Handling winter & other hauling hazards
By Mike Danahey firstname.lastname@example.org February 21, 2013 4:58PM
Jason Kropp, who is a employee of Waste Management for over ten years, watches his mirror as he operates a garbage truck Thursday on his route through Elgin's west side. February 21, 2013 | Michael Smart~Sun-Times Media
Wintertime Tips from the pros
Tips from Waste Management and from the Snow and Ice Management Association for dealing with wintry weather and for shoveling
Let your body get used to cold temperatures gradually.
Wear multiple layers of breathable clothing.
Accessorize to see and to be seen.
Wear a warm hat.
Keep hands warm with mittens or gloves.
Carry an extra pair of mittens, gloves and socks.
Make sure you can hear.
When walking, go slow, be careful about shifting your weight, and if the environment calls for it (awnings, viaducts, gutters) look up every now and then to check for possible falling ice.
Drink plenty of fluids.
Avoid coffee and tea, since they tend to dehydrate you.
Pace yourself during the workday.
Eat high-energy foods such as nuts and raisins.
If traveling on short day trips or cross-country, carry emergency supplies.
Wear quality winter shoes or boots with good traction.
Before shoveling snow, take a few minutes to stretch to warm up your muscles.
Push, don’t lift: If you push the snow to the side rather than trying to lift the snow to remove it, you exert less energy, thereby placing less stress on your body. If removing deeper snow, take it in layers.
Whenever possible, use equipment that can remove more snow with less time and effort, to increase your efficiency and reduce the amount of labor needed.
Enter buildings carefully.
Updated: March 23, 2013 6:22AM
ELGIN — With the forecast calling for 3 to 6 inches of snow overnight, Friday morning could very well offer the biggest challenge of the winter yet for those who have to travel anywhere.
Among those trekkers will be Waste Management workers out collecting Elgin residents’ garbage and recyclables. For safety’s sake, there is one word they would like motorists to heed in snowy conditions.
“Patience,” said Jason Kropp of Rockford late Thursday morning on a brief stop covering a route on the city’s far southwest side.
“Just because trucks are large doesn’t mean they have traction at all times,” Elgin route manager Mike Velez of Cortland said.
Trucks weigh 42,000 to 46,000 pounds empty and can weigh as much as 54,000 pounds when full. They have rear-wheel drive and handle roads similar to the way cars do, according to Velez.
So shifts in stopping and braking distance and other driving adjustments due to load size have to be made during the day — and more so when roads are wet or icy.
Snow or sunshine, before hitting their routes, Waste Management drivers have meetings every morning that cover weather, road conditions and other safety concerns — and even include stretching and warm-up exercises.
“Drivers are industrial athletes,” Velez said.
Those who cover residential routes report in as early as 5 a.m. when the weather is bad and will work 10 to 12 hours picking up our throwaways.
A part of Elgin is covered every weekday, and holidays can mean a Saturday collection. There are six drivers in the city collecting residential garbage and six picking up recycled material, with each covering about 1,000 homes each day, Velez said.
Velez said that Waste Management crews’ typical Friday Elgin routes hit homes north of Route 20, south of Interstate 90 and west of State Street (Route 31).
In snowy weather, “the bluffs are challenging,” Velez said, referring to hilly areas in town that might offer good views but can be treacherous.
On such streets, Waste Management drivers might test out the lower-lying parts first to see if they can get traction, then usually come back later in the day after the city’s road crews have been able to clear and salt them.
As for dealing with other drivers, Velez said garbage haulers assume they might do something silly. One of his pet peeves is when someone speeds up to pass a garbage truck, cuts back in front of the truck, then slows down once ahead.
For safety’s sake, Waste Management vehicles have GPS tracking units and rear-view cameras, with some new trucks equipped with flat-screen monitors. Another new technology is a drive camera that monitors any abrupt movement of the truck such as hitting a pothole, veering sharply, or harder braking.
The equipment records a snippet of what led to the action. Velez said a recent incident showed a truck being cut off by a car driver, leading to the truck hitting the brakes.
Velez said drivers spend about 80 percent of their time inside the cabin of the trucks that are equipped with robotic arms which put the trash into a bin, then into the back of the truck for compacting,
They have to get out when the plastic bins aren’t properly set up next to the curb. Ideally, containers will be placed a couple feet from each other and not abutting.
Open to weather
A look inside the truck Kropp was driving Thursday showed that one side of the cabin holds a typical steering wheel used for getting the vehicle back and forth to the yard where it is stored, filled up with 30 gallons or so of gas, and plugged in to keep the battery charged.
On the other side is a second steering wheel and the equipment needed to work the arms. It is set up so the driver can easily exit if need be, which also allows a substantial degree of exposure to the elements.
To prevent cold stress to the body, Waste Management offers safety tips to its drivers. Training includes guidance on identifying a range of issues related to exposure to cold temperatures.
Velez said a key is to dress in layers, while Kropp noted that with experience, drivers know which gear to where in various conditions.
Although winter can be tough on the body, “Rain’s a little harder. You get drenched,” Velez said.
And he prefers frigid days to sweltering ones.
“You can always put on another layer of clothing. There’s only so much you can take off,” Velez said with a laugh.
As for one of the most amusing things he’s seen left out in the snow for pickup, “There was a rowboat once. Maybe he was getting a new one in spring.”