Snow plowing demands you and your employees are working in adverse conditions, and the job itself leaves the company open for liability. Before winter descends — and throughout the season — it’s essential to reduce potential liability and protect your assets and employees.
The following highlighted aspects can minimize risk and improve safety and performance.
Plowing snow and driving in adverse conditions naturally exposes yourself and employees to higher risk levels than working in fair-weathered conditions. Having the proper contracts and insurance policies in place helps to protect your business in the event of an accident.
A snow plowing or snow removal contract is a beneficial way to establish the terms and conditions of the services provided in writing, agreed upon by both the contractor and client. It helps to negate wrongful accusations and complaints while keeping your business running efficiently.
Well-written snow plowing contracts include a detailed description of the work provided, when services are carried out (i.e., how much snowfall must occur before plowing), payment structure, performance guarantees, and any relevant insurance carried by the company. Depending upon the client, it can also include details regarding sanding or salting and snow removal from the premise(s).
It’s recommended to avoid contracts that pass 100 percent of the liability to the contractor if an accident occurs. These terms are known as hold harmless or indemnity clauses and are often obscure or written in language that is hard to understand. This helps protect you from being held responsible for slip and fall accidents due to client/homeowner negligence.
Your standard insurance carrier doesn’t always offer specific insurance policies covering snow plowing activities (property damage, personal injury, etc.) because of the history of claims and costly litigation. If they are offered, consider if the expense is worth the given coverage and benefits.
To lessen some of the risk, cover all operating snow plowing vehicles with commercial automobile coverage through your insurer. A commercial policy is more in-depth than a standard business auto policy. It provides basic accident insurance for driving but will also cover bodily injury of the driver and damage to lawns, mailboxes, or fences that occur when plowing. Keep copies of proof of insurance in all vehicles at all times.
Making sure you and your employees are adequately trained is another critical aspect of reducing potential liability.
The Accredited Snow Contractors Association is an association helping to advance the professional snow and ice management industry. To help contractors provide exceptional services to their clients while deterring legal claims, they offer “Snow & Ice Management Certification.”
This annual certification consists of ten ASCA-approved online educational classes, each one hour long. After each session is completed, a test is issued and must be passed with a score of at least 80% to receive credit.
All operators need to be trained on snow plowing basics to complete work effectively and efficiently, without damaging the plow or the vehicle. Training should include:
- Plow and truck operation
- Only shift gears when the vehicle has come to a complete stop
- Do not plow in overdrive
- Reverse as little as possible
- Remember the truck is not a front-end loader
- Proper plowing techniques and etiquette
- Don’t push too much snow at once
- Start with main areas first, working towards less critical spaces
- Don’t pile snow in front of entrances, steps, dumpsters, fire hydrants, etc.
- Work with shovelers, not against them
- Do not plow vehicles in whenever possible
- Do not push snow into or across adjacent streets
Basic safety training is important too. Operators should be instructed on:
- Inspecting the vehicle and plow before starting work
- Always knowing the forecast and when conditions are too dangerous to continue working
- Keeping appropriate cold-weather gear/clothing in their truck
- How to handle equipment breakdowns
- Handling accident claims
- Proper first aid and safety measures
Documentation of Services
Detailed records of every job performed and all services provided on that job needs to be kept by the contractor. In the event of a client complaint, these service logs can be referenced and, if need be, used as evidence.
Records should be kept on hand for at least four years and filed in a system that makes it easy to access logs if necessary.
Service logs are a staple of documentation. At a minimum, service logs should include:
- Driver’s full legal name
- Client’s name and address
- Date and time of services rendered
- Associated weather conditions
- Description of all work completed, including the type and rate of de-icing material application (if applicable)
- Notes regarding any problems experienced during plowing.
Photos of Completed Work
After each job is completed, require photos are taken of the finished work. Smartphones with built-in cameras make this a simple task that adds an extra layer of protection.
Snow and Ice Business Documentation Software
To help streamline the documentation process, snow and ice business documentation software is available for purchase. These software programs allow you to document all aspects of your business: client contracts, service logs, invoicing, and even employee payroll.
Another way to reduce potential liability is to install GPS trackers in plow trucks. Snow plow trackers can generate reports on vehicle history location, proving work was completed. They also help protect you as a business owner from employees falsifying time cards.