Spreader Safety: Installation, Loading, Operation & Maintenance

Created March 22, 2020

The job of snow and ice management professionals is to create safe driving and walking conditions for others. However, in the process it can be easy for them to slip up on their own safety precautions. Take salt and sand spreaders, for instance. So much focus is placed on material types and application rates that people sometimes overlook the proper techniques for installing, operating and maintaining the equipment safely.

A wide range of outcomes can result from not following the safety recommendations provided by the manufacturer. Oftentimes, no damage is done by handling spreaders incorrectly. But, on the other hand, the consequences can get much worse, such as personal injury, property damage, costly downtime and equipment repairs. To help prevent any of these setbacks, here are several helpful hints for staying safe while spreading.

Material Spreader Installation

The first rule of spreader safety is to ensure the equipment is installed securely. Of course, manufacturer recommendations may vary slightly, so it’s important to always read the owner’s manual for specific instructions. Nonetheless, there are a few tips that are consistent among various makes and models of V-box spreaders.

A key step is to bolt the spreader to the truck chassis using the mounting holes provided in the spreader frame. This is necessary to make sure the spreader stays firmly in place.

Next, the operator should run ratchet straps from the front corners of the spreader to the rear tie-downs of the truck. Then, he should run ratchet straps from the rear corners of the spreader to the front tie-downs of the truck. These straps provide extra security in case the mounting bolts fail.

The final step is installing the stop brackets provided with the spreader. These brackets go in-between the spreader and the truck cab, and they help prevent the spreader from sliding forward and hitting the cab in the event of a quick stop.

Unfortunately, many people assume that ratchet straps are good enough for spreader installation, and they skip the more difficult steps of bolting the spreader to the frame and installing stop brackets. However, when only the straps are used, the potential for an accident increases greatly and, in fact, some operators have had their spreaders fall off the back of the truck as a result.

Loading A Deicing Spreader

After a spreader is securely installed in the truck bed, it’s important to pay attention to how the spreader is loaded with de-icing material. Level the load from front to back to distribute the weight evenly. Some spreaders offer a cab-forward design to help shift the weight properly, but this feature isn’t available from all manufacturers.

Most snow and ice professionals want to load the spreader as full as possible — oftentimes past the brim — in order to reduce the number of times they need to refill the hopper. Although this may seem like the most efficient way to work, it often surpasses the payload capacity of the truck.

Exceeding the truck’s gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) causes multiple issues. Not only can it produce unnecessary wear and tear on the vehicle, but it also creates unsafe driving conditions. The tires, suspension, brakes and other vital truck components aren’t designed for overweight operation, so they may not function properly under a heavy load. This may cause an accident, blown tire or other expensive breakdown. Additionally, being overweight may result in a costly DOT fine, which can quickly wipe away the profits made from a snow event.

Finding the GVWR of a vehicle is simple. Just look for a label in the doorframe, under the hood of the truck, or in the owner’s manual. After tracking down this number, keep in mind that the weight of the vehicle, accessories, fuel and passengers must be subtracted from the GVWR before determining how much extra weight the truck can carry.

Furthermore, after the hopper is filled, be sure to cover the load with a tarp. This feature increases safety by keeping material from flying out of the hopper. Not to mention, it’s the law in many states.

Spreader Operation

Even if the hopper isn’t overloaded with salt or sand, it still affects how the truck will handle. Take a one-cubic-yard spreader, for instance. At full capacity it can weigh more than 1.5 tons. This amount of weight significantly increases the braking distance of the truck, so the driver must allow extra time to stop. Furthermore, the driver must also make slower turns, since the truck carries more forward momentum when cornering. If an inexperienced operator isn’t made aware of these factors before getting behind the wheel, he may learn these lessons the hard way.

During operation, spreader safety is fairly straightforward. The number one rule is to not turn the spreader on while pedestrians are in the area. Of course, it can be difficult to spot all pedestrians from the truck’s cab, since V-box spreaders block the view out the rear-facing window. Therefore, the operator must learn how to efficiently use the side-view mirrors, and he should also turn on the spreader’s work light to provide extra visibility in dark and stormy conditions.

Maintaining Your Ice Control Equipment

The next set of safety tips applies to servicing spreaders. In a perfect world, all maintenance would be performed during an off day in the shop, but that isn’t always feasible. Sometimes a spreader needs to be fixed at the worst possible time — during a storm — when snow and ice professionals are rushing to get back on the job. But no matter what day or time maintenance must be performed, it’s important to have patience, use common sense and not cut corners in order to correct issues.

Salt & Sand Spreaders Manufactured for Safety

Fortunately, spreader manufacturers have tried to prevent maintenance-related accidents by incorporating a variety of safety features into their designs. For instance, some spreaders have an auto-reverse feature on the material feed system to automatically clear material jams, so the operator doesn’t have to unclog the unit by hand.

If, however, the material feed system does require servicing, the operator typically has to remove the spinner assembly to correct the issue. But, the electronic controller on some spreaders can detect when the spinner is removed, and it won’t allow the spreader to start back up until the spinner is re-installed. This helps prevent the operator from coming into contact with moving parts of the spreader, such as the auger. Manufacturers have also designed various protective shields in an attempt to keep operators free from harm. An example of this is the top screen. Not only does it keep oversized material out of the hopper, but it also acts as a safety feature to help prevent anyone from entering the unit.

Although the top screen and other protective shields are bolted to the spreader, manufacturers can’t stop operators from removing them. Consequently, people may take out some bolts or remove a shield completely in an attempt to provide easy access to the hopper or specific components. However, this is never a good idea, because all shields are installed for a purpose — to protect both the spreader and operator from injury and damage. If a shield must be removed to clean out salt around the motor, transmission or other components, the spreader must be completely shut off before doing so, and the shields should be reinstalled immediately according to manufacturer recommendations.

Given the potential for personal injury or machine damage, intensive repairs should be reserved for trained service technicians. Therefore, if an inexperienced operator runs into a problem in the field and the fix isn’t obvious, he should call into the office for instructions on how to proceed. If nobody at the shop is familiar with how to correct the problem, then it is time to call the local servicing dealer or the spreader manufacturer itself.

Simply put, reading the owner’s manual and using a little common sense will go a long ways. And, in the end, following safe practices is in everybody’s best interest. Not only does it help protect the operator, but it also increases the safety of surrounding drivers and pedestrians…which is what snow and ice professionals are meant to do in the first place.