For all the big equipment that typically is the focus of most snow removal companies, sometimes the small stuff is just as important to keep your operations running smoothly. For the focus of this blog I want to look at some of the items that will benefit the crews operating outside trucks or larger equipment. Keeping these dedicated crew members operating efficiently, safely and warm goes a long way to keep them coming back storm after storm.
Most companies have some process for winter weather clothing for crews, depending if they issue certain items or help defray some costs. Some of these items can be issued and then collected back for each storm, or bought in bulk rates to provide higher quality products at reduced rates for crew members.
Hats are probably one of the most important articles of cold weather clothing to keeping crews safe during snow operations. Even a cheap knit hat is far better than nothing. We always had some extra hats we would have available for crew members, even if they showed up without them and said they would be OK we knew they only were good for maybe an hour or two at best without one. Since a significant amount of snow removal work is at night I preferred the high-vis yellow color. These are also built in with a reflective strip on the top to increase visibility. They also give customers more ease of mind seeing the bright colors vs. someone on their property in a dark ski mask. I also like the two piece hat and face mask combo for extremely cold conditions. If buying in bulk the reflective hats can be bought for around $5 – $7, the two piece combo is around $10 – $12. Simple knit hats in an orange color can be bulk bought for under $2.
Hand and toe warmers are probably the easiest and cheapest way to keep your shoveling and snow thrower crews’ morale high. We would buy these in bulk and give to our hand crews before each storm. Even with good boots and gloves it’s your extremities that will start losing body warmth first. Adding an external source of heat is sometimes the only way to keep a person’s feet and hands warm after the first few hours of work, even getting back into a vehicle for a warm up will take a while to get feet warmed back up after they start getting cold. The toe warmers also work well for truck and equipment operators even if they have heated cabs. Sitting for long periods of time without getting out and walking around reduces the blood flow to your feet, reducing their ability to retain their warmth. These warmers will far and away pay for themselves in productivity plus retaining your hand work crews from storm to storm.
I always outfitted all our crews with flashlights. Whether making field repairs, finding dropped keys or locating other crew members on a dark site, flashlights are a key tool to running any operations at night. A flashlight I really liked for our crews is an Energizer carabiner LED area light. It can be used as either a 360-degree area or directional light and has a hi-low switch to extend its use to well over 7 hours if left on. What I really love about this flashlight is its carabiner clip and flat shape. It can clip on a belt or jacket loop, hang on a snow thrower, or clip onto a piece of equipment during a repair. During the initial start up of a snow operation, turning the area light on and clipping to a belt loop or snow jacket can greatly improve tracking everyone as they move through a production yard in the middle of the night.
I found these LED safety vests a few years ago and we tried them out on some high traffic sites. These are advertised as being visible from a half mile away, and I would say that might be conservative. One of the benefits we didn’t anticipate was how well they worked to illuminate the area where our hand work crews were working. The vests have 16 total LED lights, 8 on front and 8 on the back that operate on just 2 AA batteries. They did very well on battery life, lasting through multiple storm operations before needing to change the batteries. The vest has 3 ‘on’ modes: steady on, slow blinking and fast blinking. We found the steady ‘on’ mode worked best, the fast blinking mode would give our crews a headache after about two hours. There are similar versions of LED vests promoted to wear for jogging or biking that we tried but found them to run too small to wear over any winter work gear. The vests listed for construction work were sized correctly to wear over winter coats and were also ANSI certified. Buying in bulk we could purchase these vests for around $17, we issued them to all our hand work crews and recollected them at the end of the snow season, pulled the batteries and stored them for the following year.