Snow happens and ice make it worse. If you service areas that are prone to wet and freezing temperatures chances are part of your specifications and responsibilities for the buildings you serve will involve ice and snow removal. Planning for bad weather events will help you respond quickly, efficiently and profitably. If you live in Hawaii, or the South, consider yourself lucky and skip this article. At this time, weather trends indicate warmer climates and less severe winters in most locations.
Ice and snow removal deals with shoveling, plowing, applying ice melting products and possibly salt and or sand. Disposal is also an issue, where are you going to put the snow once it is removed, will it be piled high, hauled off site or melted on site. There are usually specifications that tell us when, where and how to remove snow and which ice melter to apply where and how often. Along with this will be quality assurance guidelines that define schedules, expectations, desired results and possible penalties for non-performance. Having these details in place and in writing, along with color coded maps or blueprints of assignment areas helps prevent confusion, misunderstandings and make everyone’s work easier when attempting to deal with changing environmental conditions that we can’t control due to the whims of mother nature.
Snow and ice removal are important parts of a complete service package in cold climates. In some locations, there are laws that require prompt snow and ice removal from public sidewalks, spaces and commercial properties. These laws are driven by common sense, market demands, expectations and liability issues related to employee and public safety.
A few tips:
- Take an inventory of needed supplies, locate, service and test all powered equipment. Have back up supplies, equipment and sources in place if needed.
- Overstaff by 30% – 50% at the start and when storms conditions indicate an event is likely or is going to get worse or continue for an extended period of time.
- Prioritize employee assignments based on staffing models and need.
- Have a plan A, B and C. Things seldom work out as planned.
- See that you and your management staff are in place and accessible if needed to provide decision making support and in case of emergencies. Stay in the loop, you can’t be of useful help if you don’t know what’s going on.
- Read the directions and understand the science behind salt, sand and ice melting products for best results. Preapplication and rates, product type and capabilities, temperature, weather conditions, forecasts and what you are trying to accomplish all play a role in effective use of snow and ice melting product.
- Sustainable products and processes should be taken into consideration.
There are many factors that impact weather driven and related services, the most common being:
- Geographic location and the weather
- Budget, staffing and equipment available
- Technical and management skill and depth
- Expectations and needs of the facility
- Timing and scheduling
- Contract specifications
Your response to weather related events can be part of inhouse staff responsibility, an existing building service contract, an add on service, a standalone business or a combination there of. The work can be done manually or mechanically, depending on the impactors listed above. Usually how the work is done is determined by the severity of the event, needs, expectations and the size of the property being serviced.
Bidding & Estimating:
Costs and pricing are dependent on market conditions, labor rates, equipment and supply costs, and operational and managerial efficiency. Hourly rates for staff will range from minimum wage to roughly $40.00 per hour, plus taxes and benefits, add profit and overhead cost and you have your loaded billable hourly rate. If large scale areas are being serviced and heavy equipment is needed, additional costs may be added for equipment, fuel and mobilization.
Billable hourly labor rates typically range from 2 to 3 times the hourly wage rate. Supply and equipment costs can be calculated fairly accurately by using manufacturer application and production rates or rental costs for the expected weather conditions and the square footages of the areas being serviced. Once actual costs are determined, these costs and production rates are your best source for projection of future costs and staffing levels. Once you have reliable numbers, a percentage approach can be applied to future estimates.
In most cases the work is bid on a fixed service call rate basis for a specific depth of snow, although one time on call service are available, they are generally bid a high rate, with a lower priority of service ranking. A dusting of 2 inches or less, light to moderate snow fall 4 and under, moderate snow fall, 8 – 12, Heavy snow fall 12- 18 inches, very heavy snow fall in excess of 20”. Add wet or blowing snow, rain, freezing rain, sleet or hail or any combination there of and the work slows down and becomes much more difficult and time consuming.
Staffing and Work Loading:
It is difficult, if not impossible to accurately predict actual costs, in most cases you have no way of knowing exactly what the weather is going to do. There are exceptions, if you live on top of a mountain, you can pretty much figure there will be snow and ice, everyday all-season long. Weather forecasts and past experience can be helpful in planning, but there are no guarantees, the best approach is to is plan and be prepared for the worst, keep your options open, respond accordingly and hope for the best.
For a dusting, up to a light to moderate snow fall, in house and contracted operations typically use assigned staff, if the event happens during a work shift. If an event happens overnight, some staff may be called in or expected to report 2 to 4 hours early to prepared sidewalks, steps, parking lots and entrances for opening. If the weather gets bad during a work shift, in most locations you can expect staff to begin asking to leave early during to travel problems and personal issues. Weather event staffing issues need to be discussed in advance to determine who will be available for assignment and who will want to leave before the first snow flake hits the ground.
Health and Fitness:
Shoveling 4-6 inches of snow in heavy clothing for several hours straight is no easy task and should not be assigned to those with health issues that may result in exposure or high risk of injury. This type of work in time sensitive and costly, which means that production rates are of concern and critical to scheduling, cost control and profit.
Don’t overlook it. This means providing the Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) needed to safely complete the assigned tasks. Expect to, as needed provide: Cold weather clothing, footwear, vests, gloves, face shield, gloves, hard hat, and possibly ropes and harnessing equipment, along with specialized training if roof and other hazardous locations work is required. Don’t forget safety cones and tape, fire extinguisher and spill kit, and proper fuel storage. Another aspect with type of work is reasonable scheduling and assignments. Don’t put someone life at risk over ice and snow. There maybe conditions where the work has to wait until the weather conditions are safe enough for the work to be performed. Be aware of potential risks to those working below from the fall of overhead snow and ice from roofs, gutters and trees.
Start with preapplication of ice melter in key and priority areas, step, ramps and entrances. Follow this with sweeping, shoveling, blowing of the same areas once a certain depth of snow fall has been reached. Know your specs and have a plan.
Snow shovels, scrapers, sprayers, walk behind and riding snow blowers and plows, trucks, and heavy equipment may be needed. If your equipment needs go beyond what you can handle in house, be prepared (pre-arrangements made) to use a contract service that has the equipment you need. Negotiate prices and have quotes and service agreements signed and in place by mid-summer. One key aspect of using a contracted service is knowing your priority for scheduling when an event occurs. Bottom line, how many hours or days will you have to wait to get service.” As soon as we can get to you,” is not the answer you or your customer is going to want to hear or find acceptable.
Ice melting products, salt and sand. Talk with your local sanitary supply distributor for the latest information on product types for varying conditions, uses, location, costs and availability. Always have multiple supply sources lined up and back up supplies on hand on site as you don’t want to run short which may exposure the organization to legal liability issues due to slips and falls on wet, Icey or snow-covered steps, ramps, parking locations and sidewalks.
Snow & Ice Management Association (SIMA). www.sima.org
Provides, education, certification, magazine, symposium, convention and ANSI standards.
There you have it. Plow on for profit and customer satisfaction.