Carriers Utilize Specialized Equipment to Remove Snow, Ice From Trailer Tops

This story appears in the Nov. 30 print edition of Transport Topics.

Heavy snow and ice buildup on trucks and trailers can sap fuel economy, add weight, damage the equipment and even create a safety hazard if it breaks loose on the road.

To avoid these risks, trucking companies are using a variety of specialized snow-removal systems to clear the tops of their vehicles.

A. Duie Pyle Inc., a regional less-than-truckload carrier based in West Chester, Pennsylvania, has equipped each of its terminals with plow-like devices from Scraper Systems to remove snow and ice from its trailers.

“Snow and ice are a detriment. The additional weight affects fuel mileage, and trailer roofs can collapse because of it,” said Dan Carrano, director of fleet maintenance for the company, adding that A. Duie Pyle also invests in large plows and bucket loaders to clear snow on the ground.

“We understand we’re in the Northeast,” he said. “If we can’t get our trucks out of the terminals, we can’t deliver our customers’ freight.”

Several states have enacted specific laws addressing snow and ice removal from both commercial and passenger vehicles.

New Jersey and Connecticut require drivers to clear their vehicles of dangerous accumulation and can issue $75 fines for failing to do so.

Drivers can face fines of up to $1,000 in Pennsylvania, up to $1,250 in Connecticut and up to $1,500 in New Jersey if snow or ice falls from their truck and strikes another vehicle or pedestrian, causing injury or property damage.

Even some states that don’t specifically mandate snow removal still use existing transportation legislation to fine and detain vehicles whose snow accumulation is deemed unsafe, said Debora Katz, vice president of TrucBrush Corp., a manufacturer of snow-removal devices.

“It is often at the discretion of the officer on duty,” she said, explaining that enforcement sometimes will issue a citation based on “loose load” or height and weight restrictions.

Michael Riley, president emeritus of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut, said he expects to see enforcement of snow and ice removal to increase.

“Everyone has seen that sheet of ice blow off of a trailer and hang on there. It is an issue that the trucking industry needs to address,” he said.

Several suppliers offer equipment that can help drivers clear the tops of their rigs safely and efficiently.

Scraper Systems, based in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, offers a system that removes snow as a truck passes underneath a plow-like scraper.

“The driver drives his tractor and trailer through the machine,” A. Duie Pyle’s Carrano said. “It has a scraper-blade system that is lowered onto the roof of the trailer, and as he drives through it, it plows the snow and ice off of the top.”

A. Duie Pyle ranks No. 75 on the Transport Topics Top 100 list of the largest for-hire carriers in the United States and Canada.

Scraper Systems’ products utilize a “V-plow” that clears the snow equally to each side of the equipment, company Vice President Fin Livingston said.

He added that this approach is safer and faster than “old-fashioned ways of clearing snow off the roof of trailers,” such as having the driver try to remove it with a shovel.

“You reduce your labor costs and your fleet idle time. You can clear a truck in under a minute,” Livingston said.

Boston Trailer, a trailer-leasing company with two locations in Massachusetts and one in Connecticut, has purchased a system from TrucBrush Corp., which it uses to clear trailers it has leased to customers.

TrucBrush, based in South Easton, Massachusetts, provides a broom-like device that connects to a front-end loader and is powered by the loader’s hydraulic system to clear snow from the tops of tractor-trailers.

Katz said the system can adjust to a trailer’s height and clear a tractor-trailer in about a minute and a box truck in 30 seconds.

Clearing trailers helps Boston Trailer’s customers avoid fines for failing to remove snow and ice and prevents collapsed roofs, said Jarod Warsofsky, general manager of Boston Trailer.

“The roofs are not made to hold anything over 6 inches of snow. It is quite common that we get calls of collapsed roofs. Since getting the TrucBrush, those calls happen a lot less frequently,” he said.

The Warsofsky family also owns West Bridgewater, Massachusetts-based M&M Transport Services and has bought a TrucBrush for one of its 17 terminals to make it safer to remove snow.

“Trailer roofs are very slippery. There is no friction. You’re going to fall almost 20 feet to the ground if you fall off,” Warsofsky said.

Riley said, “The worst thing you can think of is to put a driver on top of a trailer with a shovel to try and clear it off. It is dangerous, it is against [Occupational Safety and Health Administration] regulations, and someone is going to get hurt doing it.”

In its 2008 report on snow and ice, the American Transportation Research Institute said OSHA regulations require drivers to utilize personal-protection equipment if they do climb onto a truck to remove snow and ice. Without fall protection, the trucking company or the distribution center can be cited for violating the “general duty clause” of protecting workers from workplace hazards, ATRI wrote in its report.

Although OSHA guidelines are not enforceable on public roadways, weigh stations or public rest areas because they are not considered workplaces, carriers typically discourage employees from climbing on tractor-trailers “due to worker/driver safety concerns,” ATRI said.

What’s more, it is inefficient, Carrano said. He asked, “How many guys does it take to shovel off a trailer versus having one guy operating the machine?”

With the Scraper Systems devices, A. Duie Pyle drivers stay in the cab of the truck while another employee, typically a fleet technician, activates the machine. Livingston said the plow adjusts height based on the trailer’s size and lowers the plow.

“We have a . . . guide system that lets the plow float on top of the trailer for inconsistencies in how the trailer is leveled,” he said. “There might be some snow inconsistencies on the ground, so if the trailer/truck isn’t sitting perfectly level, the blade adjusts for that.”

Warsofsky has trained three employees on the TrucBrush equipment, and every time it is in use, he has a spotter in front.

“The spotter shows the operator his height and how close he is to the roof of the trailer,” he said, adding that the company has another employee running different equipment to remove the snow on the ground.

Katz said TrucBrush throws the snow away from the truck’s operational path, which means a plow does not have to clear the snow that has been removed before another truck can be cleared.

The amount of snow on the roof dictates how often A. Duie Pyle needs to clean the area around the machine.

“Generally, you can get a couple of trailers. If it is very heavy, you may be clearing it after every pass,” Carrano said, adding that most A. Duie Pyle locations make accommodations for snow accumulation. “We have areas designated for piling the snow, and they’re usually strategically located for melting purposes.”

To help get snow even farther away from the vehicle, snow-removal equipment from Yetico Inc., based in St. Jean sur Richelieu, Quebec, shoots it 40 to 60 feet away, said Mario Rivard, vice president of business development.

Rivard said the company’s Yeti device has three parts — a steel device that removes the snow, a rubber flap that creates vibrations to break up ice and a brush that moves the snow to a blower that shoots the snow out.

Drivers travel under the Yeti, which detects the tractor-trailer’s height and uses a green light to tell them when the system is ready. The Yeti can clear a truck in less than two minutes and break up ice that is 4 inches thick, Rivard said.

The Yeti is installed on a slab of concrete.

“Before installing a Yeti, we have to study the main direction of the wind to make sure you don’t send the snow against the wind,” Rivard said.

Scraper Systems offers a portable model that uses wheels on each of the corners that can be cranked up when it is on the ground and cranked down to move the unit throughout a facility. It has concrete ballasts that weigh it down when it is in use.

Drivers who need to remove snow while out on the road can use specially designed brushes, MTAC’s Riley said.

“That technology can go with a driver where he might park remotely for the night. He can put that together in a minute and pull that snow off,” he said.

Bill Tostel, a partner in A Better Snow Rake, developed a rake with an angled brush so it can reach the top of a trailer.

“You can alter the pin and turn it from a straight house rake to an angled rake and it has a pivot point to reach up high,” he said.

Riley said he expects to see continued innovation in snow and ice removal.

“I think we have to fix this,” he said. “I would hope that trailer manufacturers would figure out a way with domed roofs or coatings to somehow address this as part of the manufacturing process.”

In addition, some carriers are using Traction Magic to help improve safety for drivers on the road.

Drivers can sprinkle the product on snow or ice to prevent slips and falls, or use it near tires to increase traction if a vehicle is stuck, said Adam Twersky, product manager for the Southampton, Pennsylvania-based company.

Traction Magic uses naturally occurring minerals, which are about the side of a BB, to soak up moisture on top of the ice and then they embed themselves into the ice.

“We suggest drivers keep the shaker in the cab and sprinkle it outside before they hop out,” Twersky said.