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Triggers affect plan of action

By:
  • Dale Keep
- Posted: July 28, 2016
Triggers put snow and ice control operations behind in their work before crews are placed on site. Additionally, sometimes when trigger conditions are not met, contract terms will keep snow and ice professionals off the site completely. I am not a big fan of this type of contract but know that they are part of the business and at times must be managed. I believe it’s important to answer the many questions associated with this type of contract well before it is signed.

Questions to ask
For this article, imagine a 2-inch trigger contract. Questions associated with the type of contract include:
  1. What is the real service level desired by this customer?
  2. What happens when only 1 inch of snow is received?
  3. Who determines when trigger depth has been met and by what method?
  4. Who is liable for icy conditions under the 1-inch scenario when the 2-inch trigger is not reached? It is easy to say: “They are, since I wasn’t there,” but sometimes, especially when documentation is light or missing, who is really responsible can be foggy. Disputes over what the provider did or didn’t do are too common when it comes time for payment or liability questions arise.
  5. How am I getting paid for deicer use? It is possible for the snow and ice professional to respond to a triggered snowfall event and have to apply deicer not only as a result of the current storm event, but additionally to the snow and ice accumulated from lesser events that were not addressed according to contract terms. Does the contract provide for payment for the extra deicer material that could be required under these circumstances?
Scope of work challenges
Some items to clarify and perhaps see your attorney about are:

Liability. Consider liability and how to cover yourself for the bad conditions created when you were not on site. The word here is documentation. Documentation must be called for and/or defined in the contract and created regularly as defined. Email can be one way to document. Depending on the terms of the contract it can come from you to the customer, vice versa or both. The contents should briefly and clearly present why you are on site or not. Once on site, other documents may show when work started, what was accomplished and when it was completed, but this needs to be tracked, too.

Deicer use can be an issue. What happens between those multiple consecutive 1-inch storms and by whom? Answer this in the contract so that the snow and ice control provider is protected. Don’t, with blurry contract terms, put yourself in a liability position by following the rules of response as specified in the trigger terms.

The contract that contains scope of work (SOW) and a clearly defined level of service (LOS) goals is supposed to work two ways. LOS clearly defines what the customer can expect and SOW clearly defines what the contractor is to do to deliver. Pay close attention to the term clearly defined. In today’s world of litigation, one of my favorite expressions is, “Gray areas cause lawsuits.” If what the customer expects to receive and what you expect to deliver are not agreed upon in advance and clearly presented in the contract, don’t sign until it is. Don’t sign a contract unless it is complete, and you have fully read, understand and agree with the terms. 
Plan of attack
Regardless of the trigger, contractors must consider the best use of labor, equipment, and material (LEM) to effectively and efficiently deal with the conditions created by a contract. It’s also important to get an updated weather forecast if it is still snowing to determine how much more snow is expected and over what duration. The answer will dictate the best course of action.

Scenario one // Operations by the book

There are 2-plus inches of snow accumulation when you arrive, but the storm is either over or about over. The what-ifs should be dealt with as part of the SOW and LOS goals. Remember, during a storm event Mother Nature determines actual conditions no matter how hard you work. Due to this, LOS goals should be just that and the customer needs to understand that sometimes during the storm you may not be able to reach them until a while after the storm is over – especially with this type of contract. I suggest the following actions from a strictly operations point-of-view without going into all the possible “what ifs.” 
  1. Plow: Start plowing immediately.
  2. Salt: Simultaneously or with another truck apply salt to the plowed areas as soon as possible.
  3. Goal: To melt the snow and ice on the surface and to keep it ice-free until the storm is over and it can dry.
  4. Application rate: Enough to melt the snow left from plowing the snow that recently fell, the small amount that may be received based on the forecast, as well as compacted snow and ice that may exist from previous 1-inch storms where you were not on site. Don’t forget to consider surface temperatures and where they are expected to go when determining application rates.
  5. Temperature considerations: Depending on time of day, you may have to apply additional deicer to keep things ice-free once melting is completed. Look at forecasts, time of day and current temperature information. 
Scenario two // Managing accumulation
There are 2-plus inches of snow accumulation when you arrive, and the storm is not over and much more accumulation over a few hours is expected.
  1. Plow: Start immediately.
  2. Salt: Simultaneously or with another truck apply salt to the plowed areas as soon as possible.
  3. Goal: To get a layer of deicer under the snow and ice that is already there and is yet to come. A full melt is not necessarily the goal or the best action to take during the early stages of a storm event of any severity and duration. Let the contract terms determine what you must do versus what is reasonable for the conditions. 
  4. Application rate: Enough to get some deicer under the snow and ice so it can be utilized to increase snow and ice removal when the storm is over. Don’t forget to consider surface temperatures and where they are expected to go when determining application rates.
  5. Temperature considerations: Depending on the time of day, you may have to apply additional deicer to keep things ice-free once melting is completed. Look at forecasts, time of day and current temperature information.
Dale Keep owns Ice & Snow Technologies, a training and consulting company based in Walla Walla, WA.
 
 
 
 
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