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Liquid transport

  • SIMA
- Posted: October 31, 2018
By Scott Zorno, CSP
Safety is often neglected in snow and ice management, especially when referring to trucks and other vehicles. Yet more problems occur in transit to and from a job than on the job site. 

As more companies begin to implement liquids into their operations, it’s worth reviewing the safety and transportation considerations.

Transporting liquids can affect truck handling. Stay within recommended GVWR limits.

Watch your weight
Many contractors neglect the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of their truck with salt spreaders, and then apply that philosophy to their liquids equipment. Ignoring GVWR when selecting a spray system is risky. Several considerations should go into the sprayer selection process to correctly match your sprayer and truck (and plow if you’re using a combination unit) to ensure your truck isn’t overloaded.

As you build your unit, consider which liquid deicer you most likely will use since the weight of the liquid will vary. Most magnesium chloride and calcium chloride deicers weigh more than 11 lbs. per gallon. Salt brine typically weighs around 9 lbs. per gallon (just a little more than the water). So 200 gallons of mag would weigh 2,200 lbs., while 200 gallons of salt brine would weigh only 1,800 lbs. Most 200-gallon spray tanks and frames with gas-powered pump systems weigh 600-700 lbs. empty.

Tank design
Tank design can also influence safety. The more rounded the sides of a tank are, the easier it is to get a partial load to shift or slosh. A round tank may be fine for a spray technique when not driving, but a round tank for a deicing/anti-icing application is adding a transportation risk. If there’s a heavy liquid sloshing in a round tank on a curvy road, loss of control is quite easy. 

We had to change the tank on our first spray truck. The slosh of a partially full 200-gallon round tank of mag chloride made the truck difficult to control on mountain roads and almost caused an accident on several occasions. We replaced the round tank with a more oval tank, which helped immensely. After using that tank for years we found that a loaf-shaped tank can further reduce sloshing. 

In extreme cases baffles can be added to reduce sloshing. Some commercially made baffles look like oversize whiffle balls. Some are squarish and resemble a milk crate. Many spray systems include baffles, but it’s also possible to make one from a 4- to 6-inch diameter PVC drain pipe with a large number of ½-inch holes drilled in it.

Tank design is critical in helping minimize sloshing of liquids during transport.

PPE and operator safety
Most common liquid deicers are not harmful to the skin (but will dry the skin) so personal protective equipment (PPE) requirements for transporting liquids is usually minimal. Carry simple eye protection, reflective vest and rubber gloves for protection. Brine and the liquid chlorides will vastly shorten the life of leather boots so promptly wipe and rinse off surfaces that get spilled on. More expensive or exotic deicers (aircraft-friendly or other) may require more extensive PPE or greater care. Know what liquid you are using and what PPE might be required.

Most liquids require minimum personal protective equipment - safety glasses, reflective vest and rubber gloves. However, read your Material Safety Data Sheet to determine that you are outfitted safely if you’re using something harsher than brine or mag or calcium chlorides.

Safety also involves the operator, at the wheel and outside the truck. All spray trucks will slosh, especially those that are less than full. Modify driving on curvy roads and curved highway entrance ramps. Slosh can also induce a slide on icy roads. The force of the slosh is in direct proportion to the speed or harshness of the curves. It’s simple: slow down. 

Lastly, use care when filling or emptying the spray system. Though none of the normal deicers are dangerous environmentally, taking care to avoid spilling is economically wise. Keep a Material Safety Data Sheet handy at all times for the product in use. It will be required if you are in an accident. If setting up a bulk storage tank, make sure to purchase a tank strong enough to support the heavier-than-water deicers. Double-walled tanks are generally not required but confirm with the local municipalities for any regulatory requirements to be met. 

Check with your local municipalities to ensure you comply with regulations related to liquids storage.

Don’t overload your liquid setup
Following is an example of how to calculate the weight of your liquids setup to ensure the truck is not overloaded:

The GVWR of a ¾-ton pickup with an 8-ft. commercial plow typically weighs between 8,800 and 9,200 lbs. with a curb weight of around 5,200 lbs. The actual weight-carrying capacity (GVWR minus curb weight) will be between 3,600 and 4,000 lbs. 
calculation graphic
A word of caution
: if you build the truck to handle the weight of salt brine only and there’s a cold snap or other issue that makes it necessary to use calcium chloride or another heavier product, you could not fill the truck to capacity and still be safe.

Scott Zorno, CSP, owns HighCountry Spray Systems in Conifer, CO. He is a retired snow contractor and is a member of the Snow Business Editorial Advisory Committee. Contact him at
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