5 Tips for a Successful Winter Season

October 25, 2019

The winter season is unpredictable.

What makes planning for a successful winter season so hard is that no one really knows when the snow is going to come. At best, you’re giving a day or so warning. Blizzards can last all day and ice storms are just as unpredictable. We try our best to stay ahead of Mother Nature, but there’s only so much a contractor can do.

This is why it’s important to have a plan to keep you and your team ahead of the snow. Setting yourself up for winter season success is possible, if you take the time to plan for it.

Snow covered trees, bench, and park
Snow covered trees are in our future. Are you set up for a successful winter?

A successful winter season for snow removal contractors comes down to playing the long game. It means you have to constantly stay on top of your projects, people, and equipment. Planning needs to be constant from the first snowflake to the last. It includes everything from proper training of employees to having a backup plan for when your equipment breaks down.

The key to a successful winter season is to think ahead and keep flexibility at the foundation of all your decisions. Read on to discover: 5 tips for a successful winter season.

1. Training Protocols For Seasonal Workers

Extensive training for short-term employees may seem like a waste of time and money but it can actually save time, money, and reputation in multiples over the course of the season. It is important to educate contracted workers to the same standards as any other employee. Snow removal involves hard work on sites with moving equipment. Being properly trained on how to work among moving equipment, operate specialty attachments, proper body mechanics for shoveling snow, and all applicable safety protocols is necessary to avoid accidents and injuries.

Training has begun to be called out in some cities, like Montreal, who experienced higher injury and accident rates. Leaders in safety are calling for improved training as a response to this and encourage detailed training for everyone.

Snow Removal Dry-Run

Invite all employees – new hires and seasoned contractors – on a dry-run of their snow route. Include it as a part of mandatory training; knowing how to properly do the job is vital to a successful winter season. Each contract and location will have specific standards for what snow needs to be cleared, where it needs to be stored, and any other special requests or instructions. Point these out to the operating crew while on site and answer questions they may have.

Provide a hard-copy site plan to a leader on each group with locations drawn out and labeled to make it as easy as possible to understand these specifics. When working in the middle of the night on opposite sleep schedules, the ability to recall instructions clearly can be influenced. It may seem repetitive or unnecessary, but it’ll be one less thing to think about at 3am when working in a snowstorm.

Answer any questions about roles or duties to avoid confusion amidst a storm. This is another opportunity to make expectations clear. Point out areas of concern for the building maintenance team. A dry-run helps to start the season with everyone on the same page. It’s almost impossible to have a successful winter season if everyone doesn’t understand their roles and responsibilities.

2. Keep Your Schedule Flexible

It may sound like an oxymoron, but planning for snow must include flexibility. November 1 can sound like the golden date for all things snow, but snow can come early or late, and hardly ever arrives on time.

Flexible planning starts with you; don’t focus on a single start date for when to be ready for snow. This way, you will not be in a panic if it snows before November or if it doesn’t snow until December.

Give yourself no less than a two-week buffer before your “start” date to have all equipment, contractors, subcontractors, agreements, rental equipment, safety and communication plans and any other organizational requirements in place. The more time you give yourself, the better prepared you will be.

Communication with employees – full-time or seasonal – is the only way to make flexibility successful. Communicating with employees often, and as soon as a snowstorm hits the radar. Giving as much warning as possible to on-call employees can help ensure that everyone shows up when needed.

Organize your equipment so that you are ready to hit the ground running when the first snowflake lands. Service all equipment now. Fuel each piece at the end of each shift so there’s no delay in getting started at night. If you are renting equipment, DOZR helps to facilitate the search, payment and delivery for rental equipment from both large rental houses and independent suppliers. This allows you to get the equipment you need when you need it.

If you aren’t sure about the flexibility of a contractor or rental house, ask. The more you know the better you can organize yourself, your team, and your plan.

Have a backup plan already in place for when your winter equipment breaks down. In the winter, is not if, but when your equipment will break down. Do regular maintenance checks on your owned equipment and maintain a relationship with your rental company if you’re renting. Ask now about what your options are in the event of a break down. The more you know, the less of a panic you’ll be in when it happens.

Heavy equipment for snow removal is important for a successful winter season
Get your equipment serviced and fueled before the season starts. Prioritize equipment upkeep and have a plan in place for when your equipment breaks down.

3. Setting Standards for Seasonal Contract Hires

Setting Standards for Season Contract Hires
Snow shovelers and equipment operators are most likely seasonal hires who may be new to the snow industry. Communication with your employees and contract hires will help keep snow removal moving smoothly all winter long.

PPE Equipment

Have a straightforward and upfront conversation with each hire about PPE and weather-appropriate clothing.

The reality of the job of being outside in the cold, overnight, for multiple hours may not set in until after the first shift. Try to eliminate the chances of contract employees showing up in running shoes and light pants by presenting a clear and visual example of proper snow removal attire.

Snow pants, winter boots, reflective vests, and proper gloves, hats, and neck warmer should be considered job essentials. Reflective vests are especially important because snow removal takes place at night. Black jackets do little to make a shoveler visible to the operator of a snow plow so reflective gear is vital to keep all employees safe.

Successful winter season workers shoveling in personal protection equipment
Proper PPE is just as important in the winter.

4. Keep Employees Happy to Keep Customers Happy

Keeping your employees out during the entire night in the middle of the storm can be really difficult. There’s a reason that snow clearing – especially for shovelers – is hard to hire for. For new and seasonal hires, they may or may not understand what comes with snow clearing.

Make it your responsibility to think about the things they may not. Setting your crews up for a successful season will ultimately make it successful for you.

Tractor with plow attachment in snow storm.
Snow removal is long, hard, and cold work that is often done overnight.

Creating a Motivation Environment for Snow Contractors to ensure a Successful Winter Season

It can be hard to motivate employees to be loyal and passionate about a part time or contract position. The very nature of short-term commitments encourages lack-luster motivation. Viewing these seasonal hires as valued employees and treating them with the same level of respect and understanding can set the standard for how they should view the job.

Implementing a kudos program can help encourage crews to do their best on each and every site. Be vocal in recognizing good work. If late or no-showing employees is a problem, look to understand their situation and work with them to come up with an action plan. Set the standards before the first day of work of what is expected of every single person. All of these can help create a successful season for everyone.

The Nomadic Life of a Snow Contractor

Make it clear that there is nowhere to “store” things when out on the job. Snow clearing involves moving around multiple sites, often in the truck of a supervisor or in a piece of equipment itself, there is not a lot of storage space for bags and boots during the shift. Temporary employees for snow removal – shovelers in particular – will not have access to their personal vehicles or a storage space/break room while on site.Employees can be encouraged to use a backpack or fanny pack to hold keep creature comforts on hand throughout the night.

Tell Seasonal Hires What they Need

Provide a list of recommended items for employees to keep on them during the day for them to be comfortable. This will help ensure that employees think about the realities of the job duties and – ideally – make for happier overnight shifts.

Light snacks like granola bars and a fresh pair of socks can go a long way during an overnight shift. Having wet feet is a bad situation for a few reasons. They can increase the chance of frostbite, create blisters or rashes, and can lower your body temperature at quick rates when in cold weather.

These items are small enough to store in a jacket pocket if a backpack is not manageable or available to an employee. A fanny pack is great for this too because it can be worn under a jacket. It also provides a little extra storage room without being as bulky as a backpack. Keys and some cash can also comfortably fit in them with a little snack and a change of socks.

Other items such as a water bottle, change of gloves or hand warmers are other small items that can easily be stored in a pocket or bag.

Expect Employees to be Forgetful

Eliminate the scramble for forgotten PPE, warm clothes, or water when employees forget them at home. It will happen, so plan for it now. As an employer, it is your job to make sure that each employee has what they need to complete their job safely. It can set you and your employees up for a successful season.

Keep extra vests on hand. Do the same with warm gloves, hats, and other winter clothing. Having boots, jackets, and snow pants on hand is also a good idea if your company can afford it. Water bottles and a light snack can be provided at the start of each shift. Give supervisors water to hand out on their rounds. Dehydration is a risk even in winter and should be taken as seriously as it is in summer.

5. Communication: The Final Key to a Successful Winter Season

Communicate Between All Levels of Employees

Communication needs to be an open flow between contractors, employees, operators and supervisors at all stages of the season. Opendoor policies can help address any conconcerns from workers while tech like radios, walkie-talkies or job phones can be used to keep in touch with employees while they travel on route.

Communication with Building Maintenance

A successful season relies on not only internal communication but communication with the building maintenance team of the property you are working on. It is incredibly important to maintain an open flow of communication with them all season long. There are some tips and tricks for having the best relationship possible with building maintenance which can make your season the best one yet. It can even ensure a return customer next year.

Communicate About Supervisor Expectations

Set communication expectations of your supervisors before the first snowfall. How often do you want supervisors checking in on each site? How do you want supervisors to communicate with the office if there’s a problem? What should supervisors be looking for while making the rounds? These are the expectations which should be set early on.

Paperwork is a Necessary Formality

A big part of snow removal is reporting and paperwork. How do you organize your report system? Set a clear channel of flow for how paperwork should be passed around, collected, and stored. You should store both internal reports, and copies of reports given to property management for a few years to protect you and your workers.

tractor with snow blower attachment in the snow.
Tractors are a great tool for snow removal.

Winter can come overnight. It’s something that we talk about all the time and is unavoidable. The best way to be ready for winter is to think about it now. Clearing snow from walkways and job sites is a key way to keep employees safe all winter long. This is why creating a snow removal plan now is a great way to stay ahead of winter. Start planning today by organizing a flexible snow removal plan, renting your snow removal equipment early and implementing a communication plan.

Take the time now to be prepared and avoid playing catch-up to the winter weather.

Tim Forestell

Tim Forestell is one of DOZR’s co-founders and CCO. Tim got started in the industry as VP Operations for Forestell Landscaping before founding DOZR with Kevin and Erin. Aside from the amazing team at DOZR, his favourite thing about DOZR are the customers. Working with DOZR renters every day gives him a peek at the evolution of different projects and hearing stories about projects being developed from start to finish. Although he knows the most about tractors, loaders and excavators, Tim’s favourite piece of equipment is the dozer because of the power it has and the cool new technology developed for it. DOZR’s vision was created when co-founders Tim, Kevin and Erin were discussing a recurring concern within the construction industry while on a vacation booked through the sharing economy. They wanted to make their idle heavy equipment work for them during the off season. DOZR was founded officially in late 2015. Tim continues to grow and challenge industry standards by creating efficient opportunities for the customer rental process. Tim holds a BHSc from the University of Western Ontario.

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