By Tim Baxter, Road Safety and Loss Prevention Specialist

Winter weather and snow is right around the corner. NIRMA receives numerous claims including worker’s compensation, property damage, etc. from accidents related to snow and ice storms.

Road department employees work in all kinds of weather, but winter weather is the worst. There are slick roads, shop floors, and parking lots, along with heavy lifting of tire chains, blades, etc. Employees deal with impatient taxpayers while plowing roads with heavy traffic, heavy snow, poor visibility, and terrible traction for their equipment. All of this adds up to extra stress, injuries and accidents.

The best thing road department management can do in preparation for winter is to hold Snow Removal Safety meetings no later than October or the middle of November. Training road department employees on the dangers of snow removal and winter weather will make them more aware of what can happen, not only to seasoned employees but especially to new employees. Safety training should be documented with sign-in sheets saved as well. NIRMA has developed an in-depth snow removal safety program that can be presented to your employees.

Numerous vehicle accidents occur while plowing snow. One of the dangers is backing over vehicles which are following too close. Encourage your employees to always physically look back prior to backing while plowing snow. Don’t rely solely on your back-up cameras, if your machine is so equipped. Install “Stay Back 100 ft.” signs on the rear of your snow removal equipment. That distance is a state statute requirement, although most motorists are unaware of it. By installing the sign, it advises motorists of the statute. This also assists in defense of a claim should an accident occur, and a claim be filed. I have the info on these signs and the NIRMA ASSIST grant will help purchase them.

Do not allow employees to “wire” open the spring-loaded moisture relief valve on truck air tanks. This is not a good idea as the operator may forget the valve is wired open and drive the truck, without enough air pressure built up, resulting in no brakes. Most trucks won’t move if air pressure is not properly built up, but malfunctions happen. Ensure moisture is drained from truck air tanks but do not wire the valve open. During walk around inspections, always ensure the valve is closed so air pressure can be properly built up to operate breaks effectively. Always use the proper air-line anti-freeze in trucks and equipment before cold weather sets in.

Private citizens like to clean their private drives and property and push snow across county roads and deposit within county rights-of-way. This is especially dangerous after the county has cleared  roads in front of their property. Pushing and depositing snow onto public rights-of-way after the county has cleared the road leaves windrows of snow, and in some cases the private citizens deposit snow off their private property directly onto the county road. Private citizens guilty of this practice can and will be named in a lawsuit should an accident be directly traced back to the private citizen’s snow removal actions on the public road. A public notice and sample letter to landowners has been developed to address this serious liability issue. Contact me if you would like a copy.

Another safety concern in snow removal is brush and trees. Removing snow is very expensive so eliminating the causes of drifting snow is very beneficial. Any locations with brush and trees that can be removed, should be removed to eliminate drifting and hazards. Brush and trees cause drifting problems during snow events as well as cause severe sight distance concerns at intersections. Brush and trees in county rights-ofway should be dealt with the proper way in that adjacent landowners should be contacted and informed of the county’s desire to remove said brush and trees due to liability and safety concerns. Contact landowners even though the trees and brush are on county right-of-way. This goes a long way in developing good public relations with the taxpayers. If brush and trees are not causing a liability or safety concern and are outside the clear zone, it may be best to leave as is to reduce public complaints. However, live and dead trees that are outside the clear zone and within public right-of-way are still a liability and safety issue if they fall across a public road where they can be hit by motorists.

Since the topic of snow removal safety is so broad, it would take numerous pages to cover every aspect in our monthly newsletter. Please let me know if you are interested in NIRMA presenting a Snow Removal Safety presentation in your county or would like to host a regional training. The training is for all road department employees. Please let me know of any questions by contacting me at or 402-310-4417. Be Safe.