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Spreaders: safety first

  • SIMA
- Posted: September 14, 2016
By Michael Frank

Creating safe driving and walking conditions for others is the job of snow and ice management professionals. However, in the process it can be easy for them to slip up on their own safety precautions. Take salt and sand spreaders, for instance. So much focus is placed on material types and application rates that people sometimes overlook the proper techniques for installing, operating and maintaining the equipment safely.

Various outcomes can result from not following the safety recommendations provided by the manufacturer. Often, no damage is done by handling spreaders incorrectly. But, consequences can get worse, such as personal injury, property damage, costly downtime and equipment re-pairs. To help prevent these setbacks, here are several helpful hints for staying safe while spreading.

The first rule of spreader safety is to ensure the equipment is installed securely. Manufacturer recommendations may vary slightly, so it’s important to always read the owner’s manual for specific instructions. Additionally, there are a few tips consistent among various makes and models of V-box spreaders.

A key step is to bolt the spreader to the truck chassis using the mounting holes provided in the spreader frame to make sure the spreader stays firmly in place.

Next, the operator should run ratchet straps from the front corners of the spreader to the rear tie-downs of the truck. Then, run ratchet straps from the rear corners of the spreader to the front tie-downs of the truck to provide additional security.

The final step is installing the stop brackets provided with the spreader. These brackets go be-tween the spreader and the truck cab and help keep the spreader in place. Make sure to follow all previously mentioned installation steps to reduce accident risk.

After a spreader is securely installed in the truck bed, pay attention to how the spreader is loaded with deicing material. The operator should level the load from front to back to distribute weight evenly.

Most snow and ice professionals want to load the spreader as full as possible - often past the brim - to reduce how often they need to refill the hopper. It’s the responsibility of the operator to not overload the carrying capacity of the vehicle.

Exceeding the truck’s gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) causes multiple issues. Not only can it produce unnecessary wear and tear on the vehicle, but it also creates unsafe driving conditions. The tires, suspension, brakes and other vital truck components aren’t designed for overweight operation, so they may not function properly under a heavy load.

Finding the GVWR of a vehicle is simple. Look for a label in the doorframe, under the hood of the truck or in the owner’s manual. After tracking down this number, keep in mind that the weight of the vehicle, accessories, fuel and passengers must be subtracted from the GVWR be-fore determining how much extra weight the truck can carry.

After the hopper is filled, cover the load with a tarp. This feature increases safety by keeping material from flying out of the hopper, and it’s the law in many states.


Even if the hopper isn’t overloaded with salt or sand, it still affects how the truck will handle. Take a 1-cubic-yard spreader, for instance. At full capacity it can weigh more than 1.5 tons. This amount of weight significantly increases the braking distance of the truck, so the driver must allow extra time to stop. The driver must also make slower turns, since the truck carries more forward momentum when cornering.

During operation, spreader safety is fairly straightforward. The No. 1 rule is to not turn the spreader on while pedestrians are in the area. It can be difficult to spot all pedestrians from the truck’s cab, since V-box spreaders block the view out the rear-facing window. The operator must learn how to efficiently use the side-view mirrors and should also turn on the spreader’s work light to provide extra visibility in dark and stormy conditions.


The next set of safety tips applies to servicing spreaders. In a perfect world, all maintenance would be performed during an off day in the shop, but that isn’t always feasible. Sometimes a spreader needs to be fixed at the worst possible time - during a storm - when snow and ice professionals are rushing to get back on the job. But no matter what day or time maintenance must be performed, it’s important to have patience, use common sense and not cut corners to correct issues.

Spreader manufacturers have tried to prevent maintenance-related accidents by incorporating various safety features into their designs. For instance, some spreaders have an auto-reverse feature on the material feed system to automatically clear material jams, so the operator doesn’t have to unclog the unit by hand.

If the material feed system does require servicing, the operator typically has to remove the spinner assembly to correct the issue. But the electronic controller on some spreaders can detect when the spinner is removed, and it won’t allow the spreader to start until the spinner is re-installed. This helps prevent the operator from coming into contact with moving parts of the spreader, such as the auger.

Manufacturers have also designed various protective shields to keep operators free from harm. An example is the top screen. Not only does it keep oversized material out of the hopper, but it also acts as a safety feature to help prevent anyone from entering the unit.

Although the top screen and other protective shields are bolted to the spreader, manufacturers can’t stop operators from removing them. Consequently, people may take out some bolts or remove a shield completely in an attempt to provide easy access to the hopper or specific components. However, this is never a good idea, because all shields are installed for a purpose - to protect both the spreader and operator from injury and damage. If a shield must be removed to clean out salt around the motor, transmission or other components, the spreader must be completely shut off before doing so, and the shields should be reinstalled immediately according to manufacturer recommendations.

Given the potential for personal injury or machine damage, intensive repairs should be reserved for trained service technicians. If an inexperienced operator encounters a problem in the field and the fix isn’t obvious, they should call the office for instructions on how to proceed. If no-body at the shop knows how to correct the problem, then call the local servicing dealer or the spreader manufacturer.

Reading the owner’s manual and using common sense goes a long way. Each manufacturer offers different features and builds its products differently, so read the manual before operating or maintaining your equipment - even if you have previous experience with other spreaders.

Following safe practices is in everybody’s best interest. It helps protect the operator and in-creases the safety of surrounding drivers and pedestrians...which is what snow and ice professionals are meant to do. 

Michael Frank is product manager for SnowEx (
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