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Liquids and labor

  • Dale Keep
- Posted: September 26, 2018
During a recent conversation with a client, he remarked that for the first time he felt he was finally in control of his business by implementing the use of liquid deicers through a “total storm management” approach. Total storm management is accomplished by knowing exactly what is going to be done, when, and which application rates are required to achieve the desired (and often incremental) results. These incremental results are then built upon to efficiently achieve the overall desired level of service (LOS). 

Total storm management is especially helpful because the planned approach allows operators to anticipate when follow-up applications or other tasks such as plowing need to begin. My client stated that these planned work methods, combined with quality documentation, has greatly enhanced his protection against liability. 

He says that he did not achieve the feeling of control before investing the time and resources into truly learning how deicers work, how to determine application rates, and how to best use liquid deicers in combination with other tools to achieve LOS goals in all types of weather. “We are doing the right things now, using all the tools in combination with each other in a planned, efficient way,” he notes. 

But total storm management goes beyond knowing what to use when. This approach also requires a shift in labor management, a key component that is often overlooked when a company decides to implement liquids into their ice management toolbox. 

A matter of timing
With the planned use of liquid deicers, the snow contractor has been able to modify the timing of its work to manage a storm rather than react to it. As snow and ice management professionals, they can do a sizable percentage of their work during the day - work that was not possible when using straight rock salt. 

Deployment is no longer triggered by the first snowflake falling. Instead, by utilizing liquids (and solid deicers as necessary) in a planned proactive approach, companies can bring on crews incrementally when needed. This allows the company to adjust scheduling, making it easier for workers to get rest as needed while doing the job and meeting customer expectations. 

“With this planned storm management approach, our company can follow up at night, since product and efforts are not lost, as commonly happens with solids applied too early. Not only do we have planned follow up, but with the training we received, we can predict when we need to return and what will be required when we return under current storm conditions,” he says. 

Labor management
My client noted that the efficiencies gained by using liquid deicers presents labor management challenges and opportunities across the workforce. 

Drivers. The ability to vary their stop/ start times makes it easier both to manage resources and to get needed rest while still getting their work done. The drivers realize the importance of rest and don’t want to work dangerously high hours. 

The new approach to driver management is a win-win, especially on storms of high intensity and/or long duration. Being able to stay on top of a storm event while managing drivers’ hours for production and rest proved a better benefit than anticipated. 

Walk crews. On the other hand, most sidewalk crews don’t typically want rest. They want all the hours that they can get when the opportunity presents itself. With the proactive use of liquids, it is possible to not only stagger their start but also delay or even eliminate their deployment. This can cause some workers to look elsewhere for more hours, which could leave you short when you really need them. 

To meet that challenge, the company adopted a system of what they call achieving a “middle ground.” When the storm starts, callouts are delayed a bit, which allows them to provide the workers enough hours while also realizing program efficiencies. When they are called in before they are needed for sidewalk operations, they use that time to make sure all equipment that is going to be used is in working order, fueled and ready to go. Depending on how soon they need to leave the shop or how many workers leave at once, some can be used for tasks around the shop or on the property that often get set aside when a storm is raging. 

The use of liquid deicers is proving to be a very effective and efficient tool - but, like all tools, only when used correctly. A complete understanding of how deicers work, why they sometimes don’t work (and what to do when they don’t), and how to determine application rates to meet both incremental and overall goals, is necessary for success. So, too, is adapting your approach to labor and scheduling. Looking at every storm event as an opportunity to use the principles of total storm management can give you the upper hand against fickle Mother Nature. 
Jumpstart solutions
  • Get the most out of your team and your liquids program by implementing total storm management procedures.
  • Anti-icing allows companies to shift start/stop times and give team members proper rest during long storms.
  • Efficiencies in anti-icing could mean delaying or even eliminating sidewalk team deployments, depending on the storm.
  • If not needed for a storm, sidewalk crew members can be used in other areas of operations, providing cross-training efficiencies.
Dale Keep owns Ice & Snow Technologies, a training and consulting company based in Walla Walla, WA. Email him at
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