Snow and ice management crews work long hours in cold, wet, windy weather doing physically strenuous duties. That can lead to physical injuries and stress.
The Snow and Ice Management Association hosted a webinar on Wednesday outlining these issues and how snow and ice companies can implement health and safety initiatives to protect their workforce.
“The conditions that our teams work in … are harsh,” Joshua Gamez, president of East Cost Facilities in Allentown, Pennsylvania, said on the webinar. “Frankly, it can be miserable.”
The tough conditions, plus the stress of meeting customers’ expectations while protecting people and property, “puts us outside of our comfort zone,” he said.
“We know that this can have a financial impact on our business,” Gamez said, “but beyond the dollars and cents of it, we want to be concerned with people.”
There is a litany of benefits to prioritizing safety. Reducing injuries can lead to:
- Lower insurance costs
- A more sustainable business
- Better productivity with less down time
The improved morale that comes with a safer workforce has its own benefits, Gamez said. “Do we want to work for a family that cares about us, or do we want to work for a company just gives us a paycheck for showing up to work?”
Some of the measurable benefits that come from improved morale include better retention and happier employees who are thus more productive. Furthermore, fleets and equipment last longer when employees are engaged and care about their jobs.
“Our people make or break us in the field. We want to put happy, well-cared-for teams in front of our clients,” Gamez said.
Hydration, nutrition and rest
Chris Bright, CEO of Seabreeze Property Services in Portland, Maine, noted there is a lot of competing information about the best, safest or most effective diet or exercise regimens.
“There’s almost too much information and, a lot of times, we just don’t know what is right anymore,” he said.
The latest research, he said, is that people should drink half their body weight in fluid ounces. For example, a 150-pound worker should drink 75 ounces of water per day.
“If you’ve ever tried to drink half your body weight in ounces, it’s tough,” Bright said. “You really have to be cognizant of it.”
Caffeine is not the contributor to dehydration that researchers once thought it was. Bright recommended providing coffee or hot chocolate for crews.
He noted that because most people associate dehydration with heat, water needs can be overlooked during winter work.
He referred to a 2004 study at the University of New Hampshire that shows an increased risk of dehydration because the body’s thirst response is diminished in cold weather by up to 40%. That means that even when employees are dehydrated, they may not feel thirsty.
The additional layers crews wear while working in cold weather create extra weight. Bright said the body works 10% to 40% harder just by wearing heavier clothing.
Proper PPE includes waterproof clothing and moisture-wicking undergarments; goggles; hats; gloves, including rubber gloves for handling deicer or fuel; socks; and spare boots.