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Our Newsletter

Sidewalk Snow Management

Posted on 25th Nov 2014 @ 12:45 PM

Sidewalk snow management is one of the most difficult aspects of operating a snow removal business. When the work entails harsh weather conditions coupled with long, cold hours in the midst of a storm, it becomes extremely taxing on employees and management alike. It is labor-intensive work and most sidewalks are still done the old-fashioned way -- by hand. Even with progress in developing bigger and better snow removal equipment, cleaning sidewalks remains one of the last to advance.


Challenging, to say the least

Ask any snow professional what their biggest challenge is concerning sidewalk management and they will tell you, it’s retaining sidewalk crew members. Employees are a key element to any sidewalk management operation. Keeping those employees event after event is one of the biggest issues faced by snow professionals. “The biggest challenge is our guys…in a big, big storm, when we have a 12-hour snow storm, they just get burned out,” said Jim Johnson, owner of Johnson Seasonal Services in Auburn Hills, Mich. “The machines can go 24/7, but people can’t.”

It is agreed by all that sidewalk crews work in the worst conditions and, therefore, many snow contractors offer incentives to keep their sidewalk laborers. Offering a good hourly wage, along with a guaranteed number of hours, can help with employee retention. “The hardest part of the job is you are exposed to the elements,” said Chris Marino, owner of Xtreme Snow Pros in New Jersey. Marino knows his sidewalk crews are out in the harshest conditions, but high performance is necessary to get the work done as quickly and efficiently as possible, and this is no easy task. Johnson finds that offering a place to sleep, shower and eat helps to ease the demands each event puts on his employees.

Upgrading equipment can provide more comfortable conditions for operators and help prevent burn out and fatigue. “By offering workers a tractor with a cab, you are providing them a pristine work environment,” stated Marino. Marino estimates he will increase production and add more sidewalk business because workers are not burned out and physically spent due to labor-intensive sidewalk snow removal.


By hand or machine

There will always be a need for hand tools to remove snow and ice. Stairs, closed-in walkways and tight areas still need to be maintained with shovels or hand pushers. However, when a storm puts down sheets of ice on a sidewalk, shoveling will not produce the necessary results. Mechanized machines or walk-behind equipment are alternatives to shoveling. There again, this presents the need to evaluate the effectiveness of labor costs and time spent per job. These options work well for short distances, but when cleaning miles and miles of walkways -- or for heavy snow and ice -- contractors still find them less productive and less cost effective.

Evaluating the situation is critical for using the right equipment. “Every storm is different and requires different equipment,” stated Marino. “Contractors need to adapt equipment according to the type of storm.” Marino currently uses shovels, ATV’s and walk-behind snowblowers to manage sidewalks. Because these are labor-intensive, and workers are exposed to the elements, he is turning to sub-compact tractors for his sidewalk jobs. “We are turning to mechanizing every part of our company,” said Marino. “You have to remain productive in order to compete.”

Over the past several years, the use of sub-compact tractors for snow removal has increased. Many compact units are multi-functional and offer multiple attachments for use on one power unit. Many snow and ice professionals find that sub-compact tractors with attachments are very useful to keep ahead of the competition and manage labor costs. Attachments such as brooms, angle blades, spreaders and snow blowers allow the compact machines to kick up productivity without the need to haul multiple machines to the job site. Bob St. Jacques, owner of Four Seasons Landscaping, Inc., operates six Ventrac tractors in his business in Connecticut.

“Sub-compact tractors offer contractors the ability to run a broom or v-blade on the front and a spreader on the back, which really pumps up production,” said Isaac Roth, Snow and Ice Specialist at Ventrac. “The articulating frame allows the unit to move on, off and around sidewalks easily and efficiently; and the heated cabs really keep drivers protected.”


Keep them comfortable; keep them safe

ATVs and other quad-type vehicles equipped with plows, blades or brooms, remain popular choices for sidewalks. They have their benefits when cleaning larger areas, but don’t offer operators protection from the elements. “We don’t have any machine that is sidewalk specific,” stated Johnson. “We use a four-wheeler with a plow and salt spreader for our sidewalks.” Many contractors, including Johnson, do not like the idea their workers are unprotected from the elements, but are challenged with finding a sidewalk machine that improves efficiency and provides operator protection. Sidewalk imperfections also present a huge drawback in using these type of units as operators have been thrown over the front of the unit, causing serious injury.

Skid-steers remain one piece of equipment that is used quite often for sidewalk snow removal. They perform zero-radius turns and can function in larger areas as well. They also offer some weather protection for operators. The main concern with skid-steers is the realization they were not designed for clearing narrow places and can potentially damage turf and landscaping that border sidewalks.

Units with simple controls that are easy to operate and do not require days of training are a plus for any company. If workers are comfortable with the equipment, they can devote more hours to production. Many advanced improvements in operation, control and function of sub-compact tractors offer operators more comfort and safety.

Most come equipped with a cab as an added bonus to eliminate operator fatigue and exposure to the harsh elements.


Finding the perfect match

Snow professionals know that managing sidewalks is not an easy service, but it can be a profitable portion of any snow-contracting business if the right processes are in place. Worker comfort and safety should be high on the list. Equipment that offers high productivity, is user friendly, and provides worker comfort and safety should be part of the consideration as well. Once you find that perfect synergy of equipment and crews, you have won half the battle.