Goodbye 2020, Hello Winter 2021

Snow machine removing snow

Winter officially arrived 10 days ago, and Mother Nature certainly has been cooperating with the calendar in many places across the country. Though some of us may not like the snow or cold, at least it’s something “normal” for this year.  The aftermath of a winter storm can lead to many challenges both at home and the workplace – a slippery sidewalk, two feet of snow in the drive, and ice encrusted vehicles to name a few.  Previous Safety Net posts have made us aware of the dangers of improperly lifting bags of ice-melt, reaching into a snowblower, and slips/trips/falls. ‘Tis the season, so let’s take a closer look at snow clearing operations and associated hazards.

There is another more serious danger that comes with winter snow removal, and it’s often found right at the end of your own driveway or company entrance.  This danger is traffic, and no, I’m not talking about driving in it.  Picture this scenario: Due to a work-from-home situation this year, you have decided to undertake your own snow removal.  You got up in the dark, two hours earlier than usual, and got out the new walk-behind snowblower.  You’ve completed clearing most everything, and due to the early hour and exertion, total focus is on the 28” swath directly in front of the machine.  There is one little windrow out by the mailbox that the town plow left while you were working, so you head the blower that way.  As you enter the edge of the street, the rear fender of a vehicle flashes by, inches from the front of the machine – you never even saw it!

Tragically, a 63-year-old man in Pennsylvania was killed in a similar situation on December 16th.  Trib Live reported that the man was walking with a snowblower just after dark, during heavy snowfall, when he was struck by a snowplow operated by a municipal worker.

The above scenarios happen far more often than any of us would like to admit.  Ask any commercial plow driver, and they will tell you of seeing the above situation more times than they can count.  Though not all can be attributed to snow removal, there were 2,196 pedestrians killed during the winter months of 2018. It can happen with any type of equipment - ranging from shovels to plow trucks and tractors.  Even if the driver in the street sees you in time to react, traction and traffic conditions may not allow for stopping or collision avoidance.

Snow removal in the workplace adds yet another stressor into the above mix – time.  Whether clearing snow as a maintenance function for the facility, or as a contracted property maintenance company, there is always the push to get cleaned up before the next shift comes in.  The added pressure of finishing on time can further push employee focus toward the task at hand and away from their surroundings.

Consider adding these best practices to your organization’s snow removal strategies:

  • Have a documented plan in place for clearing ice and snow.
  • Evaluate employee clothing for its potential to reduce peripheral vision and ensure employees are equipped with appropriate high visibility clothing. The use of traction enhancers is also highly encouraged.
  • Educate employees about all potential hazards related to the operation of powered snow removal equipment.
  • Provide time for personnel to warm up both themselves and equipment before starting.
  • Keep windshields and windbreaks clean and defrosted.
  • Use warning lights and reflectors on all powered equipment – operational lights may not be enough to alert others. 
  • If possible, wait for the storm to clear before cleaning up.
  • Provide time for adequate breaks during clean-up of heavy events and be mindful of shift lengths and starting times. Fatigue is common and a significant hazard in snow clearing operations if not managed properly.
  • Hazard map your facilities to show blind corners, vehicle traffic, and anything else that may be a hazard to employees that are on-foot while performing snow removal. 

Winter is just getting started, so check out all our Winter Safety resources. From everyone at the MEMIC Group we wish you and yours a safe and healthful 2021.