09/24/2013

Operations Safety in Snow and Ice

By Cheryl Higley

Snow Business Magazine

LET IT SNOW! That’s the motto of Winter Services of West Allis, WI. The company dares Mother Nature to bring it on because its employees will be ready to battle any storm thanks to a readiness plan that is rooted in safe operations.

Fleet and Safety Manager Mike Frazier, who is responsible for overseeing the on-the-job safety of the company’s full-time and seasonal employees, has built a comprehensive, all-encompassing training program that leaves nothing to chance.

“We want our employees to be safe. When you look at our safety training, our employees and our customers are impressed that we go to such an extent,” he says, adding that Winter Services began implementing an aggressive safety program when his brother, Fritz, purchased the company in 2006. “Safety training has to become part of the company culture, and this is developed at the top of the organization. From the owner on down, everyone has to fully be on board to make a safety culture work to its best potential.”

Frazier says that because management has shown that safety matters, achieving the cooperation and buy-in of employees has not been an issue.

“We do not see any hesitation from employees to embrace the safety culture of our company. They see the commitment, time and resources put into helping them work safely, and they appreciate this. I don’t recall anyone ever complaining about safety and equipment operation training.”

Multipronged approach
Safety doesn’t become a focus just because winter is creeping in. The snow-only company’s safety program is proactive and runs year-round. It starts early—even before an employee is hired—with motor vehicle record checks and skill evaluations. Classroom modules and extensive hands-on and on-site training cover all the bases heading into the season. Prior to each storm, the company will do a “toolbox talk”—a 10- to 15-minute recap of a key safety issue—and refresher courses are sched-uled throughout the year.

The No. 1 thing Frazier has seen since implementing the program is a reduction in personal injuries (back strains, cuts, bruises, etc.). On the surface, those types of injuries may seem minor, but he says they can add up.

“They are taught to think first about what they are about to do, and they already are trained in the correct, safe way to do it. They see how much our company cares about their well-being, and they pay more attention to every task they perform.”

Start small and build
As Winter Services has grown, so too has its safety program. Frazier says while the company’s program is expansive and very in-depth—it rents the Milwaukee Mile racetrack to accomplish the training of more than 300 winter employees—safety training is scalable and can be accomplished without a big budget commitment.

Every program has to start somewhere, and even a small step will make a difference. “Even if you say, ‘We’re going to have one class and watch a SIMA DVD on working safe in winter weather,’ that doesn’t cost a lot of money and doesn’t take a lot of time, but your team will be better for it,” Frazier says.

He also dismisses the notion that it’s too expensive to create a program, noting that there is a wealth of free information available that can help companies get the ball rolling. For example:

SIMA offers a free, customizable Safety Training Kit for its members and has a number of operations/safety specific training programs available.

  • This fall SIMA will launch the Advanced Snow Management certificate program, featuring four safety/operations-dedicated courses.
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) website has hundreds of free toolbox topics and safety bro-chures/posters available.
  • Equipment manufacturers offer training resources, as do many insurance companies.
  • Associations that cater to small business, such as the Small Business Association (SBA) and the National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB), provide free or low-cost training resources.

These examples don’t even scratch the surface of what’s available. Companies that are committed to providing a safe winter environment will make it a priority to locate the best resources that fit their budget.

Beyond the employee
Frazier is proud of the company’s program, and shares it with customers and prospects to show how Winter Services’ dedication to safety not only protects its employees, but it benefits them as well.

“We educate them that the better trained and safety oriented our crews are, the less likely [it is] an accident will occur on their property,” he says. “When it comes to safety, everyone wins.” 

Frazier’s keys to ‚Ä®training success

  •  A successful training program requires a commitment through every ‚Ä®level of the company.
  • Good training translates to quality assurance on the job. If an operator has not been well trained, you cannot expect him to do the work safely and to your (and your client’s) requirements.
  • Owners and managers should walk the walk and seek proper training and professional education.
  • Implement a post-accident review process. In the event of an accident, you can look back and see whether the related training was completed. If it was and there was still an issue, this will help you determine whether the employee needs retraining, or if it is the training itself that needs to be restructured.

 

For more information on Winter Services's winter safety programs, read about our Snowfall and Risk Management Services.