By K C Pawling, Road Safety and Loss Prevention Specialist
These last few weeks have been a challenge for many of the State’s counties and municipality road and street crews. I know that I do not have to tell many of you this, because you are living it. My oldest son is a new employee of a municipality in the northeast part of the state. He recently told me he put in 81 ½ hours in a single week pushing snow.
It’s been a few years since I was involved with moving snow for that many hours in one week, but that statement took me right back to that time in my life. It is amazing how just a simple statement like that can make someone recall a specific time in their life, even to the point of being almost able to physically feel how I did at that time.
While road departments don’t necessarily have any production quotas or deadlines to meet, you do have the stress of getting all your roads open to the motoring public in a timely manner. The expectations for snow removal can be quite different from one county to another. But I can confidently say that most counties are expected to have the roads opened sooner than later. The press of this demand and the extra hours on the job can combine to create a lot of mental stress.
Stress can come from citizens’ phone calls to the highway department office asking when roads will be opened. These usually result in the management team gently pushing the operators. The stress could come from not having the correct blend of fuel in the tanks at the optimal time, leading to the problem of gelled-up machines. Maybe, it’s the stress of failing to have on hand the blades or bits you need for all your plows. Or my favorite stress that few people understand until they spend time in a plow for hours, days, and even weeks. It’s just a special kind of stress… banging a machine into a snowbank for sometimes hours on end, just to get to the other side of it. Then you might have the opportunity to spend more quality time with the same drift again tomorrow.
The factors listed above create mental stress, but the mental can contribute to physical stress. Physical stress comes from pushing ourselves to the point of exhaustion, whether we are aware of it or not. The exhaustion then leads to slips, trips and falls, muscle sprains or strains and probably poor choices.
Poor choices could include not putting guards back on the machines like they should be. Maybe not picking up our tools and putting them away, causing trip hazards. Failing to put out the appropriate signage required for our road maintenance activities. Another poor decision can be getting a little short or snarky with our fellow shop mate thus resulting in the loss of someone to help us lift our heavy blades for replacement on our machine or any other type of shop cooperation needed.
I understand everyone reading this is likely quite aware of all the stress that can come with snow removal, but what I am asking of you is to yield to it. If it’s possible, make some scheduling changes to give employees a little relief. Practice a little teamwork, understand that the whole crew is being challenged. Take a minute before doing something and ask yourself if it is the safest way to get the task accomplished. Give your co-workers a little grace instead of responding with additional snarky comments. Take the time and lend a helping hand. Don’t contribute to the vicious circle of stress induced exhaustion.