If this year is anything like years past there will be more opportunities for employees to be plowing snow, clearing sidewalks, and perhaps, more importantly, providing fire and ambulance services to their communities in inclement weather. The public expects essential services even under extreme weather conditions. This can put a strain on employees and contractors hired to do the work. There are even many locations that depend on volunteer fire and ambulance services. The hazards of driving in extreme weather can be identified, and intelligent decisions made as to who will drive under what conditions. This blog post will highlight a rating scheme that includes a risk management matrix to help protect public employees driving in winter weather.
Road conditions can be rated on a continuum from green or normal driving conditions to black or dangerous. For discussion purposes, it is best to start with a description of the types of road conditions. GREEN road conditions include dry road surfaces, with no ice or snow, visibility greater than 150 feet and a temperature greater than 35° Fahrenheit (F). Most people would describe these driving conditions as normal. These conditions normally won’t cause or contribute to a motor vehicle accident. These conditions normally call for unrestricted vehicle dispatches; however, drivers should be reminded to observe normal precautions and speed limits. Decisions to dispatch vehicles should come from a first line supervisor.
As weather conditions start to impact driving, they are usually identified as AMBER. At this point normal road conditions, temperature, and visibility do not exist. The road surface is wet from rain; or the road surface contains packed snow or slush, usually less than four inches; or the road surface has patches of ice or black ice; or visibility is reduced to between 60 and 150 feet; and the temperature is between 30-35° F. At this point drivers must:
Increase driving times
Drive 10 miles per hour (MPH) below the posted speed limit to maintain traction
Increase following distances to allow for safe stopping
Driver experience should be considered when determining whether or not to dispatch vehicles under Amber conditions. The decision to dispatch should be made by the second level supervisor.
As the weather creates worse road conditions, the description of RED is more appropriate. At this point water is flooding or snow is drifting across the road surface, or there is sheet ice, or the snow depth is greater than four inches. Visibility is less than 60 feet, and the temperature is below 30° F. At this point, only mission-essential and emergency-essential vehicle dispatches should be authorized. Driving above 10-15 MPH could cause vehicles to lose traction and safe stopping distances are significantly increased. A risk assessment should be completed before dispatch to determine if the risks of the vehicle trip are worth taking. The decision to dispatch should now be made by a third level supervisor.
If weather conditions continue to get worse and impact the road surfaces the term BLACK is applied. The road surfaces are now heavily flooded, or heavy drifting of snow is occurring. There are extremely large areas of sheet ice, and the snow might be greater than six inches deep. The visibility is now down to 45 feet, and the temperature is below 10° F. At this point the dispatch of vehicles is limited to emergency-essential vehicles (police; fire; ambulance; snow and ice removal (SNAIR) vehicles, and emergency engineering services). Chiefs of appropriate offices (police, fire, medical activity, and public works) should authorize dispatch of vehicles. A risk assessment should be completed before dispatch to identify control measures to reduce risks.
As winters go, weather seems to be getting more severe. Now is the time to prepare for this winter’s weather. One area of preparation is identifying who will be allowed to drive vehicles when and under what conditions. The more severe the weather, the fewer people should be able to drive vehicles. There will always be exceptions for SNAIR, police, fire, and medical services. The public expects essential services even under extreme winter weather conditions and it is up to employees and contractors to get the job done in spite of the strain it places on them. As we look at the road hazards of winter we should not forget about the volunteer fire and ambulance services. This blog post has identified the hazards of driving under extreme winter weather. Recommendations were also included to help supervisors make informed and intelligent decisions about who will drive under what conditions. This blog post also highlighted a rating scheme that included a risk management matrix to help protect employees.