Developing a Robust Winter Maintenance Program

Whether you’re just beginning to setup a winter maintenance program or looking to refine and perfect processes, there’re important considerations from a management and operation perspective that should be focused on which can influence success.

Knowing Your Structure

The first important step is to know the structure you have, or the one you want to develop. Before you begin laying out an organizational structure for purposes of responsibilities and reporting, make a list of the key elements such as:

  • How many employees you have?
  • What types of employees you have (specifically roles and titles)
  • What equipment and vehicles you have?
  • What region or regions you will be covering?
  • What types of contracts will you service (public, private, residential, etc)
  • Laying the foundation for contracts

It’s important to know how many employees you have in different roles and how many crew members you need servicing sites or regions. Also, consider the capabilities and experience of your employees to ensure you’re putting the right people in the right places. Another important consideration is to know what equipment and vehicles you have that can perform snow operations, as well as what equipment you may need to acquire depending on the type of clients you will be serving. To add to this, you will want to think about the region you’re in and what type of equipment is most desired for clearing and removing snow and ice. Remember that different regions have different snow and ice characteristics which can drastically alter what you use, as well as the types of granular and liquid materials you will use. If you don’t have an expert on staff to identify what’s necessary, make sure you contact an expert to advise on these materials.

Know Your Sites

The next step you’re going to cover is knowing what sites you plan on servicing or what opportunities you want to obtain. When working with clients to bid on or obtain contracts it’s important to discuss what the site requirements are, and what types of event triggers are required. You’ll find that client expectations vary, and you will determine the level of service (LOS) for each client individually. It’s important to have general contract templates created followed by sections where you can identify specific requirements. Depending on how you want to set the expectations for your company as well, you may have sites with event triggers anywhere from a trace (any snow amount) to near four inches. This is completely dependent on the client’s needs, but as the professional in snow and ice removal you will want to do your best to suggest services that meet their site needs such as it being a residential, commercial center, retail center, medical facility, or public site. It’s useful to network with other snow and ice professionals to gain an understanding of common practices for different sites.

Following this you’ll want to not only complete the annual contract for services, but you’ll also want to develop site maps and requirements, and cover these with the client and your operation crews. Make sure to identify obstacles such as drains, fire hydrants, handicap spots, shaded or low elevation spots, high-traffic areas, and emergency entrance and exits. Next, go over the site map and requirements and layout a plan for what areas of the site get cleared first, second, and so on in a prioritization format, as well as knowing specifics such as:

  • When businesses and commercial sites open and close
  • If you’re performing operations on holidays
  • When and how weekend snow events need to be managed
  • The beginning date and ending date of service
  • If any services will be performed outside the contract dates due to unexpected weather events
  • If equipment or materials are stored on-site
  • If snow needs to be fully removed from the site or if it’s cleared and piled on-site

This list should help you get moving along and forming strong expectations and site requirements, so the operational procedures follow with more clarity.

Plan Your Operations

After you’ve completed these preliminary steps, it’s important to begin setting up your operations. Part of this is going to be identifying who’s going to be the internal point of contact (POC) for the client in the event of questions or concerns. Typical this is an operations manager or supervisor that also has direct contact with the snow crew responsible for the site. You’ll also want to ensure the client has the contact information for this internal POC as well prior to the snow season.

The next step you’re going to take is either revising or developing an emergency preparedness or winter weather operations plan, which can also include standard operating procedures (SOPs). Make sure to document operation tasks and responsibilities such as:

  • What roles are responsible for what tasks
  • What type of equipment is used for certain sites or snow events and how’re they and the drivers dispatched?
  • Procedures for following site requirements and site maps
  • How to respond to emergency situations or events and who to contact
  • How to complete plowing, shoveling, deicing, and anti-icing operations

This is a document that you’ll need to visit regularly as there’re many factors that can influence the evolvement of policies, procedures, and requirements.

The next important step in the process is going to be developing and initiating a training program for all employees involved in winter maintenance operations. You’ll want to make sure you cover specifics such as:

  • Snow shoveling and snow blowing
  • Deicing and anti-icing with materials
  • Proper snowplowing techniques
  • Equipment and vehicle inspections (pre and post-storm)
  • Incident reporting
  • Site requirements and obstacle identification
  • Preparing for winter weather conditions
  • Safe driving practices

While this isn’t an exhaustive list, it covers some of the vital components in a snow-prep program. If you don’t necessarily have the capabilities of setting up a winter maintenance training program, contact an expert that has experience in this area to help with the development process.

Finally, make sure you design a reporting structure as well as a snow route structure for all employees. Everyone involved should know who is responsible for you, who crew members respond to, what times they need to be available to service the client sites, and what sites they will be responsible for including their site-specific requirements and equipment, vehicles, and materials necessary to complete the job. Make sure to advise the necessary individuals of any changes to sites, equipment, or personnel needs when they arise.

Execute and Track

Lastly comes execution of services during winter weather events. This is your opportunity to put all the prep work into action, and dispatch crews to their respective sites. While you may feel like you’ve got it all worked out, when it comes to winter weather operations you must be adaptable, and you must be willing to listen to your employees on what’s working and what isn’t. Many times, the best ideas for operational changes come from the people out their performing the operations firsthand, and want to attempt to make change through creativity, experience, and a pure will in wanting to make the operations more efficient.

While you’re going through the winter and identifying your successes and challenges, make sure to keep notes that you can refer to when you have periodic meetings on snow operations as well as when you have the season-recap meeting. You must know that you’re always going to face obstacles and challenges no matter how well you believe you’ve perfected your operations, or it may be fact that new technology and resources is changing the way you need to complete your work to comply with client or regulatory requirements.

Never stop learning, never stop challenging yourself, and always listen to the feedback of your employees and clients to develop valuable services. Contact us if you need a snow and ice expert to help you along the way.

Exbet Advising, LLC

My name is Michael Wagner and I'm the Owner/Advisor for ExBet Advising, LLC. With the experience and education I've obtained I want to help organizations make a positive impact, specifically with the leaders and managers, as they have the greatest opportunity to make positive impacts for their teams.

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