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Safety First: Operating Heavy Equipment in Snow and Ice

By Leppo Rents
January 19, 2024

Table of Contents

  1. Warm Up Equipment
  2. Remove Obstacles
  3. Wear Cold Weather Construction Gear
  4. Adjust Working Pace
  5. Take Breaks
  6. Avoid Touching Metal
  7. Have Additional Lighting on Hand
  8. Store Machinery Inside
  9. Perform a Daily Inspection


Safety First: Operating Heavy Equipment in Snow and Ice

Winter is here and so is extreme weather. While low temperatures, strong winds and extended periods of darkness have their challenges, we have some winter tips for operators that can help. 

In this guide, we’ll cover tips to ensure the safety, efficiency, and longevity of both your equipment and workforce through the cold season. 

Warm Up Equipment  

Freezing weather can be extremely hard on construction equipment. Begin each day by gradually warming up your machinery.  

It’s recommended to warm up your engine to at least 87 degrees Fahrenheit before operating. This will keep the machine working efficiently, without causing damage that leads to expensive repairs.  

Additionally, make time to regularly start up your less-used machines to keep them running smoothly. It is also beneficial to grease critical components in your machinery and add any necessary lubricants and fuel supplements to maintain your fuel quality and engine efficiency.  

Remove Obstacles  

Before starting work, remove anything that could be hazardous, including snow and ice. This includes using ice melt on surfaces to reduce the risk of falling due to slippery conditions. 

Be sure to remove frost before you pour concrete and use equipment with high power density capabilities to thaw frozen ground quickly. Also, take extra precautions when clearing the area at great heights, such as on scaffolding. 

Avoid putting employees at risk by not scheduling work on rooftops or other elevated surfaces directly after a snowfall. In addition, make sure ladders are clear of ice and snow.  

Wear Cold Weather Construction Gear   

Working outside during the winter can leave construction workers vulnerable to hypothermia, frostbite, or decaying of the feet. To prevent health risks, it is crucial that all heavy equipment operators are dressed appropriately for the weather. This includes clothing that will keep them warm such as insulated gloves, socks and underwear, heavy-duty work boots, hard hat liners, eye protection, scarves, and anti-exposure work suits to protect against extreme cold and wet weather.  

When operating machinery for winter weather, a multi-layer approach will ensure the operator has all the clothing they need to stay comfortable and safe. In addition, make sure the clothing does not affect the way the operator uses the machine. For example, clothing that is too loose could catch on equipment, and wearing gloves without proper grip support could affect the operator’s ability to maintain a firm grip on controls.  

Encourage your operators to pack extra clothing, or provide a locker where they can store any extra pieces of clothing they may need. Moreover, clothing such as gloves should be replaced regularly to ensure employees always have adequate protection.  

Adjust Working Pace

Operating heavy equipment in the snow and on ice is very different from working on dry ground. Since extra caution must be taken, it is better to work at a slower pace than you are used to during warmer months. Furthermore, since productivity is often affected by harsh weather, it’s advisable to adjust the schedule so work is done during the warmest part of the day.  

Take Breaks  

Operating heavy equipment is physically demanding, more so in cold weather. 

In temperatures below 0, employers should keep in mind the need for frequent breaks throughout the day. It’s recommended on days when there are winds of 5 mph with a temperature of negative 35 to 39 degrees F, workers should take five breaks over a four-hour shift and work no more than 30 minutes at a time. On days of the same temperature with winds of 10 mph, no non-emergency work should be done at all.  

As a supervisor, use these breaks to check on employees. Make note of anyone showing signs of sudden clumsiness, slurred speech, numbness, grey-looking skin, weakness, or tingling. These can be signs of serious health concerns caused by extreme weather. Also, encourage employees to check on each other and talk about any health changes they might be experiencing.  

Avoid Touching Metal  

Moist hands and cold metal can be a dangerous combination. Moisture from your hands freezes to the surface and causes the metal to stick to the top layer of your skin. Employees may remove their gloves and touch cold metal unconsciously. Encourage them to always leave their gloves on, even when not operating equipment.  

Have Additional Lighting on Hand  

Even when scheduling working hours during daylight, there may still be periods when the lighting is not optimal. During the winter, natural daylight is severely reduced with late mornings and early nights.  

While most heavy equipment has headlights, on dark days they may not be sufficient. Consider installing extra lights on your machinery or installing gensets to power up portable lighting while on a jobsite.  

Store Machinery Inside  

To protect your machinery and equipment from cold weather elements, store it indoors. Although heavy equipment is designed to be long lasting and durable, storing it indoors will help prevent its components from being damaged by moisture or ice.  

Storing machinery indoors for cold weather care will also minimize the amount of maintenance the machine needs, thus limiting the amount of exposure to harsh elements your employees would need to risk maintaining and transporting the vehicle. If the machine is stored indoors and requires maintenance, service can be completed in a much more conducive work environment. 

Perform a Daily Inspection  

Designate employees to perform daily inspections on all equipment. They should look for possible issues that could affect how machines are operated during the winter months 

Ensure that tires are well inflated and fluid levels are optimal, and check for any undercarriage damage. Lastly, end each day by refueling to prevent condensation and freezing. 

Leppo Rents Winter Weather Equipment  

We hope these tips help you to complete every job safely this winter. For further inquiries on optimizing your fleet’s performance during winter, contact or visit a Leppo Rents today. We’re here to assist you with all your construction equipment needs. 


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