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Are Your Procedures Great – or for the Birds?

Ranger Kidwell-Ross, editor

by Ranger Kidwell-Ross, WorldSweeper's Editor

If you have listened to any of the many WorldSweeper podcasts, then at some point you have probably heard a bit of bird song in the background. As many already know, my office contains an aviary that is home to several canaries. Thanks for the info, you may be thinking, but what does that have to do with power sweeping...

A couple weeks ago I tried a new kind of bedding material for the floor of the aviary. It's lasted well; it wasn't until this morning that my nose suggested it was time to vacuum the material, which looks about like cat litter, from the bottom of the large cage.

Though my shopvac initially made short work of the stuff, toward the last of it the machine clearly started to lose some of its suction. I soldiered on, though, thinking I could just clear whatever obstruction was in the hose after I finished the job.

Since, for me, that was a poor choice – and since this editorial is really about sweeping – let me ask this question: What do you do – or instruct your sweeper operators to do – when a suction loss occurs with their air sweeper when they're on a route?

My bird cage experience suggests they should not delay, like I did, in checking out what was causing the suction loss. Before explaining what happened with my situation, let's talk about protocol in terms of power sweeping.

When your air sweeper plugs up, it is extremely important that the operator is trained to notice that fact. Then, from the moment they do, they need to have been provided with a solid set of steps to then follow. Ideally, these should include pointed safety reminders for any of the situations they might find themselves in during the troubleshooting procedure.

Here's why: Over my nearly 25 years of covering the sweeping industry, I have heard tales about snapping turtles clogging intake tubes; hoppers falling on operators checking a blockage without using safety chocks; people reaching into a blockage and finding needles or other sharp objects with their hands; and many more. As you might imagine, the majority of these were tragedy stories of some kind. And, in most all cases, company policy where it occurred was probably changed as a result.

Early detection of any malfunction – coupled with appropriate action – is typically the key to reduced overall cost. Sweepers are both complicated and expensive. Undetected, unreported or unacted upon problems with them can quickly cost significant money.

Another central goal is to not let accidents or injuries happen. How about your company: Are there guidelines in place for when a debris blockage or other unusual vehicle operation is suspected – and a protocol in place for when such are detected? Using poor debris pickup as our example, have your operators all been trained in the manufacturer's suggested troubleshooting procedure for each of the makes and models of sweepers they operate?

Back at the bird cage I re-learned that lesson, as well, because when I recognized my shopvac had a lost some suction I just kept on vacuuming, thinking to finish the job. Once done, I figured I'd then troubleshoot what I assumed was a partially plugged hose. However, what had actually occurred was that I had filled up the machine's 'containment hopper' to the brim.

As a result, whatever material the shopvac was still picking up was being blown straight out the vacuum's exhaust hole. I hadn't noticed, since the air outflow was directly behind me. However, when I happened to turn around I discovered the 'canary/cat litter stuff' was covering the carpet in that direction.

I'd made an erroneous assumption about the hose being plugged and waited longer than I should have to investigate. Clearly there was a higher cost associated with that blunder. My cost wasn't to just do the routine maintenance of emptying the shopvac and cleaning the filter, as it would have been early on. Cleaning up the mess I'd made through inattention and inaction took much longer than the original chore.

Which brings us back to sweeping: When an air sweeper is operated while plugged up, only a part of the overall cost is whatever repairs might have to occur on the sweeper. There's also the cost associated with any expensive component that gets more damaged with the amount of time it is disregarded. Added is the time it will take to resweep wherever the operator ran the machine while it wasn't picking up. On a highway job, especially, any resweeping can become an expensive proposition.

If you are an owner or manager, I encourage you to use this editorial to confirm you have a protocol in place for when a sweeper's airflow seems blocked – as well as for any of the many other unexpected situations that may occur while sweeping. Do it now, so you don't ever have reason to say "If only I'd done it before (fill in the blank) occurred."

Alternatively, if you are a sweeper operator and have questions about any situation regarding operation of your machine, be sure to ask your supervisor. It's much better to understand what you'll need to do via training than by making it up as you go along in what may be crisis mode. A lot safer, too.

We are currently looking for story ideas that you would like us to cover. If you have story suggestions, please let us know. And, if you have a sweeping-related need please contact us about it. We'll try to assist in any way we can.

I routinely reference articles and studies, provide information from my "Fundamentals of the Power Sweeping Business" manual and put contractors and city officials in touch with others who may have answers to their informational needs. By the same token, if you have a story you can provide, additional information on any of the topics we've covered – or need more details – please let me know. I'll be glad to help if at all possible.

Good Sweeping!
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