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It’s snowtime! Have you cleaned your trailer roof?


I was seated at the same table as a bunch of truck insurance people during lunch at the OTA convention, and the issue of ice and snow on trailer roofs came up. One man acknowledged this is a big time problem in terms of claims and public safety, while another thought there doesn’t seem to be a solution, or if there is no one’s found it yet.
If we have a mild winter here in southern Ontario, I think a lot of transport companies just ignore the problem. They might clean off the odd roof during the season, or hire a couple of acrobats to do so. As drivers pulling out of a snowy dock, we’ve all watched plumes blanketing the roads and the drivers behind us. It’s actually quite a beautiful sight (from the rearview mirror). What’s really cool is braking on a tight turn and shucking off cascading sheets of ice into a ditch with the accompanying sound effects.
Snow cleaning machines can do some of the job. The best one appears to be the Yeti, and among the most expensive, but even it won’t take off ice, which is a bigger problem than snow when it comes to public safety. Ice from trailer roofs can kill or seriously injure, and it’s happened too often.
Some companies provide platforms where drivers can get tethered and shovel off the roofs. Others don’t do anything and just hope the snow will go away by itself, or no one will notice, or at least not make a report. A few supply mechanical snow clearing devices, and those get mixed results. It’s also necessary to provide some means to clear away the snow that accumulates on the ground from the cleaning, too.
Putting cleaning stations at inspection stations, as they do in the Maritimes, doesn’t make sense either. The snow-laden vehicle has to take the highway to get to the scales in the first place. Part of the responsibility should at least be the shipper’s. If the trailer has sat in a dock all weekend because they requested a dropped trailer, that snow then belongs to the customer and they should be obligated to clear it. But try telling that to a customer and sending them a bill!
And when is it all right to pull a snow-covered trailer? Surely it’s OK to move one that has an inch or two of light powder. The problem is we drivers can’t even see what’s up there, and even if we could, few would risk life and limb to scale a trailer with a shovel. Until someone figures out how to solve this problem we’ll just keep dropping snow and ice on the roads. So have a nice winter. Let it not snow, not snow, not snow.


Harry Rudolfs

Harry Rudolfs

Harry Rudolfs has worked as a dishwasher, apprentice mechanic, editor, trucker, foreign correspondent and taxi driver. He's written hundreds of articles for North American and European journals and newspapers, including features for the Ottawa Citizen, Toronto Life and CBC radio. With over 30 years experience in the trucking industry he's hauled cars, steel, lumber, chemicals, auto parts and general freight as well as B-trains. He holds an honours BA in creative writing and humanities, summa cum laude.
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11 Comments » for It’s snowtime! Have you cleaned your trailer roof?
  1. James says:

    Hi Harry, You’re right, there seems to be no practical and cost-effective solution to this problem.
    But for carriers that are serious about the issue, here’s a neat little product that may work:
    http://www.heatmattproducts.com/section_33_Dry-Freight-Trailer-Roof-Heating-System.cfm
    Top marks for the slogan: “We won’t settle till it’s warm metal.”
    Question is, who’s going to sacrifice the weight (you can argue the system likely weighs less than a couple inches of accumulated snow and ice) or pay the money for such a system? Until enforcement gets serious about cracking down on trailer-top snow and ice, most companies will continue to do exactly as you say and just ignore the problem and hope for a mild winter.
    James

  2. Tom Boehler says:

    Through some trial and error, a refrigerated carrier in Ontario has developed a system that works pretty well. The fleet uses an empty trailer that’s been fabricated with a built-in catwalk on the inside. The left side of trailer roof has been cut open, so when a worker steps to the top of the catwalk he can stand on a secure scaffold, “waist high” with the tractor-trailer. He can then securely and safely scrape the snow and ice off of the trailer without being tethered. The cost of the fabricating was approximately $7500 and the trailer is also mobile if needed.

  3. Alvis Violo says:

    Hi Harry,
    You make some excellent points. This is a serious problem and it will unfortunately take a few more deaths before carriers take this issue more seriously.
    In defense of the carriers, I do not believe that they are ignoring the problem. Having been in the industry for over twenty years, I find that the problem is that carriers believe that there is no efficient or feasable way to remove the snow or ice especially when the trailers are away from their home bases.
    Although I do not have the perfect solution, I do have an option. Emergency Road Services Corporation provides snow removal services across Canada and the U.S. Companies such as CN Rail and Vitran Express make one call, 24 hours per day, and all of there snow removal problems are taken care of.
    I am hoping that by working together, we can help prevent the next snow related fatality or serious injury.
    Happy Holidays
    Alvis Violo

  4. RickG says:

    Platforms may work fine at terminals but how many snow covered trucks go through terminals ? The front page news in the Toronto Star Thursday the 16th featured an article about the government cracking down on safety violations , particularly involving fall protection . Unless proper fall protection and training of its use is provided requiring anyone to clear snow from trailer roofs is illegal .

  5. Stephen Large says:

    Hi Harry. Good post! There is very little that will be done about the snow that accumulates on the roofs of vans and reefers. Like RickG points out, it is illegal to have workers do anything if they are more than about 2 meters from the ground unless there is a fall protection system in place! Unless every truckstop, shipper/receiver, rest area, Safeway store, Wal-mart and every other place where trucks and trailers park install a fall protection harness and a 50′ long tether line which trailers can go under while the snow is removed, no one can be expected to do it! Obviously, having cleaning stations anywhere but where the trailers have been parked makes absolutely no sense at all! I don’t pull vans, but even with my lowbeds which are safe and easy to climb up on and remove the snow, I have been hasseled about leaving a pile of snow on the ground around the trailer?! I once worked at a place where the safety department decided to install a fall protection system for drivers who had to tarp their loads, or remove snow from the top of their trailer/load and then rammed a bunch of safety policy and procedure down our throats about having to use it – or else! In the nearly ten years I worked there, I don’t ever remember seeing anyone use it – mostly because it wasn’t in Winnipeg or in Prince George or in Montreal or in Halifax. It was in the yard where the safety Nazi could see it! As soon as you went out the gate, the safety guy still expected the drivers to use it, without any consideration that the truck and trailer would go thousands of miles through several states and provinces and stop overnight, every night, until it returned a couple or three weeks later?!

  6. RickG says:

    Just a couple of more thoughts on the suggestions given . In regard to heated roofs my thinking is if these are in operation while the truck is parked they will result ice patches around the truck or sheets of ice along the trailer walls in real frigid weather . Large numbers of trucks with heated roofs could also cause icing conditions on the roadways they were traveling on . Then no doubt there would be forklift damage which would be very expensive to repair and cause considerable revenue loss due to trailer downtime .
    If there were limited numbers of cleaning stations how many truck drivers do you think would be willing to wait hours in line waiting to get their roofs cleared ? Here again lost revenue has to be considered as drivers burn up on duty hours waiting to get the snow off their roof . With large numbers of trucks a front end loader would be needed to remove the large amounts of snow that will accumulate on the ground at the clearing area .
    Unless every truck stop had a cleaning facility and there was regulation making the use mandatory truckstops would have no incentive to install them . Drivers would prefer stops where cleaning wasn’t available so they could avoid the delay .
    I’m not familiar with Canadian safety regulations OSHA requires certified training for fall protection use . You can’t just hand someone a harness and tell them to use it . I have pulled hopper bottom and tanker . Many loading and unloading facilities will not the the driver on his trailer at all . All work requiring being on the trailer is done by facility employees using procedures complying with safety regulations .

  7. "mike" says:

    I drive for giant eagle a grocery chain based in Pittsburgh. You are 100% right. I was just told yesterday by a fleet mechanic that ice and snow on trailers is NOT a fleet maintaance issue and if a drivers comes to garage with ice and snow trans.manager instructed them to call dispatch and have load swapped out. Ummm… Hello if this trailer has snow on it then don’t you think the other 200 trailers sitting in yard have the same issue??? Its truly ludicrous because the driver is the one who is responsible when that truck is rolling down the road “we” are going to have to face the fines and points etc. Not to mention the consequences if we cause accident or worse I have to live with that not the company. I’m thinking so some sort radiant heating element like they use under ceramic tile to keep bathroom floor warm. It would have to be built into the roof to protect it from branches etc. And run off the reefer. Not quite sure how to run it with a ydry van. Oh well in closing the companys will just keep passing the buck or wait til someone gets hurt or worse and if they are anything like giant eagle this is usually the course of action that’s taken there has to be a tragedy for them to do something. Stay Safe out there!

  8. Jon Denman says:

    Hi, good blog
    With my partner, Rob Ritcey, we run Denex Industrial Inc. out of Halifax, NS. Weare the Canadian distributor for Scraper Systems from the US. The Scraper System is a patented system for snow removal with over 200 installation across North America.
    It seems that the crux of the issue is that the problem is pushed down to the truckers who remain personally responsible but cannot climb on the roof or clear it themselves.
    A lot of fair sized firms spend 10-15000 per year or more on temporary help using the converted trailer idea. This can still be risky and is a tough job – each one takes 30-45 minutes depending on how much snow.
    We believe it has to the carriers who install these units at their terminals, we are also chasing truck stops and governments to add them on highways.
    Visit our website for more info
    regards
    Jon

  9. Claude Chaulk says:

    Every year something new comes along with someone claiming they have the best snow and ice removal answer for the trucking industry to clear snow and ice from their truck’s and trailers.
    From roof top shovels, brushes, blowers to roof plows. Yes, it all helps for the snow when you are at home terminals, but let’s look at where most of the problem comes from.
    Our industry drops thousands of trailers around the country daily at customers sites to be picked up the following day. We dropped it with a snow free roof, now to only find the next day, we have a foot of snow to tend with prior to moving. It’s the off site and no access to our thousands of dollars in investment tools from the terminal that keeps us scratching our heads for solutions.
    As for the ice, this is another story, nothing works 100% unless you have inside heated parking. For a small operating company with a couple of trailers who leaves home terminal everytday, it may work to have indoor parking, but for larger fleets, the winter problem continues, I suspect it will continue for generations to come.
    Our industry does a fairly good job and does practice good du diligence in snow removal from truck and trailer roof tops as best they can.
    Like most trades, there will always be that one percent who does little for best practices or thinks spreading snow on the roadways is the solution.
    Together we can make a difference.

  10. Harry Rudolfs Harry Rudolfs says:

    yes I’m faced with this dilemma every time I pick up a trailer on the weekend after it’s snowed. The company has a Rooster and I’ll run it through a couple of times to get off the majority, but there’s still that long white plume when you get to a major highway

  11. Snow-Patrol says:

    Very insightful post. It’s surprising how big of a hazard this is and yet there’s nothing currently on the market that solves the problem. Like you mentioned there’s Yeti, TucBrushCorp and Scraper Systems, but none does the job well enough. There is definitely an opportunity here for snow removal companies to look deeper into this space and provide a better solution.

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