By Esther Hertzfeld
Proper training is key to maintaining a safe, accident-free, productive workplace. Many companies not only start training in the preseason but also continue staff training throughout the season. Although it may be hard to schedule during the busy snow season, it is important to continually stay fresh on safety training, says John Semas, director of operations for Case Snow Management near Boston, MA.
Case has an extensive training plan for all of its employees. Case managers undergo training every season and seasonal managers go through approximately eight hours of classroom management training. On the retail side of the business, employees and contractors will undergo about eight hours of training and another four to eight hours of conference calls encompassing training, best practices and safety.
The company also conducts on-site training for its larger sites, like malls and business parks, which is an additional four to eight hours. This training includes walking the site, discussing any hazards and safety issues, and the expected plow maps.
“Before anyone ever does any work for us, you get at least 20 to 25 hours of training,” Semas said. “Every training we do has an OSHA component to it.”
Chase Hillenmeyer, general manager of Weed Man Lawn Care in Lexington, KY, says his company does preseason training for all employees. “We do a full-day classroom training, combined with hands-on field training,” he says.
The full day is five to six stations set up around its facility and every employee is trained on every aspect of snow, including salt spreader operation/calibration/safety; snow plow operation/safety; sidewal k salt application/calibration; snow blower operation/safety; proper dress; how to clock in/out; and software for snow operations. “We also cover our snow policies and procedures handbook, including our expectations for attendance,” Hillenmeyer says.
There are half-day follow-up site visits to get every employee to the sites they will service during the upcoming season.
Skyline Construction conducts big training sessions in the fall for snow removal but also regular weekly meetings where training is addressed. “This year, not only do the individual crews have tailgate training, but we now meet as a company every Monday morning to discuss the week prior and address questions, comments or concerns dealing with that week or any incidents that may have occurred big or small,” says Mark Arthofer, CSP. “What we have found is we have been able to curb any misconceptions employees may have on incidents or how they should be handled.”
Safety, and therefore safety training, is part of East End Group’s culture. The company does a lot of utility business, which has some of the craziest safety policies out there, says Managing Partner Ryan Dempsey. “It naturally holds us to a higher standard,” he says.
All new East End employees start with OSHA onboarding, taught by East End’s full-time safety director. The company also brings in a third-party safety consultant for roof snow removal before the season starts in November, but Dempsey says hands-on learning is the best for its employees. “We have our employees spend time in the parking lot with cones to familiarize themselves with what could happen and how to adapt to a variety of conditions,” he says.
Why standards matter
This year, Case Snow Management started toolbox training, which runs November through April. This is in addition to its previous video system, Case University. “Throughout the entire summer, we worked diligently on putting together this 60+ page training manual,” Semas says. “It will be used as a textbook and there will be training based on each section. It outlines everything an employee will need to know - A to Z, from the beginning of the season to the end of the season.”
Semas says the new guide revamps training to include interactive classroom-style training and field training. “When the first flake hits, we want to make sure our people are as ready as possible,” he says.
At the East End Group, every morning at each job site, employees have a morning toolbox talk before going off to work and each division has a monthly safety day with a company-wide safety day each quarter.
Having a department of transportation (DOT) officer come to Skyline Construction’s site has been a success. “We have our actual truck scenarios available for the officer to go over with our employees,” Arthofer says. “This way, they understand the actual law and it is not coming from me but the official who would be writing the tickets to them.”
Employees ask many questions because the laws pertaining to the different combinations that Skyline pulls are different. “It seems that having this interaction gives my employees a greater sense of buy-in due to the fact this is something they gain knowledge in and have control of,” Arthofer continues.
Hillenmeyer says his group uses DOT books regularly to help with maintenance. “Our vehicles are on roads more during snow events than any other period of the year,” he says. “With the application of salt, it is common to find electrical issues such as truck lights that may not be working properly. The DOT books that each driver carries offer a great checklist to follow. Each driver knows they are getting in a safe vehicle.”
It also helps increase accountability for taking care of the truck, Hillenmeyer says.
But no matter when, how or why training is done, it matters most who is getting the training, says Dempsey. “You need to have the right people in the right seat when training - you don’t need cowboys - you need people that are on board with what you’re teaching,” he says. “You need to hire the right people to fit in with your company culture.”
State of the Industry 2017
- 29% - Respondents who state peer-to-peer was the most valuable training. Storm ride-alongs (22%) and videos (17%) ranked second and third.
- 36% - Respondents who provide only preseason training: but 33% said they trained preseason through postseason. Only 14% train for snow year-round.
Esther Hertzfeld is a veteran trade publication journalist based in Toledo, OH.