Here’s a scene that plays out every few weekends: I’m on my back deck/in a kitchen/at a bar for a birthday/housewarming/party. Whoever I’m talking to asks what I do. “Oh, I’m a magazine editor,” I say.
“Wow,” he says. “That’s pretty cool. What magazine?”
“It’s a trade magazine for landscapers.”
“Oh,” he says. And I can tell in his tone and his furtive glance toward the cooler/bathroom/bartender that he expected me to say something like Esquire or Rolling Stone or Golf Digest.
“It is pretty cool,” I say.
Explaining what I do every day is easy, but it’s not always what people expect. The same thing is true for you all. You might call yourself a certified landscape professional or a lawn care operator or, simply, a landscaper.
Before I joined L&L, I worked for PCT, our sister publication that serves the professional pest management industry. Not exterminators or bug guys or anything else. Pest management professionals. The structural pest control industry has made a big push to rebrand itself this way, to portray its members as guardians of public health and, for the most part, it’s worked.
As a writer, I like the term exterminator. It’s direct. I say it and you can picture it right away. But there’s a negative connotation to it that you can’t deny. That picture is more often than not dirty and grimy and smelly. But that’s why I like landscaper: It’s clear. It tells you what someone does. The green industry is a doing industry and the people who work in landscaping companies do landscaping – they plant flowers and install trees and cut grass.
Landscape industry certified manager sure is a technocratic way of saying landscaper. Don’t get me wrong, I think certification and licensure for any and all facets of the industry are good things. It’s not fancy: It helps consumers determine who’s reliable in a vast sea of pick-up trucks and polo shirts. But just like any name, if you say it the right way it sounds like an insult. Someone who doesn’t appreciate the industry or the work you do says, “He’s a landscaper” like there’s a silent just a at the beginning.
Whatever you call yourself and your employees when someone asks, you should say it proudly. I say this a lot, but won’t ever get tired of it: Landscapers do very cool, very important work. Not only do you get to install and maintain beautiful projects, make people happy and get instant gratification for the job, but you improve the environment and the health of everyone around you. You make the world a better place.
That’s what you do. That’s what a landscaper does.
So many snowfighters are earning their certification these days through the Accredited Snow Contractors Association. In fact, a lot of buzz has been building around ASCA-C over the last year, along with a few questions. Here’s what I’ve been hearing.
So what is ASCA-C? This certification is a program developed by your peers in the professional snow and ice industry to earn a risk-management-based certification.
The risk-management focus stems from the tremendous input received from the outside world. The ASCA worked closely with the insurance industry and property management industry, along with input from the legislative community, to develop a certification program that would help mitigate risk for snow and ice management companies, their clients (property managers), the insurance companies and ultimately, reduce the risk of slip-and-fall liability. This certification was developed by the ASCA’s education committee, made up of snow and ice management companies. Much of the education was driven by the insurance world’s need for better documentation, training and risk-management practices by our industry.
How do you earn your ASCA-C? The education committee wanted to make sure this certification was easily accessible to the industry, cost effective and not solely intended for company owners but for their key employees, as well. Therefore, we launched ASCA-C as an online educational resource accessed via the Learning Center on the ASCA’s website, www.ascaonline.org. In the Learning Center, you will find the 10 initial courses to earn ASCA-C. These courses, at $15 each, cover the basics of risk management. To earn your initial ASCA-C, the committee requires that 101-level courses be taken first. The 201-level courses are designed for the subsequent year of certification in mind.
What’s the bottom line? This is about reducing risk for those in the professional snow and ice management industry. ASCA-C is the beginning of that process. That leaves only one final question: What are you waiting for?
The author is executive director of ASCA.
Mike Clark, manager at the Acres Group in Wauconda, Ill., admits that in-cab controls have come a long way compared to 20 years ago. He remembers when everything was manual, versus today when everything is electronic and the cab is more user-friendly. Still, his company is still searching for the ultimate system, especially when it comes to salt distribution.
“I don’t think the technology is there yet,” Clark says. “You get bits and pieces of what you want, but you don’t find one that has everything. We’re at the point where we might customize it ourselves. We’re not technology savvy, but we’re going to figure something out.”
Just the right amount. Since salt is such a huge expense, Clark is looking for a system that can have the specifics of a job site programmed into it so that it knows how much salt is supposed to be applied there and only allows that amount to come out. The system would dictate the gear for the driver and how many RPMs the truck should be at, setting up the ideal auger and spinner speed for that site. Right now, the driver controls how much salt goes down, which can be an issue.
“They like to do their job so well that they usually put too much down,” Clark says. “You can bid the job for two tons, but in all essence, they do the job until it’s melted off and it’s a big headache. They might do an extra ton to finish up, and all of a sudden you do the site 40 times and you’re 40 tons of salt over. “Now you have 45 trucks that are all a quarter to a half ton more than what you bid at. It adds up really quick.”
The other issue Clark sees is not all trucks’ hydraulics run the same. Thus, one would have to pretest each truck to calibrate the system to it. To his knowledge, there is no system on the market that can control the auger, spinner and RPMs.
“To me, that would be the perfect one because then we could tell the drivers to run 125 RPM in second or third gear, and they could do the job exactly how we bid it,” he says.
“Obviously, you would have to calibrate it also based on how much snow you’re trying to melt. But that would be the perfect system.”
Clark says he has tried four or five models so far. In the last few years, he has gravitated toward more electronic models. When he settles on one particular kind, he plans on standardizing it across all his trucks, but due to the cost, that standardization may take several years.
Make it easy. For Brian Grant, fleet manager of Case Snow Management in Attleboro Falls, Mass., in-cab controls come down to operator comfort, whether it’s operating the plow or salt spreader. “Ease of use is our biggest concern,” Grant says. “We don’t want to create another barrier for our operators. We want it to be something intuitive and simple where they can just hop in and figure it out pretty quickly.”
His company uses handheld controls, which is the new standard, versus the old joystick. Even though some “old-timers” prefer the joystick, he said his operators have adjusted well.
“In the beginning, it might be age that makes the difference on how guys accept the new technology, but once they use the new push button with handheld control, they’re normally right on board with it,” Grant says. “The older operators, whether it be a piece of equipment or a pickup truck, are hard to break, but they do end up breaking.
“We uniform everything on every truck. It’s exactly the same setup, and we’ve never gotten a single complaint from any of our drivers. They might complain going in, but once they use it, they’re immediately swayed.”
Case follows a formalized training process for the controls, including classroom and in-the-field instruction. They don’t do a lot of “dry runs,” but drivers are invited to practice in parking lots and training areas to familiarize themselves with the technology.
“Most of our guys have some experience, but still we don’t just throw them in the truck and say, ‘See ya!’” Grant says. “We not only teach them strategy but also how the equipment works.”
Grant leaves the installation of the controls up to the experts, typically a dealer. The wiring harnesses can be a little complicated, so he feels it’s best to let the guys who deal with them all the time do the work. Maintenance is another matter, though.
“When you get into where the sander or plow connects to the wiring harness, you’re talking about open connections, so we have to focus on making sure our guys grease them and cover them when they’re driving down the road,” he says.
“Because as soon as salt gets in there – and it will – it will start corroding. The best thing is to grease them really well, connect them and leave them hooked up all winter if you can.”
Photos courtesy of Case Snow Management and Western Plows
The revolution of evolution
All around us, technology seems to be moving at the speed of light. Smartphones, vehicle telematics, computers, TVs, you name it. It seems competition, the free marketplace and consumer appetite have resulted in more technological advances the last five years than in the previous 20.
While technology in the snow industry may not have moved that fast, operators are seeing a renewed dedication to applying some of this new technology to the service of managing ice and snow.
“It’s exciting for our industry to finally get some attention and see some innovation because, for so many years, it has just been ignored,” says Brian Grant, fleet manager of Case Snow Management in Attleboro Falls, Mass. “Now, we have some great vendors in the marketplace who are doing some serious innovation and coming out with entirely new plow types that none of us even thought of before. They’re built bigger, tougher, better and faster and allow us to go out and keep people safe, improve our efficiency, pass some cost savings on to our clients and increase our profits as well. The investments we’ve made in technology have paid off for us in many different ways.”
Grant says that if his company wanted a joystick for their in-cab controls, they would have to special order it because it’s no longer the standard. It’s being phased out by manufacturers in favor of handheld electronic controls.
“We work very closely with several manufacturers, and they do their due diligence, tremendous amounts of research and come out with equipment that’s most effective and reliable,” he says. “Having rolled that out, we kind of follow their wisdom, and it turns out they’ve been fantastic partners for us.”
While Mike Clark, manager at the Acres Group in Wauconda, Ill., agrees that snow technology has taken huge leaps, he feels there is still some room to improve and innovate, especially in the private sector.
“The municipalities probably have the perfect systems that work well for them because they’re doing ‘lane miles,’” he says. “But in the private market, we’re doing parking lots, which are a whole different deal. In city trucks, they can just push a button and go. The private businesses aren’t that easy, but it’s getting there.”
1. FISHER Skid-Steer Plows
The pitch: FISHER now offers its XBLADE and HD Series snowplows for skid-steer loader applications.
- Equipped with a universal skid-steer mounting plate, the skid-steer’s standard auxiliary hydraulics provides the power to angle the blades left or right.
- Available in 8-ft. and 9-ft. widths, XBLADE units combine X-bracing with corrosion-resistant stainless steel moldboards.
- The FISHER HD is available in 7-ft,.6-in.; 8-ft.; 8-ft., 6-in. and 9-ft. widths.
For more information: www.fisherplows.com
2. Paladin’s FFC Snow Push
The pitch: The FFC Snow Push by Paladin Attachments attaches to skid-steers, backhoes, compact wheel loaders and traditional wheel loaders to move large volumes of snow without leaving windrows.
- Available in widths ranging from 6 to 16 feet, it can move up to 21 cubic yards of snow at one time.
- An optional Pull-Back Kit draws back snow away from buildings and confined areas.
- The FFC Snow Push is available in 127 Series, 3600 Series and 4800 Series models.
For more information: www.paladinattachments.com
3. SnowDogg Municipal Snow Plow
The pitch: Buyers Products expands the SnowDogg Municipal Series Reversible Snow Plows with the addition of the new, smaller-sized 36-in. plow.
- The smaller municipal plow, for use on Class 6 and above trucks with a minimum 26,000-pound gross vehicle weight rating, is designed for areas that receive lower average snowfall.
- Weighing 1,350 lbs, the new municipal plow features 10-gauge carbon steel.
- Available in two sizes, 10 ft. and 11 ft., and features a full moldboard trip with adjustable external compression springs.
For more information: www.buyersproducts.com
4. WESTERN Introduces Snow Plow Models for Skid-Steer Loaders
The pitch: WESTERN now offers both the popular PRO PLUS straight-blade and the new PRODIGY winged plow for skid-steer loader applications.
- The PRODIGY snow plow delivers multi-position winged-plow performance in a unit that’s as easy to operate as a straight blade.
- The WESTERN PRODIGY automatically positions its wings to plow whether in straight-ahead scoop mode or when angled for windrowing.
- The PRO PLUS is available in 8-, 8-1/2- and 9-ft. widths.
For more information: www.westernplows.com
Editor’s Note: The purpose of this article is to educate professional snow and ice managers and assist them in making informed choices about controlling liability. This is not intended to be legal advice.
What are walls telling you? While walls may just enclose a building, they sometimes have a story to tell about the conditions that may affect your liability.
In this case we have a rear wall of an office building in an industrial park. There is a block masonry wall, double exit doors, a light, a roof gutter and drainage leader located away from the doors and the walkway. There is also peeling paint and, more importantly, staining of the wall above the door. Both the peeling paint and staining are indicators of moisture trapped in the wall. Weep holes are provided in masonry walls to allow any moisture that gets into the wall a point to exit. They should not occur above an exit door. In this case, the staining above the door documented water flow that discharged from the wall directly above the exit doors. During the warmer months, this is not a problem.
The water flowed down the door and yes, during the winter, froze on the door saddle. Not enough to really be noticeable, but enough that when left untreated resulted in an unnecessary slip and fall. The fall occurred during a period of cold temperatures, but no precipitation. Snow remaining on the building’s roof likely melted because of heat rising from the building, drained to the gutter with some finding its way to the leader. The roof drainage also found its way into the wall. Based on the peeling paint, the staining and the mineral buildup at the opening, this was an ongoing condition.
Is any icy condition foreseeable? The staining above the exit doors, while subtle, should be a red flag to check the site during a rain. The condition may be viewed as subtle, but it is your liability.
Gas stations. If you are concerned about your liability regarding potential for premises liability issues, gas stations represent one facility type with many challenges to the snow professional.
Snow industry consultant John Allin notes in his book “Managing Snow and Ice” that gas stations are higher risk because of fill caps that are higher than the surface. Most gas stations have sloped rings that allow the plow to ride over the filler cap. Aside from the additional wear and tear on your plow, this situation leaves residual snow adjacent to the filler caps.
This is only one of the challenges of gas stations. The transition between the concrete pavement of the pump area and the adjacent asphalt represents another potential liability concern. If there is a difference in elevation between the two materials, the resulting uneven surface poses a liability concern. The condition becomes more critical where it is concealed by snow.
Another issue involves the “dog bone”-shaped pump islands found at some gas stations that make clearing snow difficult, requiring significant handwork. Because this is also an area where drivers fueling their vehicles stand, it becomes especially critical in terms of quality control.
Oil deposits and build-up on the pavement are another challenge. This condition may be slippery by itself. The addition of snow, ice or melt water will exacerbate the potential hazard. It seems ironic to me that many contemporary gas stations have a canopy over the pump area only to discharge the collected storm drainage onto the area below at the pump islands that the canopy was there to protect.
Some canopies over the pump islands drain onto or through the pump islands’ curbs onto the concrete pavement underneath where patrons are expected to stand. The situation becomes more complicated because melting, drainage and the subsequent re-freezing is not entirely predictable, due to the lights under the canopy warming the canopy surface above. The resulting drainage, discharged onto a shaded, cold surface, will create icy walkway conditions, unless adequately addressed and regularly maintained. This is only a general list. Each individual gas station may have additional concerns.
Sidewalk strategy. To some, everything normally seen on a site can represent a potential safety concern. The unfortunate reality is that this is true. In fact, there are many areas of concern, but you cannot manage the risks without first identifying and understanding them.
Sidewalks are no exception. Consider spalling of concrete sidewalks. While concrete spalling does result from the misapplication of melting materials, it can also be an inherited maintenance concern for snow removal professionals. Past concrete sidewalk damage, such as spalling or tilting slabs, on designated pedestrian walkways represent premises liability concerns by themselves. The collection of mud in low-lying areas increases the potential for a slip. This concern is further exacerbated during the winter months when collected drainage freezes or when a muddy condition is concealed by snow, increasing the potential for an unexpected slip, injury and possibly a lawsuit.
One risk management strategy for winter property maintenance sidewalk work is avoiding sidewalk work altogether. This is not always possible. Where sidewalk work cannot be avoided or where the snow professional wishes to capitalize on sidewalk work, the risks can still be identified and managed. Areas on sidewalks where ponding occurs should be identified to the owner/property manager.
As with parking lot deficiencies, these are easily seen right after a rain. They can also be identified by the collection of mud and debris in the area. These areas will require monitoring and follow-up applications of ice melt. If you take on the responsibility for sidewalk work, assign the appropriate resources to monitor and address the issue as needed.
In those situations where the snow professional does not want the responsibility for sidewalks or is not offered that work, the contract should reflect that fact and equitably establish who is responsible for winter property maintenance work in that area and for follow-up. This provides the basis of a strong defense should an incident occur.
Heavy metal hazards. Here’s another example of questionable design where metal components are placed in a dedicated masonry pedestrian walkway. These components include metal plates, grates and utility covers.
While accepted and all too common, like glass, these metal components do represent potential slip-and-fall liability for a snow removal professional if an injury occurs. Even dry, there may be noticeable difference between a worn smooth metal cover and the adjacent concrete. When wet, the metal part of the walkway will be more slippery than the adjacent concrete or brick. In snow country, water on the metal components will likely freeze faster than on the concrete or brick. These metal components may not be level with the adjacent sidewalk. If higher than the adjacent concrete, they present concerns about tripping, their effects on snow removal and potential equipment damage. If they are lower, any residual snow and ice left on the metal becomes a slip concern.
Even if the components are level with the adjacent masonry, what happens if there is only a dusting of snow that is not enough to trigger the involvement of the snow professional to plow or shovel, but is enough to conceal the metal component? An unexpected change in walkway surface slip resistance is a common cause of pedestrian falls. An unwary pedestrian who adjusts to and has no problem negotiating the snow-covered concrete may unexpectedly encounter a markedly different resistance on the snow-covered metal.
Since the snow professional is likely to be involved in almost any slip-and-fall related to winter maintenance, if you come across this situation and you still want to do the sidewalk work, you may consider a contract clause addressing the responsibilities for this potential winter hazard and/or justification for additional services.
Bonus risk management points to those who identified the roof drain leader on the wall lurking in the shadows. This leader discharges directly onto the sidewalk, which then flows down across the sidewalk and onto the curb ramp.
The author owns Pereira Consulting, Chadds Ford, Pa. This article was reprinted from our sister publication, Snow Magazine.
Photos courtesy of Julius Pereira III