Best practices from subzero regions
By Brock Huffstutler
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Best practices from subzero regions

When the thermometer dips below freezing, there are a lot of things that equipment and event rental operators need to be concerned about for both staff and customers including snow removal, slips and falls on the ice, frostbite danger and hypothermia risk. Some can be a nuisance; some can cause injury or worse.

For this month’s Safety Issue cover story, we asked a few American Rental Association (ARA) members from the state of Minnesota and the Canadian provinces of British Columbia and Alberta — people who know a thing or two about frigid extremes — to share their tips and best practices for operating safely in key areas of a rental operation during the coldest times of the year.

Employees. “All our floor staff and drivers must wear 2-in. reflective safety vests; this is a measure we took when Sunbelt Rentals purchased our company,” says Jason Cox, director of sales and business development, Whites Location Equipment Supply West, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, a company that services location departments, which are tasked with managing filming locations for film production studios.

“As it gets wet, cold and with reduced sunlight over the fall and winter, our drivers use high-visibility winter jackets provided by the company. We are high on safety and have seen a dramatic decrease on the injury front because of visibility,” he says.

Cox’s company also utilizes a “Take 10” procedure — a pre-job task planning card each employee must complete and submit to a supervisor. The card confirms the employee’s understanding of the job’s potential risks, like exposure or slip/fall threats, and precautions the employee has taken to minimize the risk, like personal protective equipment (PPE) and other control measures.

Winter attire and smart habits also are a must for the staff at Castle Rentals & Welding Supplies, Edson, Alberta, Canada, which rents equipment ranging from generators, light towers and air compressors to aerial lifts, skid steers and attachments.

“We replace and monitor winter attire like coats, coveralls, gloves and work boots,” says Erin Brochu, the company’s owner/manager. “We also make sure employees work in pairs when outside in the yard or on site, and that they stay nourished, well rested and maintain their break times.”

Brochu says she and her staff also are careful to monitor the outdoor windchill factor, which makes the “feels like” temperature much colder than the actual air temp and speeds up the rate at which the body loses heat.

Facilities. “We ensure that all doors and exits are properly sealed, and we perform regular maintenance on our heating system,” Brochu says, driving home the point of how critical heat conservation is from both a safety and energy efficiency standpoint.

Elsewhere in her facility, Brochu and team “show up at the shop early to shovel, sand or salt parking lots,” she says, adding that while many of their wintertime practices are part of a formal, written safety program, others “seem so logical that it’s unwritten. Those are the ones you forget.”

Job sites. On the prospect of outdoor jobs in the winter, the team at Broadway Tent and Event, Minneapolis, would prefer to avoid them altogether. “The best practice in ‘Minnesnowta’ is stay inside and do convention boothing, corporate table and chair orders,” says Tim Sandahl, the company’s branch manager.

“But if we have to do a tent job, we require two weeks before and two weeks after to give us the choice of best day. The site must be cleared of snow prior to arrival, with drive up access. In any temps under zero, we will call off the setup or strike for safety reasons. We have found the tent vinyl is prone to spiderweb cracks if we are handling it at temps under 10 degrees,” Sandahl says.

“Staking occasionally requires predrilling. Our fabricator has built a few snow rakes that are tent vinyl safe — wrapped in carpet — for snow removal. Snow load can be a problem here. We keep an ample supply of salt/sand mix for ice removal and traction issues; we remove ice [to minimize] slipping and damage to equipment, and delivery travel times are adjusted to account for slower traffic,” Sandahl says.

Heating equipment and related accessories are a necessity, say Sandahl and his general equipment associate, Zack Peterson, branch manager, A1 Rent It, Brooklyn Park, Minn.

“We put a tent heater in the back of our delivery trucks to give the guys and the tent vinyl somewhere to keep warm and all of our storage is indoors and heated at the event location,” Sandahl says, with Peterson adding that the company “provides antifreeze with water pumps and carpet cleaners.”

Reliance on safe heating methods specific to the job also is important for Cox and the location equipment specialists at Whites Location Supply. “Heating and keeping warm is paramount to any set in film. We offer electric, propane and diesel; we are conscious of the particular needs and solutions for multiple locations with varying degrees of sensitivity,” Cox says.

Vehicles. “We utilize Garmin Inreach,” Brochu says of the vehicles in her fleet, referring to the technology maker’s line of handheld satellite communicators with GPS navigation that also offer two-way text messaging among other capabilities.

Beyond utilizing tech resources to keep track of one another in hazardous weather conditions, Brochu’s drivers employ common-sense methods to stay safe.

“We do daily checks and walkarounds of trucks that transport equipment and include winter safety kits in vehicles that include extra snacks, blanket, flares, booster cables, water, shovel, flashlight and first aid kit,” she says.

Customers. “In winter, we sell quite a bit of ice melt to clients,” Cox says. “Urea is very popular here in Vancouver. It’s what they use at the airport. It has no conductivity, which bodes well for cable on film sets. We offer an eco-green version as well, knowing Urea isn’t the best near sensitive areas. We also rent hard hats, safety vests, wrist/ankle [protection], steel toe shoe slip-ons, traffic wands, flashlights, stop/slow paddles, road signage and traffic control barricades. We make sure to sell hand warmers as well,” he says.

Cox’s company sets up customers for cold weather safety in style, too. “On the swag front, we often give out toques and hoodies. It’s a nicety,” he says. 

Brock Huffstutler

Brock HuffstutlerBrock Huffstutler

Brock Huffstutler is the regional news editor for Rental Management. He writes and edits articles for ARA’s In Your Region quarterly regional newsletters, Rental Management, Rental Pulse and other special projects. Outside of work, he enjoys biking and spending time at the few remaining vintage record stores in the region.

Other articles by Brock Huffstutler
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