Monday, November 24, 2014

What Are You Thankful For?



In a season of shopping, cooking, cleaning, trying to visit everyone and be everywhere, it can be hard to remember what the holidays are all about.  In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we asked our ASCA members what they were thankful for this year.

  • I am thankful for my family and for a successful business and great employees and clients.

  • Within the last year my family and I lost my daughter due to brain cancer.  My daughters loss has motivated me to give back more and has given me a better understanding to the value of family time as well as optimizing time at work to allow you to enjoy the time you have with your family and leave work alone.

  • Living in America.

  • We are thankful for a great team of associates working together to provide solutions to our clients and increase each team members personal and professional well-being.

  • I'm thankful for the prediction for the northeast snow season!!!!

  • Thankful for the knowledge ASCA has brought to the industry.

  • Business is good!

  • I am grateful for my family and for the best collaborative team that I work with.

  • I am thankful for the opportunity to run my own business and be a part of brining an even greater level of professionalism to the industry, and for a wife and family that support me in it!

  • It is easy to get caught up in all that goes on day to day and even easier to forget how blessed and fortunate we are!  I am thankful for my healthy and vibrant family and all those families that make up the Schill Team.

  • I am thankful for my family, team, friends and industry network.  All of their support keeps me going when things get rough.

  • A great crew, great customers, and the job I love.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your families, both at home and at work!


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Why Do Industry Standards Matter?

 
Troy R. Clogg leads Troy Clogg Landscape Associates in Wixom, Mich. He’s also an ASCA member.


When I talk to my snow colleagues about the need for industry standards it’s not unusual to get some initial pushback, or better yet…that blank stare.

“So, some Michigan plow jockey is going to tell me, a snow contractor in – pick your region – how to push snow?” This is typical of the kind of response I receive, followed by “Things are different in (______).” Believe me, I’ll be the first to admit I got to where I am by running my company my way, by listening to my clients, my team and my heart. I followed my beliefs and listened to my gut.

The ASCA’s industry standards are not designed to dictate how you should conduct business. Rather, they serve as an established baseline for a greater degree of professionalism for your snow removal operation. A level of service and standards that all of our clients deserve, and skills/procedures that all of our team members should be proud to achieve.

What initially attracted me to the concept of “industry standards” for professional snow contractors was my passion for finding a definitive answer for the baseless and frivolous slip-and-fall claims we battle every winter. The laws and the precedents set by our courts have made snow contractors prime targets for swindlers, frauds and charlatans whose only goals are to twist and contort the legal system for their gain. As a result, insurance coverage for professional snow and ice management companies is through the roof. In my opinion, slip-and-fall claims coupled with “below standard” work ethics by snow contractors, are the leading obstacles for sustained success in this industry.

Combine these issues with clients that have unrealistic expectations of service for “low costs” (created by contractors who willingly took on sites without knowing their true costs) and the result is an industry that desperately needs standards. Standards will keep our costs in line and our clients safe and secure.

A “Win-Win-Win” solution for our clients, communities and our sustainability as a professional is to establish and adopt standards for the professional snow removal industry. Let me tell you from experience, one of the first questions a contractor fighting a slip-and-fall claim fields in court is: “Do you abide by industry standards?” And until recently, our industry was rendered silent because “standards” meant something different to every snow company interviewed by an investigator.

In addition, industry standards are a core piece in ISO certification for the snow removal industry. ISO certification is another weapon at our disposal to dissuade opportunists from filing fraudulent claims against snow contractors. It validates your operational procedures and training efforts and reinforces your assertion as a snow industry professional in your market.

In addition, standards reflect a greater sense of professionalism, which singles you out among low-ball competitors and makes you more competitive in your market. For those who know how hard we work to do “what’s right,” this may very well be the “reward” we have all been looking for.

As an industry, we’ve come a long way in just a short amount time. We have established our seasonal profession as a necessary, professional endeavor. On many occasions, I’ve heard professional snow and ice management described as an “emergency service,” and I agree 100 percent with that description. When it snows, especially when it snows a lot, we provide an essential service for our customers, their employees and their clients. Our hard work at all hours of the day and night allows commerce to function. It allows people to go on with their daily lives. It provides order amid the chaos of winter’s wrath.

For a service that is this important to society, we needed an established, agreed-upon set of guidelines everyone can follow regardless of whether you’re pushing snow in Portland, Maine, or Portland, Ore. That’s what industry standards mean to this Michigan snow fighter.

Monday, November 17, 2014

8 Hidden Property Risks

Identify at-risk areas of properties prior to the start of winter and substantially reduce your vulnerability to potential slip-and-fall claims. Here are eight common yet often overlooked site scenarios that contain areas of risk that you need to be aware of before an accident brings them to your attention.

SCENARIO 1:
What are walls telling you?

While walls may just enclose a building, they sometimes have a story to tell. In this case we have a rear wall of an office building in an industrial park. There is a block masonry wall, double exit doors, a light, a roof gutter and drainage leader located away from the doors and the walkway. There is also peeling paint and, more importantly, staining of the wall above the door. Both the peeling paint and staining are indicators of moisture trapped in the wall. Weep holes are provided in masonry walls to allow any moisture that gets into the wall a point to exit. They should not occur above an exit door. In this case, the staining above the door documented water flow that discharged from the wall directly above the exit doors. During the warmer months, this is not a problem.

The water flowed down the door and yes, during the winter, froze on the door saddle. Not enough to really be noticeable, but enough that when left untreated resulted in an unnecessary slip and fall. The fall occurred during a period of cold temperatures, but no precipitation. Apparently snow remaining on the building’s roof likely melted because of heat rising from the building, drained to the gutter with some finding its way to the leader. The roof drainage also found its way into the wall. Based on the peeling paint, the staining and the mineral buildup, this was an ongoing condition.

In this situation, the wall had something to say. Is any icy condition foreseeable? The staining above the exit doors, while subtle, should be a red flag to check the site during a rain. Did you ever think that as a snow and ice professional you would be looking at walls as part of you pre-season walk-through?

SCENARIO 2:
Gas Stations


If a fall occurs because of a physical condition during the winter property maintenance season, the snow professional will likely be involved. If you are concerned about your liability regarding potential for premises liability issues, gas stations represent one facility type with many challenges to the snow professional.

Snow industry consultant John Allin notes in his book “Managing Snow and Ice” that gas stations are higher risk because of fill caps that are higher than the surface. Most gas stations have sloped rings that allow the plow to ride over the filler cap. Aside from the additional wear and tear on your plow, this situation leaves residual snow adjacent to the filler caps.

This is only one of the challenges of gas stations. The transition between the concrete pavement of the pump area and the adjacent asphalt represents another potential liability concern. If there is a difference in elevation between the two materials, the resulting uneven surface poses a liability concern. The condition becomes more critical where it is concealed by snow.

Another issue involves the “dog bone”-shaped pump islands found at some gas stations that make clearing snow difficult requiring significant handwork. Because this is also an area where drivers wishing to fill their vehicles stand, it becomes especially critical in terms of quality control.

Oil deposits and build up on the pavement are another challenge. This condition may be slippery by itself. The addition of snow, ice or melt water will exacerbate the potential hazard.

It seems ironic that many contemporary gas stations have a canopy over the pump area only to discharge the collected storm drainage onto the area below at the pump islands that the canopy was there to protect. Some canopies over the pump islands drain onto or through the pump islands’ curbs onto the concrete pavement underneath where patrons are expected to stand. The situation becomes more complicated because melting, drainage and the subsequent re-freezing is not entirely predictable, due to the lights under the canopy warming the canopy surface above. The resulting drainage, discharged onto a shaded, cold surface will create icy walkway conditions, unless adequately addressed and regularly maintained.

But alas, there it is. This is only a general list. Each individual gas station may have additional concerns. Are any of these conditions the responsibility of the snow professional? They represent discussion points with the owner/property manager regarding responsibility and liability.


SCENARIO 3:
Sidewalk strategy


To some, everything normally seen on a site can represent a potential safety concern. The unfortunate reality is this is true. In fact, there are many areas of concern, but you cannot manage the risks without first identifying and understanding them.

Sidewalks are no exception. Consider spalling of concrete sidewalks. While concrete spalling does result from the misapplication of melting materials, it can also be an inherited maintenance concern for snow removal professionals. Past concrete sidewalk damage, such as spalling, along with tilting slabs, on designated pedestrian walkways represent premises liability concerns by themselves. The collection of mud in low lying areas exacerbates the potential for a slip. This concern further exacerbated during the winter months when collected drainage freezes or when a muddy condition is concealed by snow, increasing the potential for an unexpected slip, injury and possibly a lawsuit.

One risk management strategy for winter property maintenance sidewalk work is avoiding sidewalk work altogether. This is not always possible. Where sidewalk work cannot be avoided or where the snow professional wishes to capitalize on sidewalk work, the risks can still be identified and managed. Areas on sidewalks where ponding occurs areas should be identified to the owner/property manager. As with parking lot deficiencies, these are easily seen right after a rain. They can also be identified by the collection of mud and debris in the area. These areas will require monitoring and follow-up applications of ice melt. If you take on the responsibility for sidewalk work, assign the appropriate resources to monitor and address the issue as needed. In those situations where the snow professional does not want the responsibility for sidewalks or is not offered that work, the contract should reflect that fact and equitably establish who is responsible for winter property maintenance work in that area and for follow-up. This provides the basis of a strong defense should an incident occur.


SCENARIO 4:
Look up!


We have all seen them: A roof drain that discharges directly onto a sidewalk is another of those situations that is so obvious and innocuous that they are often overlooked. Sidewalks are dedicated pedestrian paths. Along with higher pedestrian traffic comes a higher risk of a slip-and-fall accident and a lawsuit. Roof drainage onto the sidewalk may not be a problem for those property owners where the temperature is warm throughout the year, but for snow states, this drainage will freeze. The formula seems simple:

Roof drainage discharge + pedestrian sidewalk + freezing temperature – (adequate and regular treatment) = icy conditions and potential injuries.

The situation becomes more complicated because melting, drainage and the subsequent freezing are not entirely predictable and should not be assumed to be addressed if a melting agent is applied to the area of the sidewalk after the snow is removed. Because of warming from the building, the snow on the roof will melt, even when the air temperature remains below freezing.

The resulting drainage, discharged onto a shaded, cold surface will create icy walkway conditions, unless adequately addressed and regularly maintained. One would think that a sidewalk being a dedicated pedestrian walkway would not be used as part of the roof drainage system in these situations. But alas, there it is. The above image shows a sidewalk covered to provide pedestrians protection from the elements. It seems especially ironic that the roof drainage is collected and channeled into leaders which then discharge onto the exposed edge of the very sidewalk that the canopy was constructed to protect. What were they thinking?

Even when these conditions do not occur in front of an exit door, they represent a serious safety concern to pedestrians and potential liability concerns for the snow and ice control professional, as well as the owner/property manager. This drainage onto a sidewalk in areas where freezing temperatures occur is a design deficiency that not only creates a hazardous condition, but also affects the snow and ice control professional’s operations and liability.

Not only does the roof drainage discharge onto the sidewalk present a safety issue, the concentrated drainage discharge will also dilute and wash away ice melting materials applied to the sidewalk after it was cleared of snow.

These conditions pose a challenge and an opportunity to the snow and ice control professional to manage and control their risks associated with personal injuries. The condition is a design deficiency and not necessarily the responsibility of the snow and ice control professional, unless they chose not to address the concern with the property manager and assume the risks. The condition also potentially provides additional work for those firms that offer ice watch services. Identifying this situation and bringing it to the property manager’s attention – preferably in writing – allows the snow and ice control professional to not only manage their risk and control the likelihood of being will be drawn into a lawsuit, but potentially address a hazardous situation before someone is hurt.


SCENARIO 5:
Heavy metal hazards


Here's another example of questionable design where metal components are placed in a dedicated masonry pedestrian walkway. These components include metal plates, grates and utility covers. But isn’t this is a common situation that you see all of the time? That’s true, but it does not make it right or reasonably safe during the winter months. While accepted and all too common, like glass, these metal components do represent potential slip-and-fall liability for a snow removal professional if an injury occurs.

Even dry there may be noticeable difference between a worn smooth metal cover and the adjacent concrete. When wet the metal part of the walkway, like glass, will be more slippery than the adjacent concrete or brick. In snow country, water on the metal components will likely freeze faster than on the concrete or brick. These metal components may not be level with the adjacent sidewalk. If higher than the adjacent concrete, they present concerns about tripping, their effects on snow removal and potential equipment damage. If they are lower, any residual snow and ice left on the metal becomes a slip concern.

Even if the components are level with the adjacent masonry, what happens if there is only a dusting of snow that is not enough to trigger the involvement of the snow professional to plow or shovel, but is enough to conceal the metal component? An unexpected change in walkway surface slip resistance is a common cause of pedestrian falls. An unwary pedestrian who adjusts to and has no problem negotiating the snow-covered concrete may unexpectedly encounter a markedly different resistance on the snow-covered metal.

So who is going to be responsible for these conditions that pedestrians may encounter in winter weather conditions? Since the snow professional is likely to be involved in almost any slip-and-fall related to winter maintenance, if you come across this situation and you still want to do the sidewalk work, you may consider a contract clause addressing the responsibilities for this potential winter hazard and/or justification for additional services.


SCENARIO 6:
Pavement Depressions



A recent column discussed birdbaths. Sometimes deeper asphalt pavement depressions form localized conditions due to inadequate compaction of the pavement sub-base, recent utility work or the weight of vehicles.

Like birdbaths, these pavement depressions will collect and hold water which outwardly poses more of an inconvenience than a pedestrian hazard during the warmer months and rarely gets a second thought. It’s just a puddle.

Like birdbaths, these localized areas of collected water will freeze during the winter months in northern climates. Snow on top of pavement will conceal the presence of any ice creating an unexpected slippery condition on the pavement.

Unlike birdbaths, these depressions will typically have steep edges that pose a potential pedestrian hazard by themselves. Pedestrians who unexpectedly step on the steep edge may lose their balance and fall.

If someone unexpectedly steps on the ice or even on the edge of the snow covered depression, they will likely associate a resulting loss of balance, fall and injury with the winter property maintenance and attribute blame to the property manager and the snow removal professional.

The maintenance of these parking lot surface depressions is typically the responsibility of the owner/property manager and outside the responsibility of the snow removal professional.

Snow removal professionals routinely identify site items such as fire hydrants and curbed island ends to prevent liability for damage in snow removal operations.

Why not identify and address pavement depressions that may contribute to your liability before it causes a pedestrian injury?

While these pavement depressions may be noticeable under dry conditions, because of the steepness of the edges and the collection of fines in the depression, like bird baths they are more easily and clearly identified and documented during a site inspection after a rain.


SCENARIO 7:
Patch ponding


Surface repairs can change the surface drainage. The asphalt patching impeded the drainage flow resulting in a condition where water collects along the edge of the patch.

As with birdbaths, which form as a result of settlement due to inadequate compaction of the material under an asphalt surface, contractors may not think much about such issues during the warmer months, because it’s only water. During the winter months this ponded water has the potential to be ice. If not continuously treated, this ice can cause a slip and fall injury which may result in a lawsuit.

This example is from a recent investigation. In addition to the drainage issues the site already had, such as the surface drainage to a grate in a marked pedestrian walkway for the physically disabled, the surface drainage was altered when a utility was installed across the parking lot. This created a condition where the drainage was changed and ponding occurred where the asphalt was cut, trenched and patched. This just happened to occur in a foreseeable pedestrian path. This ponding will form ice during the winter months. If not continuously monitored and treated, the condition can cause a slip-and-fall injury which may result in a lawsuit.

Here is another opportunity for the professional snow and ice manager to control their liability exposure to a potential slip-and-fall incident. The drainage condition and the winter risks to pedestrians are identifiable and manageable.

As with birdbaths and other drainage issues, you might wish to consider identifying them with the owner/property manager (O/PM) to decide and equitably allocate the responsibility for continued monitoring and treatment during the winter months. Whether you opt for taking on the responsibility of an ice watch program or to contractually-define the terms having the O/PM inspect the site and call the snow professional on an as-needed basis, you can manage the potential risk should an injury and lawsuit occur.


SCENARIO 8:
Walk’n in the rain


Most people do not spend much time looking up while they’re walking around.

When we do, common building components – such as gutters and leaders – typically do not grab our attention. Gutters and leaders are placed on buildings to collect and control roof drainage. They are at the top of a building and are sometimes difficult to see.

They are mundane, boring and typically not a problem. Despite being installed correctly, sometimes these building components become disconnected or, perhaps because of blockage, will cause the system to leak. When this happens, the roof drainage is no longer controlled.

Even when this drainage discharge leaks onto a pedestrian walkway it is not always viewed as a problem. During the warmer months it is commonly overlooked. The discharge blends in with the already wet surface it rarely gets a second thought.

After all, it is only water. This discharge of roof drainage from a leaking gutter or leader is a property maintenance issue beyond the scope of the snow professional’s work. It is someone else’s problem. Or is it?

If this drainage freezes on a pedestrian walkway and is left untreated or inadequately treated, it is a condition that may cause an injury and a potential lawsuit.

A preseason site visit allows for the identification of conditions and obstructions on the site that may impact the snow professional’s work before having to deal with them in the rush to clear the first snow fall. Few people enjoy spending their time out in the elements. However, leaking gutters and leaders, as well as some of the other building components addressed in earlier columns, can best be seen in the rain.

Documenting and reporting the condition provides the snow professional with an opportunity to address any concerns about who is going to be responsible for the condition with the owner/property manager before it causes ice which may result in a pedestrian slip.

Hopefully, the conversation will get the condition repaired before it can cause a problem. This not only shows professionalism, but also provides a documented basis to minimize any involvement in a lawsuit should someone get hurt because of the condition.

If you are diligent about controlling your liability and managing the risks inherent to the snow and ice management, then perhaps a seasonal walk in the rain is a good idea.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Expect the Unexpected

In the legendary 1970s television sitcom Sanford and Son, grouchy lead character Fred Sanford would frequently get his son's attention by dramatically saying, "Oh, this is the biggest one I ever had.  You hear that Elizabeth?  I'm coming to join you, honey" mimicking a big heart attack that never came.  Snow and ice management professional encounter a lot of Fred Sanfords' each season when the next winter event on the Doppler radar is proclaimed to be the "biggest one ever" or over-eager local meteorologists herald the "storm of the century."

With television personalities not exactly batting a thousand when it comes to accurately predicting when and where snow will fall, and in what quantities, snow and ice management professionals need to rely on their advance preparation skills and experience to battle significant snow events.  Being able to deliver the contracted snow and ice removal services once the heavy stuff is coming down (and down, and down) is what separates the superior contractors from the also-rans.

A lot of the legwork involved in allowing snow and ice contractors to meet the challenges of handling a major snow and ice event are done when the grass is still green and the laves are still on the trees.  At Arctic Snow and Ice Control, a Frankfort, Ill.-based company dedicated to providing snow and ice management services to commercial clients in Illinois and northwest Indiana, fall is meeting season as the company brings its staff together to review safety training, and plowing and equipment operating procedures.

"We do more than a dozen meetings with our drivers, plow, skid steer and loader operators to review our operating procedures with an emphasis on safety," says Rick Bell, general manager of Arctic Snow and Ice Control.  "We also go over our color-coded, in-house salt application and communication procedures."  Pre-season preparations also include meeting with the field foreman to review site maps, routes and information on each client.  A site inspection is then conducted by the foreman and the company's detailed pre-season site checklist is reviewed.  They also review areas for where snow can be piled, what areas of the property can or cannot be plowed, and the condition of walks, curbs and islands.

The checklist notes potential hazards or damage on the property that crews could encounter during the winter including the location of:
  • Sewer lids
  • Sprinkler heads
  • Shopping cart corrals
  • Signage
  • Fire hydrants
  • Lighting
  • Handicap parking spots
  • Speed bumps
  • Islands
  • Drainage locations
Once the storm has stopped falling and the ice has melted, Arctic's foremen take to the road to complete their post-event checklist.  The checklist includes the following information:
  • Did the event require salting, plowing and how many inches of snow fell?
  • What areas of the site were completed and what condition were they in?
 Key areas on this list include: Parking lots; shopping cart corrals; walks and stairs; entrances and exits; handicapped parking; dumpsters; and fire hydrants.

What items get "buried in the snow" in the run up to a major snow and ice event?  Veteran snow pros offer the following tips:
  • Things can change during the season so make sure you or your foreman make an in-person visit to job sites to identify any changes that need to be made to your plan.
  • Make sure you have enough manpower to get the job done.
  • Make sure your equipment is in good repair and that you have spare parts on hand in case of an emergency.
  • Double check your supplies (salt, de-icing materials, fuel, etc.) and make sure your crews have what they need.
  • Communicate with customers before, during and after the event - a well-informed customer is usually a satisfied customer.
 To read more on preparing for The Big One, read the rest of this article on Snow Magazine's website.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Ready to Roll?

In the snow and ice removal business, you're only as good as your equipment. Properly functioning
equipment not only improves your performance by limiting the amount of downtime due to avoidable breakdowns, but also it decreases the likelihood of on-site accidents or costly damage to the client's property.

We consulted engineers at some of the industry's top manufacturers and compiled a checklist of issues snow and ice removal contractors should be mindful of as they conduct preseason equipment preparations.  This checklist will assist in making sure trucks start, plows push and spreaders throw throughout the long, cold winter months.

Trucks
  • Give the exterior a thorough visual inspection.
  • Clean out the cab and discard all trash.
  • Examine tire tread thickness and inflate to the proper pounds per square inch.
  • Start the engine and make sure it operates at proper running levels.
  • Pop the hood and check all hoses and belts for obvious wear.  Replace as necessary.
  • Change the oil.
  • Replace the air filter.
  • Top off fluids.
  • Check fuses.
  • Check and/or replace all vehicle windshield wipers.
  • Examine all headlamps, auxiliary lights and the heater.
  • If ballast (sand or solid blocks) is used for traction and maneuverability, secure it to the vehicle to prevent shifting during plowing.
  • Make sure to outfit the plow with a plow bag (see It's In The Bag), two shovels (snow and spade), extra tow straps, a couple bags of deicing material, a first-aid kit, an extra jacket, and a blanket.
Plows
  • Clean and tighten all accessible and visible electrical connections.
  • Coat electrical connection with dielectric grease.
  • Examine the hydraulic system for leaks, cracks or damaged hoses.
  • Replace any worn or broken parts.
  • Drain hydraulic fluid and replace.
  • Check all mounting points.
  • Tighten all fasteners.
  • Examine blade assembly for any surface rust or chipped paint.  Repair and paint as necessary.
Attachments
  • Check all fluids - coolant, engine oil and hydraulic.  Change if they are near their scheduled intervals (250 to 500 hours).
  • Inspect filters.  Change if necessary.
  • Check the fuel and drain any water or sediment buildup.
  • Inspect the attachment's hydraulic hoses and check for leaks.
  • Ensure the connection to the attachment and attachment carrier is secure.
  • Make sure the hydraulic hoses don't rub against other objects or become pinched, disrupting the flow of oil to the attachment.
  • Maintain attachment couplers with routine cleaning.
  • Clean dirt or debris from couplers with a rag and cleaning solvent.
  • Grease all pivot points.
  • Check display panel indicator lights.
  • If applicable, test the cab's heater to ensure it's working properly.
Lights
  • Examine light housing for cracks or damage.  Replace as necessary.
  • Check and replace burned out bulbs.
  • Check electrical connections and all fuses.
  • Install new auxiliary and flashing lights for safety according to local regulations.
Spreaders
  • Remove the spreader and perform a thorough visual inspection.
  • Check for broken or missing pins and clips.  Replace as necessary.
  • Examine all welds for cracks.
  • Secure all covers.
  • Examine the hopper and remove all foreign objects.
  • Check hydraulic fluid levels.
  • Test hoses and couplings for leaks.
  • If using an auxiliary engine, start the engine and check its levels.
  • Verify the spinners and augers rotate freely.
  • Try all lights.  Replace as necessary.
Blowers/Throwers
  • If not completed before post-season storage, drain all fuel from tank, supply lines and carburetor bowl.
  • Change engine and gear case fluids and refill to recommended levels.
  • Check chute controls' operation and adjust accordingly.
  • Clean and inspect spark plugs.  Replace if necessary.
  • Inspect cables for cracks, frays, corrosion and wear and that their conduits seals are properly fitted.
  • Inspect all belts for excessive cracking, glazing and wear.  Replace if necessary.
  • Inspect friction disc for excessive wear, cracking, glazing and melting.
  • Examine rake shaft shear bolts for damage.  Lubricate via grease fittings.
  • Examine and lubricate all service points, such as hex shaft, gears, chains and sprockets.
Stop! 
You may be ready to roll, but without updated data you might as well be stuck in a snow drift.  Don't even consider yourself finished with your preseason check-up until you've evaluated and updated your client information.  Have you confirmed the following?
  • Emergency numbers for clients and crews  
  • The hours clients are open for business.
  • Special areas that need to be treated first.
  • Specific needs and service requests.
  • Current information and data for plow books.
  • Hazards and hot spots on site maps, as well as areas snow can be placed this season.
Always refer to your equipment owner's manuals for additional preseason checkpoints or to troubleshoot particular problems.  

Friday, November 7, 2014

Taming the Big Storms

Tom_Canete_LeadershipTom Canete has been in the snow industry a long time.  The started-in-middle-school kind of a long time.  Over the years, he picked up invaluable knowledge on how to handle the giant snowstorms and the unique properties.

Getting Ready
Canete and his snow crew consult a pre-storm list that details everything that needs to be reviewed, checked, completed and accounted for in preparation for the storm.  In addition, each plow truck has its own list that outlines what needs to be checked and what equipment should be loaded on board.  Likewise, all drivers and shovel crews are contacted two days prior to an event to make sure they're ready and healthy for when the snow begins to fall, Canete says of his pre-storm procedure.  Lastly, before the snow event is under way, customer call sheets, containing particular storm notes and client comments or requests are distributed to drivers.  In addition drivers are given clipboards with pens tied to each to ensure checklists are completed.

The Storm
As soon as snow begins to accumulate, plow trucks are out salting client properties with rock salt.  Canete believes salting is most effective until snow accumulation reaches about 1.5 inches, at which point it just wastes resources.  At 2 inches of accumulation, Canete's crews start pushing snow according to their assigned routes.  While on site, drivers must complete a thorough checklist of duties, which includes in-and-out times.  Once a property is clean the driver radios Canete Snow Management headquarters with a status report before leaving for the next job site.

One important detail is drivers must mark "a.m." or "p.m." on their checklists.  Failing to meet this requirement is one of Canete's pet peeves.  "We've had to include a big note that reminds everyone to write down 'a.m.' or 'p.m.'" he says.  "Doing this has helped us defend against some past slip-and-fall claims because we can definitively prove when we cleaned a client's property."

Once a site is cleaned, the company dispatches one of four quality control chiefs, which includes Canete, who inspects the property.  Canete expects perfection.  Site inspectors make sure there is no snow against curbs or on sidewalks, parking spaces are clean and there is not ice and snow piled in front of dumpsters or fire hydrants.  Likewise, any special service needs are checked and any potential property damage is noted.

Post Storm
Like during pre-storm preparation, Canete relies on a post-mortem checklist to review the recent snow event.  Each driver's checklist and property forms are collected.  "I dont' want my guys disappearing after a storm and their forms not complete," Canete says.  The day after the storm, five employees come in and go over each truck and piece of equipment with a fine-tooth comb.  Everything is power washed, thoroughly cleaned, inspected and inventoried.

This post-storm procedure includes a detailed inventory of not only all of the heavy equipment, but also the tools, materials and items each plow truck was outfitted with when they left to fight the storm.  "We take a strict account of what's in each truck and what should come back with them after a storm.  If we didn't do this, you'd be amazed with the number of shovels and tools would suddenly go missing from the trucks after a snow," says Canete.

As for client relations, after a storm subsides office personnel fax service slips - detailing the event's activities - to those clients that request them.  Other clients are billed at the end of the month.  In addition, any site damages incurred during snow removal are reported to the client.

Canete admits no one system or set of procedures is perfect, and his are always being honed and tweaked to improve his business and better service his clients.  However, having solid systems and procedures in place is invaluable.  "If we hadn't come up with these systems and procedures we probably wouldn't be in the snow plowing business today," Canete says.

To learn more about Tom Canete and his business, watch his 2014 Leadership Award acceptance speech here.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Controlling The Chaos

We all want to grow our businesses.  And in the snow industry, one of the best ways to do this is by servicing large commercial accounts.  There is one snag: taking on complex commercial accounts requires snow and ice management professionals to plan more effectively, communicate consistently and make wise use of their equipment, materials, and people.  We spoke with three veteran snow and ice management professionals with years of experience servicing three types of commercial properties: lifestyle complexes, medical complexes, and manufacturing facilities.

Jason Dickey, Director of Operations
Schill Grounds Management
North Ridgeville, Ohio
Multi-use residental/retail/office "lifestyle" complex

The retail industry's trend for "lifestyle" complexes that blend retail, residential and commercial office space into one area is convenient for shoppers and residents, but can be a nightmare for snow contractors. Dickey and his team service a complex in suburban Cleveland that covers 75 acres and includes 800,000 sq.ft. of retail space, 500,000 sq.ft. of residential units, and 100,000 sq.ft. of office space.

From clean curb lines and zero tolerance for snow and ice on sidewalks to limitations on noise because of the residential units, Dickey and his crew have their work cut out for them.  Schill's crews vary starting times to best meet resident and worker needs, and start the clearing process from the center of the complex and work toward the outside - all part of a well-synchronized plan.  With activity running from early morning until late in the evening, Dickey and his crew have a tight window to get the job done.  Dickey says:
The most important thing for us on this account is to stick with the plan.  Every machine we have assigned to the facility has its own designated location and at the end of the day it has to look like it didn't snow at all.  We know which garages fill up the earliest and clear out the latest. To get the snow off the garages' top floors we use 1-ton trucks and have made as many as 150 trips to remove the snow out there.
Matt Boelman, Vice President
Team Perficut Industries
Des Moines, Iowa
Medical complex

Boelman says managing customer expectations is important with commercial accounts, especially medical facilities that see 24-hour, seven-day-a-week activity. Perficut's internal monitoring protocols produce reports every six hours during a snow event.  The reports are e-mailed to clients and allow them to provide feedback if there are any service issues or concerns that arise during the event.

When it comes to putting their snow and ice management plan into action, Boelman and Perficut divide their large commercial accounts into service quadrants and follow a three-tier priority scale.  First on the priority scale are areas requiring 24-hour access and frequently traversed walkways where pre-treatments of ice melting products are done to maintain the zero-tolerance requirement.  Next on the list are vehicle entry and exit points and structures with ramps (i.e. parking garages) and vehicle drop off areas.  Boelman says they continuously monitor these areas, as well as ground temperatures and the types of precipitation (ice, flakey snow, slush) involved with the event.  Third on the list are outlying areas and overflow parking lots that do not require 24-hour access, and can be left until the morning for an overnight snow event.

Removal plans are tailored to coincide with employee work schedules, not always an easy task with medical facilities that have staff constantly coming and going.  "We clear walkways an hour before shift changes to make sure we have an ice-free, slip-free environment," says Boelman.  "We always keep an eye on emergency room entrances and constantly service those areas."

Chris Marino, Owner
Xtreme Snow Pros
Mahwah, New Jersey
Manufacturing Facilities

For Chris Marino, tackling snow and ice events at commercial properties comes down to one thing - making sure you have the right equipment for the job.  When designing a plan to service large commercial properties, Marino recommends contractors prepare for the worst case scenario snow and ice event.  He is a strong believer in having your systems locked down and not only having the right equipment on-site but extra materials as well.  "We have our materials, including extra fuel, on site ready to go, " says Marino.  "We are ready to handle a snow or ice event of any length and for back-to-back events without having to take time to resupply.  Our clients don't want to hear the excuse that we have to go off property to refuel or back to the warehouse for more de-icing product."

All Xtreme Snow Pros' commercial account properties are divided into zones with a team commander in each zone to make certain nothing is missed and work is being completed to customer standards. When developing a plan for managing snow and ice for one of Northern New Jersey's numerous manufacturing and warehousing facilities, Marino turns to large tractors outfitted with a variety of blade types (box, angle, reverse angle) to match the job at hand.  The company also employs skid steers with snow buckets and containment plows to clear tight areas and walkways where foot and forklift traffic are a constant.  And Xtreme Snow Pros has all its machinery and trucks outfitted with GPS units and provides clients with real time access through a secure web portal so they can see - no matter where they are - what equipment is currently deployed at their facility.

This article originally appeared in the October 2012 issue of Snow Magazine.  To read the full article, click here.