By Greg Stacho
As summer starts to wind down and we head into fall we find ourselves preparing for the upcoming snow season. At Akehurst Landscape Service we start going over snow preparation training early. One topic that we focus on is sidewalk snow & ice removal, a grueling but important aspect of our operations.
Once November hits it’s all hands on deck as we start our sidewalk crew training program. We use several of our account managers to cover a topic per week. These meetings are normally 30 to 60 minutes long. By this time we will have the crews’ route sheets set for the season.
Account managers schedule on-site walk-throughs with crew leaders to review new properties as well as revisit problems from the previous season on existing properties. This is a good time to get feedback from your crew leaders and work on ideas for improvements for the upcoming season.
We service a variety of property types, and sidewalk crews are on the front lines when it comes to meeting client expectations. Proper training and extensive planning is needed to ensure all things are in place when the snow falls.
Preseason sidewalk training checklist
Dress for the storm
- All workers are assigned safety vests with our company name to wear over jackets to protect them from traffic and distinguish our company when on-site.
- Crews are encouraged to wear back belts for bending and lifting snow and salt bags.
- Crew members are required to wear safety glasses and earplugs if running snowblowers or ATVs.
- We encourage all crews to dress in layers with a rain suit as their final layer to allow snow/sleet to run off, keeping their clothing dry.
- We teach our crews to stretch when they arrive on-site before they start shoveling snow to get the blood flowing and warm up. We have seen too many pulled muscles when workers jump out of a truck and just start shoveling.
- Bend at your knees, not your back.
- Provide your crews with the proper snow shovel. Choosing a shovel that’s too large or too small can tire crew members.
- Encourage your workers to pace themselves, and to not overwork or overexert when lifting.
Track your hours and materials
- Prior to the start of the season we do PowerPoint presentations on how to fill out our time sheet.
- All sidewalk crews use paper time sheets. They track travel, equipment, materials and downtime.
- We test our crews with a practice storm. We give them multiple sites, equipment and salt bag quantities and have them fill out their own time sheet. We find this is a great training tool so we can pinpoint who needs help, and then we spend more time with that person.
- Account managers use electronic devices to track their sites and times. Smartphones for management are a must-have. We are always testing new software to reduce paperwork and speed up the billing cycle.
Training your crew leader to handle new labor
- At Akehurst we use a new employee buddy system. The first step is for a crew leader to introduce him to the site as far as obstacles, fire escapes, fire hydrants, loading docks, etc. We then pair a new employee with a veteran employee, who will lead and teach by example.
- We try and let the crew leader take a site visit the day prior to a storm if possible to walk around with new sidewalk laborers.
- All crew leaders have property maps they will review with the new workers.
- We encourage groups of two to work together and watch for traffic and snow-removal machinery, and to monitor their buddy for signs of fatigue or other health issues.
- Engage your team to get valuable feedback on any issues that arose on-site from the previous year.
Know your spreader settings
- Determine spreader calibration and test in a parking lot or on a sidewalk prior to a storm.
- Depending on the material used, we use covers on the spreaders to avoid snow/water buildup, which will impact the flow rate.
- Try and use the same brand of spreaders to make it easy for on-the-go spreader adjustments. This is a huge benefit when dealing with multiple crews.
- Know where you pull salt from. Does a truck follow you, are you carrying bags across a parking lot? Streamline salt storage areas to maximize productivity.
Greg Stacho is director of grounds maintenance for Akehurst Landscape Service Inc. in Joppa, MD.