“The work on construction sites is very different from sweeping parking lots,” says Scott Duscher, whose company Agua Trucks generates 80% of its revenue from construction sweeping. “The goal is different and the process is different. A guy who normally sweeps HOAs would have a huge challenge trying to clean to that level of detail and that degree of clean on a construction site. On the other hand, take a guy who is used to sweeping construction sites and send him out to sweep an HOA and he would kill himself trying to clean that HOA site. The expectations and needs are very different.”
In addition, unlike parking lots sweeping, the jobsite often changes.
“A construction site is not static, it’s alive. It’s changing constantly and could change within the hour,” Duscher says. “You could go around a corner and run into a ditch or a pile of dirt that wasn’t there and a few hours before, so you have to be constantly aware. Never assume the site is the same as it was.”
Duscher offers these insights to make construction sweeping easier, safer, more productive and more profitable.
- Start with a broom sweeper. “We do use both broom and vacuum sweepers, but we started with a mid-size broom,” Duscher says. “Brooms pick up heavier material better and vacuums pick up lighter material better.” He says air sweepers don’t leave a trail but that’s less important in construction sweeping where picking up heavier debris is what’s needed.
- Make sure to own at least two sweepers. “Equipment does break down and you can’t be half done and leave the site with a job not done,” Duscher says.
- Additional equipment isn’t needed. “For the type of work we do – heavy construction site sweeping as opposed to milling – you can pretty well do it with just the sweeper. You don’t need additional equipment. Our water trucks dovetail into it and keep the dust down but that’s not required.”
- Plan for more maintenance – and for more-regular maintenance. “They’re bigger pieces of equipment, they have more moving parts, and the sites they work on are tougher and create more wear and tear.”
- Track your maintenance. Duscher’s company tracks for maintenance by the hour, especially for hydraulics. “Guys back East service their big machines in the winter months but in the West, we don’t have that luxury. We have to perform nonstop maintenance on them, so we need to track it and schedule it.”
- Consider hiring an in-house mechanic. “You almost have to have an in-house mechanic because you can’t just pull a machine out of the field and drop it off for six days to get it fixed,” Duscher says. “We might even have to go the jobsite to fix it because these machines are not easy to tow and they’re very expensive to tow. So, if it’s something we can fix in the field we have a service truck that goes out and takes care of it.”
- Monitor – and max out – brooms. “We max the use out of our brooms,” Duscher says. “Because of the heavy material we might get only 50-60 hours out of the gutter brooms and maybe 100 hours or so out of the main broom. So, we’ll adjust them to use every bit.”
- DOTs stop bigger units. Mechanical sweepers are often larger and heavier machines than vacuum sweepers, so operators are more likely to be stopped on the road. Be prepared with all appropriate licensing and documentation and prepare your drivers so they know how they should respond.
- Emphasize driver training. “The driver has to make sure he can see what’s in the road in front of him because there will be electrical cords, twine, caution tape and all sorts of other things that a parking lot sweeper will never see,” Duscher says. “They’ll get tangled up in the mechanics of the machine so the driver has to be very aware, and the operator might actually have to get out of the truck and move things in the way that the sweeper won’t pick up.”
- Train drivers to maintain eye contact. “The most important thing for drivers is to maintain eye contact with any other piece of equipment moving around in their path. If you can’t see their eyes, don’t keep sweeping. Don’t assume the other guy is going to get out of your way whether it’s a water truck or a Bobcat. They’re all in their own little world out there doing their own job.” He adds that because many operators wear sunglasses and hard hats, operators should consider using hand signals to communicate on the site.
- Backing up is your enemy. “On a construction site you’re usually working in close quarters and people do not necessarily stay away from your machine,” Duscher says. “You might see a guy standing there, waiting for you to go by and as soon as you do, he steps behind you to go to his truck to get a tool. If you have to stop because another piece of equipment is crossing in front of you, you might think to back up to give that equipment more room. But if you back up before checking what’s behind you, that guy who went to get his tool could be dead. If you don’t have clear vision over 100% of the direction your machine is moving, don’t go there.”
- Don’t rely on rear view cameras. “They’re an aid but they’re not a be-all, end-all and you can’t rely on them 100%,” Duscher says. “They might be pointed or angled slightly off from where you’re going, or they might be pointed behind the broom. You just can’t rely on them.”
- Walk around the vehicle after it’s been stopped for any length of time, such as when filling with water. Duscher recalls one instance where a sweeper was parked to fill with water and four workers took their break in the shade provided by the machine. Had he not walked around the sweeper before driving off he could have hit those four men.
These and additional insights and training for construction sweeping are available through the North American Power Sweeping Association’s training course, Certified Sweeper Operator – Construction. The course was introduced earlier this year and an updated version 2.0 will be launched in January. For more information visit www.powersweeping.org.