Accidents happen. Yet, if you’re in the business of snow and ice removal, you most certainly have a higher chance of an accident than many other service-industry jobs due to the added challenge of working outdoors during the winter season. The truth is, you operate a large snow plow, sometimes in low-visibility and quite often during treacherous conditions. With that in mind, how do you plan for an accident, big or small?
It’s impossible to know what will happen to you or your workforce in snow removal. Yet, there are common pitfalls to be prepared for such as collision damage (like plow damage or an auto accident), property damage (like damage to a curb or building), or the personal injury of either someone on your payroll or a customer of the property you are plowing (like a slip and fall incident). Whatever the case, there are a few things you can do to take a lot of unneeded pain out of an accident.
Have the Right Insurance
We’ve discussed the benefits of snow plow insurance in the past. We recommend you contact your insurance company before the season to discuss adding snow plow insurance to your plan. Depending on your location, you may even be required to have snow plow insurance as conventional vehicle insurance doesn’t always cut it, especially in a commercial situation.
At just $400 to $1,000 a year, the month-to-month expense of snow plow insurance will be relatively low compared to the out-of-pocket expense of fixing damage to your equipment or other person’s property. Most of all, it could protect you from a lawsuit as a result of the accident.
Know Your Level of Responsibility
What is your fault? That’s a great question when you’re operating a plow. There are many scenarios where damage is out of your control; either a piece of property is hidden or improperly placed. While you could split hairs and think of every single scenario (was that mailbox 6.75″ from a raised curb?) it’s better that you simply do a dry run, map out your properties, and do your utmost to fully understand the terrain you’ll be plowing before the snow falls.
At the end of the day, you’re the person with the big plow rolling around a lot. In many cases, the responsibility will fall at your feet should something get damaged. Even then, you’ll waste plenty of valuable time trying to explain yourself. Instead, think of all damage as your responsibility, do everything you can to avoid it, and be direct and honest should any occur.
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Document the Damage
Should an accident occur you should, before anything else, take a deep breath and collect your thoughts. You’re more than likely running on pure adrenaline at this moment and may want to do or say things that don’t benefit you to smooth things over. Instead, take your time and document the damage caused as well as the context in which it occurred.
Call Emergency Services, If Needed
If anyone is injured, then you should call emergency services before you do anything else. Sometimes due to shock, it’s difficult to know if someone was injured, even with something as innocuous as a shovel injury. Don’t ask a person “are you injured?”. It’s quite common for them to say they aren’t even if they might be.
Instead, check the surroundings. Did you hit their car? Was there a fall? Did anyone hit their head? The answers to these questions will help inform whether you dial 911 no matter how lucid a person on the scene may seem.
Just twenty years ago the idea of taking clear photos at a crash scene would sound like something an insurance inspector would be responsible for. However, thanks to that smartphone in your pocket, you have plenty of camera power to document every single aspect of the incident for future documentation.
Take plenty of photos; more photos than you think you need. Get in close on the damage then walk back and get a wide shot. Take photos of the scene and circumstances. Was that mailbox too close to the curb? Then we’d suggest you prove it in a photograph.
Map the Accident
Accidents aren’t static—they’re caused by movement. With that said, we’d suggest you “map” the incident to better explain the circumstances that led to the accident. Where did you enter the scene? Who else was present? Where were the hazards (if any)? Did something cause you to lose control of the situation? These are all things you can explain with a map—think of a football play with arrows of movement.
Collect Information from All Parties Involved
It’s completely normal to have an intense urge to straighten up the scene, brush yourself off, and exit the situation as soon as possible. However, you must stifle that urge and do your due diligence; your reputation as a professional depends on it and it’s simply the right thing to do.
Before you leave the scene ensure you collect contact information and exchange insurance information from all parties involved in the incident. You don’t want to be on the hook for damage you didn’t cause or, worse yet, get blindsided by a civil suit from someone whose name you never asked. Write the name, phone number, home address, and take a snapshot of their insurance so you have that information when you file your claim. Even if you don’t contact insurance, it’s good to have that information on-hand should it come back to you later on.
File a Claim & Then Train
These kinds of accidents are exactly why you purchased that snow plow insurance. Not only will snow plow insurance minimize your financial responsibility in the face of the damages incurred, but it will handle any civil suits that may erupt from the incident. Having the right insurance for your business isn’t just about fiscal responsibility; it offers peace-of-mind even when the worst thing possible should happen.
While insurance is important to have, it is also important to learn from the experience even if it felt like the accident was out of your control. How could the accident have been avoided? What is the best way to respond to the incident? How did everyone respond? These kinds of workplace challenges can be sore spots or moments of learning; the choice is yours.
The Most Common At-Fault Accidents in Snow Plow Operation
Tired, Fatigued Operator: Ensure your staff are well-rested and aren’t stretched thin by the demands of the season. Would you rather suffer a major civil suit due to a tired operator or pay another driver to help lighten the load?
Distracted Driving: You should have a strict no smartphone policy while operating the plow. There are even phone applications that can track phone usage and even map your drivers’ locations to make sure they aren’t driving around with their phones in their faces.
Low Visibility: Believe it or not, low-visibility is both a constant presence in this business as well as a liability. Low visibility is not an excuse for an accident; if possible try to operate your plow before or after a storm and slow down if there is poor visibility.
Poorly Maintained Equipment: Regular maintenance of your fleet ensures that nothing fails on you or your drivers when you’re out in the field. A failure of your equipment can have dangerous consequences.
Driver Inexperience: Operating a snow plow is a lot different than simply driving a truck. It requires an entirely different sense of spatial awareness and operational mechanics to maneuver a plow blade around a parking lot safely, especially in slick conditions.
Intoxicated Driver: An intoxicated driver isn’t just ruining their own career as a plow operator, they could ruin the reputation of your business. You must get to know your drivers so that you can see the telltale signs of substance abuse should it ever show itself in one of your employees.
How You Handle a Situations Means the Most
You don’t have full control over everything, especially when you’re operating a vehicle in winter weather. However, how you prepare for and ultimately handle a situation makes all the difference. Don’t kid yourself into thinking parking lot or driveway damage could never happen to you. Instead, prepare yourself, have a game plan in place, and invest in things like snow plow insurance and vehicle maintenance to ensure that you minimize your risk as much as possible.