IFAT Industry Insights

Modern winter service: reliable, fast and environmentally friendly

Brine as liquid deicer is considered environmentally friendly and cost saving. Liability issues continue to be of great importance.

icy roads
© iStock / auerimages

First half of January 2019: more than a meter of fresh snow falls in Bayrischzell/Germany within 48 hours. Even in the snow-proven Prealps, this severe onset of winter caught those responsible for winter service off guard. Road clearance expert Martin Storr remembers: "In fact, we worked six consecutive twelve-hour shifts to clear the streets. We constantly had to change our plans and decide which combination of grit to use in accordance with the traffic office’s requirements." It is well known that road salt in winter maintenance has long been used based on the motto “as much as necessary, as little as possible.”

Combined solutions gain ground

True to this motto, more and more combined solutions are catching on for large winter road salt spreaders. They combine the otherwise alternative techniques of brine and pre-wetted salt application in one single vehicle. According to the German Association of Local Utilities (VKU), the highly effective pre-wetted salt is still the method of choice in cases of massive ice formation and heavy snowfall at very low temperatures. In order to prevent icy conditions and at low air and road humidity, however, spraying the cost-effective and environmentally friendly brine delivers excellent results.

The advantages of the needs-oriented use of pure brine are convincing as it not only saves between 20 and 50 percent compared to pre-wetted salt: the lower salt loads also reduce the damage to the roadside greenery as well as the salt content in the melt water, which flows into the sewer system.

It’s the municipalities’ turn

In recent years, the manufacturers of spreaders and sprayers have invested a lot of energy and engineering skills in the development of technologies for the most economical use of environmentally harmful salts. It is now up to the cities and municipalities to make even greater use of mature, efficient solutions such as brine sprayers when replacing old sprayers or when making new acquisitions in the coming years.

Dipl.-Ing. Bernd Sackmann, Managing Director of the German Municipal Vehicles and Equipment Industry Association (VAK)

Use of brine also possible with small equipment

Equipment manufacturers such as Bucher municipal offer interesting innovations here, including technologies to evenly distribute pure brine over a width of up to 12 meters. Or automatic spreaders for common small equipment carriers and compact sweepers to prevent slipperiness on narrow roads, footpaths and bike paths. The containers of these pure liquid spreaders are made of highly resistant HDPE (high-density polyethylene) and adapted to the various shapes and sizes of the respective carrier vehicles.

Automation simplifies the service

Another important trend in modern winter road clearance is the use of high-performance digital technology. Even if the weather forecasts are getting better and more accurate, sometimes “Mother Holle” is moody and unpredictable. In such a case it is good to be able to count on the fast and reliable alerting of the task forces. The manufacturer Blueworld for instance offers a system for communicating and coordinating operations with winter service personnel: it consists of a web-based operations center and any number of mobile devices. The system provides good services in winter but can also be used in summer for street cleaning and in between for bulky waste disposal. It can be used for real-time positioning of the vehicles and it automatically reports on the assignments.

Liability risks

Also in winter service it is discussed constantly: Who is liable “if the worst comes to the worst?” The German Civil Code (BGB) leaves no room for doubt in Art. 823 (1): "The owner must clean her/his property in such a way that third parties are not harmed by dirt, ice or snow.” In an aging society such as ours, private citizens increasingly entrust winter road clearance to professional service providers who also offer full-service packages including liability assumption. "In fact, case law places very high demands on winter road clearance services," explains Dr. Achim W. Schröter, Deputy Managing Director of VKU’s Waste Management and Urban Cleanliness Division. According to the expert, various liability risks are associated with the organization and implementation of the winter road clearance service. Labor law requirements for the deployment of winter maintenance staff must also be observed. Schröter therefore recommends: “Those who want to guarantee sufficient security with the organization and execution of a winter service, should stay up to date about the current jurisdiction.”

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