By Cheryl Higley
Snow piles are a magnetic draw for kids…they are perfect for climbing to the top, sliding down and tunneling through. Harmless fun unless you are the one creating them, and then it’s one more safety concern snow & ice management professionals must consider.
Imagine you are in a loader, lifting and pushing 20 tons of snow to build a snow pile to make room for the next snowfall. Lift and push. Lift and push. Monotonous and routine, until two little heads pop up from the pile as the snow fort they’ve built on the backside is collapsing from the loader’s pressure.
For Ian Ashby, general manager of Arbutus Landscaping in Calgary, that scary scenario is a true story that forever changed how he and his company address snow & ice management.
“It was the scariest moment of my entire career and I have never been the same since,” Ashby said.
Ashby and a plow driver were working in a condo complex when the incident occurred. The driver would back scrape the driveways and Ashby would use the loader to push the snow to the dumping site. Nearly finished, they were working in another area of the complex when the children saw the pile and decided to build a snow fort, digging on the far west side of a pile out of his view. Ashby said he never saw the kids until that terrifying moment.
“We were wrapping up and I was tidying the pile. I probably have 20 tons of snow in front of me and as I’m pushing, up popped those kids because the fort’s collapsing. I was paralyzed,” he said. “To this day I can describe to an eyelash what those kids looked like. Their faces never leave my mind. They had every expectation of having fun in the snow but they probably have no idea how close they were to not being with us. Had they not come out, no one would have found them until spring.”
Ashby said the experience caused him to take a deeper look at snow safety. His takeaways:
- When building snow piles, he requires a spotter on the backside of the pile. “You see a snow pile, kids see a perfect playground. Before this happened I would never have thought to check the pile. I do it every single time now.” On your return trips to the site, check the piles for snow fort activity that may have occurred between snows. You don’t know what’s happened on that pile since the last time you serviced the site.”
- Restrict the size of your snow piles whenever possible. Some contracts and city regulations may limit the size.
- Choose your pile site wisely, away from roadways and sidewalks, where climbing children may fall off and into the path of another car or snow vehicle. Consider the melt-refreeze impact of your site location. Do not plow near power lines.
- Be visible to pedestrians and people in the area you’re working by wearing a safety vest and having proper lighting on the vehicles.
- Remember that your visibility may be compromised if you’re operating a vehicle that is causing snow to fly in front of you that will impact your vision. Drive slowly and be aware of the potential pedestrian risks.
- When servicing sidewalks or pathways, take extra caution and use a spotter, particularly if you are using motorized equipment. People will either not pay attention to the sounds of the equipment or the screech of metal and flashing lights may startle people, causing them to jump either into your path or that of an oncoming car or perhaps causing them to slip and fall.
- Block sidewalks off at both ends with safety cones to let people know the conditions are dangerous and there are people working.