire and sign a contract that defines the relationship between you and the contractor, it will outline specific guidelines of who is responsible for what, meaning a certain degree of risk will be passed to the contractor. This could be a key factor in cases of slip-and-fall claims or property damage claims.
Outsourcing Cons:
Loss of some control.
The bidding/hiring process can be time-consuming.
  • Costs can be high depending on pricing structures, the amount of winter weather, etc.

If or when you decide to outsource all or portions of your snow removal operations to a contractor, you should always require a formal bid, a defined contract agreeable/amended by both you and the contractor, and proof of all insurances, including general liability insurance.

The Tools of the Trade
Working through a winter storm will be one of the most difficult events you’ll manage throughout the year. A large winter storm bringing significant snow or ice will result in long hours, fatigue, equipment breakdowns, and potentially hazardous situations for the people on your grounds. Add to that the desired level of service that most individuals are accustomed to, and you are faced with removing snow and ice in the most efficient and clean method possible in order to perform and meet your defined goals.

Matching equipment to the workload is critical. First and foremost, you always need to be prepared for equipment failure; there is nothing worse than being stuck in the middle of a large storm and losing one or more of the tools you need to get the job done. The students at the university won’t stop going to class (at least not for snow), the hospital won’t close down, and the office staff won’t be okay with starting work late because they can’t get in the parking lot.

Generally, the equipment used for snow and ice removal includes:
Pickup trucks
Skid steers/compact equipment
  • ATVs
Front-end loaders/large equipment

The snow plow manufacturing industry has made significant advances in construction and design of plows, and now in general the following plows, along with proper techniques, can help you make your operation more efficient.

When you have a straight plow, angle the blade away from the building as you make your first pass. Subsequent passes should be made away from the building and toward the outer perimeter. The general rule is to never angle your blade towards a building. The goal is to get the snow as far away from the buildings as possible.

When using the transforming V-blade, use a V-position to make an initial breakthrough; the V-position is also effective for hard-packed snow, ice, and deep drifts. For general wide-path plowing or stacking, set the blade in the straight position or angled position. Finally, use the scoop position for clean up and carrying snow with minimum spillage.

When using a snow pusher, be sure it’s attached according to the manufacturer’s specifications. These specs are designed to provide the best performance, wear tolerance, and safety. A snow pusher on a loader, backhoe, skid-steer, or compact utility tractor can quickly and efficiently move large volumes of snow. Snow pushers contain snow and don’t create as much of a windrow, which eliminates the need for repeated plowing of the same area to clean up spillage. By utilizing the loader’s lifting capabilities, snow pushers can be used to stack huge piles of snow. And, by removing the snow pusher attachment, you’re left with a loader capable of loading trucks in case the snow must be hauled away.

Scraping off the Icing

Historically, snow and ice removal has been achieved with over-use of chemicals and the use of shovels, plows, and other equipment. More recently, granular materials have become a popular and effective method for maintaining safe conditions during and after a storm.

De-icing is the reactive application of ice control products to driving or walking surfaces to melt existing snow and ice. De-icing is performed after snow removal operations to melt any remaining snow and ice. Anti-icing is the proactive application of ice and snow melting products to driving or walking surfaces prior to a snow or ice storm. Anti-icing helps prevent snow and ice from bonding to the pavement, allowing snow and ice to be cleared more easily. When used effectively, anti-icing can create some of the safest conditions in the winter, and be a cost-effective alternative to de-icing. Understanding the difference between anti-icing and de-icing can yield insight into the different approaches utilized by professional snow removal services. In general, materials used in de-icing and/or anti-icing include:
  • Sand. Although sand can provide some amount of traction it technically is not a de-icing material, since sand in no way melts snow or ice. A common misperception is that sand is the best alternative for snow and ice control due to its low cost and common use. Sand may also have environmental impacts related to drainage that must be considered.
  • Salt. Sodium chloride, or rock salt, is the most common de-icer in use today. Generally this product is effective, though not at all conditions. In very cold conditions (typically less than 23°F), salt begins to lose its effectiveness and is either not used or is overused in an attempt to make up for reduced performance.
  • Sand/Salt Mix. Another common practice is to mix sand and salt together for de-
icing. This method is effective in maintaining some traction, due to the sand, but it will reduce the amount of salt that can be applied to an area, so less de-icing occurs while environmental concerns and clean-up costs associated with sand rise.

There are many other products in use in today’s market, and each of these differs in effectiveness, cost, availability, and environmental impact. These products include calcium chloride, magnesium chloride, potassium chloride, urea, calcium magnesium acetate, and potassium acetate. 

Brian Birch, CAE, is assistant executive director of the Snow & Ice Management Association. He can be contacted via email at [email protected].