IFM Expert Perspective: The Dangers and Opportunities of Snow Removal

Category: Facilities Maintenance

Tags: Safety, Business and Industry, Emergency Preparedness

Over the next year, Flagship will be working with different experts within our team to provide you with a professional perspective to your facility and its inner workings. Look for upcoming webinars (Peace, Love and IFM) and blogs (Expert Perspective) to get an insider’s view of what it’s like to deal with everything FM.

Mike Thompson

A conversation with Flagship’s Mike Thompson, President, Integrated Facilities Management. Mike has more than 20 years’ experience in IFM, including operations across regulated manufacturing sites, R&D campuses, distribution centers, retail banking, and data operations centers.

I’ve been thinking about a topic for my first blog entry, and it dawned on me while I was clearing over eight inches of snow from my driveway and walks (with still more expected), that maybe snow removal would be a good topic to cover . . . sure if you’re in Florida, Texas, California, etc., snow removal isn’t really a thing. But in Chicago, it’s a thing.

Funny fact, a pet peeve of mine is when people compare the business of FM to their homes. “You know when I renovated my basement, I didn’t need a permit.” If I had a dollar for every executive who uttered those words during a project I was managing, I’d have a few dollars. Yet here I am doing just that. . . apologies to all the FMs out there who share my pet peeve.

For a facility manager (FM), snow presents a number of unique challenges. Good FMs always think in terms of Safety-Cost-Quality-Delivery-People (citing my friends and two of the best FMs I know, Cameron MacKenzie and Jeff Kistler who taught me about how to think about FM operations in this way), and SCQDP definitely applies to snow removal.

The importance of safety

I’d put snow removal among the highest risk activities in FM, right up there with roof repairs, electrical work, confined space entry, boiler repairs, and hazardous waste removal.

Interestingly, where roof work requires all sorts of OSHA mandates to ensure safe working, special training and permits are required for electrical work, boiler work and hazardous waste removal, snow removal doesn’t really require much in the way special training, licensing, or other safety guidelines. Yet when you combine poor visibility during a snowstorm, slippery conditions, obscured vision (think pedestrians walking across a parking lot, heads down, hoods up), snow removal is the very definition of high-risk work.

In my 30 years of working in FM, I know of 3 subcontractor incidents that resulted in fatalities . . . 2 involved snow removal. Qualifying snow removal personnel, training, and safety talks are the best strategies to ensure safe snow removal.

Here I want to really emphasize the safety talk. Think of a large campus with miles of roads, acres of surface parking and thousands of feet of sidewalks: coordinating all the staff involved in snow removal – the landscapers (often time driving/plowing a applying snow melt), the janitorial staff (laying down walk off mats at entry ways, mopping up melting snow tracked in by occupants), engineering staff who may clear areas around fire department connections, sewers, and roof drains – getting that team together to understanding who is working where, making sure everyone is wearing PPE (especially high visibility outer wear), and walking through the logistics of operations on a snowy day is the only way to keep the workforce and building occupants safe.

Working with a fixed budget

Many FMs work on a budget that is fixed: regardless of the amount of snow that falls, the total FM budget for the year will not change. If it’s a light snow season, hooray! The FM may have some funding to get projects done later in the year. If it’s a heavy snow season, yikes! The FM may have to reduce certain costs to come in at budget by the end of the year.

Most FMs subcontract snow removal (the capital cost for trucks, salt spreaders, plows, and other equipment make snow removal cost prohibitive to perform using inhouse staff . . . then there is the aforementioned training.

What does a good snow removal contract look like?

I had an FM colleague who developed a brilliant model for subcontracting snow removal that resulted in tight cost controls with exceptionally high quality. First, he worked with the subcontractor to develop a tight scope: dumping sites were detailed, extra costs for hauling snow away from the site were defined, sidewalk and building entry way were made part of the janitorial scope.

Second, he worked with the snow removal subcontractor to develop tiers based on total snowfall and the number of events in a season. Basically, the more snow that fell over the course of a season, the lower the unit cost of snow removal. This FM had sites in Pittsburgh and northern NJ, so snow removal was a real cost. But by developing good scope and a tiered cost for removal, the FM controlled costs while ensuring quality snow removal.

What does quality snow removal look like?

Good planning as a storm advances is critical. Snowstorms don’t approach by surprise, so knowing the forecast and making sure that building staff are ready – OT scheduled, supplies on-hand and staged, PPE available, safety talks scheduled and conducted, and a review of the snow removal plan (who will be working where and when) ensures that the snow removal operation will go smoothly.

Several years ago, I had oversight of an operation in Cambridge MA. That particular winter they received over 120” of snow. There was so much snow that the City of Boston received special EPA permission to dump snow in Boston Harbor. The campus we managed was in the heart of Cambridge, not far from MIT’s campus.

Our team was the poster child for quality snow removal: occupants may have struggled to ride the T or take a bus to work, but when they arrived on campus, they could move about safely. Our team was fully coordinated and despite one major storm after the next, the campus did not shut down.

The team’s focus on coordination and preparation enabled us to deliver effective snow removal. A few years later I was in Boston during the bomb-cyclone (which I didn’t even know was a thing), where snow fell overnight totaling over a foot in just a few hours: preparation, coordination, communication, all ensured safe delivery of snow removal services during that event too.

Clear communications drive the effort

From the FM leading the effort, to procurement helping to get a snow removal subcontractor under contract, to the men and women driving the plows, shoveling the walks, snow melt treating the lots and paths, to laying down the mats and mopping wet floors, the entire IFM team plays a role in getting the snow out of the way so business can continue.

Making sure that site leadership knows the plan to get the snow removed, knows that the IFM team is ready, knows that the occupants will be safe when they trek across the site, making sure that communication happens regularly falls on the FM. Great FMs communicate with their leadership, with important occupants at the site (like the admin assistant team), and with their team to keep the snow cleared.

Okay . . . the plow just went past my driveway again. Out for round two.

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