Safety Precautions for Snowmobiles
Snowmobiles are commonly used in extremely adverse weather conditions with sub-zero temperatures; therefore, employee safety relies heavily on their dependability. Snowmobiles should be kept in good operating condition and be equipped with emergency supplies. For this reason, it may be advisable for companies to consider leasing new snowmobiles each season rather than purchasing them and attempting to maintain them over several years.
- Mark regularly travelled routes: Use flagging tape, wooden pickets painted with fluorescent paint, or even tree blazes(where legal). Marked trails are very helpful when:
Hand signals: Be familiar with appropriate hand signals for communicating with other snowmobilers.
- Travelling in flat light and/or poor visibility conditions
- Traffic is heavy
- Safe routes are required when working around heavy equipment
- Indicating the tested and proven safe route for crossing ice
Emergency fuel caches and/or survival equipment caches: Establish and know the location of the caches if conditions warrant them - better safe than sorry.
Be aware of current and forecast weather conditions before starting out. Postpone a trip if weather is bad or deteriorating.
In case of a breakdown, follow the established camp ERP procedures if you cannot repair the snowmobile. If you are not within easy snowshoeing distance, stay near the machine and look for or build a simple shelter from wind and weather (e.g., tree hole, quinzee, snow cave in a drift). Communicate your situation to camp and make your position obvious by creating a signal with a smoky fire, large SOS letters in the snow with branches or dirt etc. Leave a note if you choose to hike to camp, but do not do so unless is a very short distance and you know you can get there safely
Carry a spare ignition key or attach it to a lanyard or flagging - a key may be impossible to find if it falls in the snow
Use a snowmobile with heated handle grips/throttle and heated foot warmers for long traverses or very cold conditions, if available. They provide an additional safety factor.
Riding on ice increases the risks. Snowmobiles lose traction and manoeuvrability on ice. Slow down and allow extra distance between machines on ice and for turning
When crossing a road or railroad tracks, come to a full stop. Check carefully in both directions that there is no traffic, especially if there are more than one set of railroad tracks. Cross at 90 degree.
Don't tailgate. Maintain a safe distance between machines.
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
Wear the correct helmet and fasten the chinstrap securely. Full face helmets offer the best protection. A safe helmet is one that is in good shape - no dents or cracks - with the inner foam padding also in good condition. Choose one large enough to wear a toque or balaclava under it. Snowmobile helmets should comply with federal standards and have a certification sticker from one of the following:
- Snell Memorial Foundation M2005 Standard (Snell specifications are higher than DOT specifications)
- US DOT sticker Standard FMVSS 218
- Meet or exceed Standard D230 of the Canadian Standards Association (CSA)
Replace any helmet that has been worn in an accident and damaged. Consider replacing helmets after four or five years, as their safety features (padding and construction materials) deteriorate over time and they do not offer the same protection as when new. Helmets are stamped with the month and date of production.
Goggles or a visor should be worn to protect your eyes. Goggles should be free of scratches, shatterproof and well ventilated to prevent fogging up. Replace visors when they become scratched or cracked
Wear good boots to keep your feet warm - ones with thick felt liners are recommended. Take extra liners if they are likely to get wet. Do not use old worn liners as they will not provide good insulation.
Wear a comfortable, warm snowmobile suit that is not too tight. Tight clothing restricts blood circulation, which will increase the potential for frostbite and hypothermia. Dress in layers starting with long underwear that wicks moisture away from your skin. Choose polyester or microfiber rather than cotton, which takes longer to dry once it is wet. The middle layers should be fleece, wool, pile etc., for insulation. The outer layer should provide protection from wind and moisture yet 'breathe' to allow sweat to evaporate through the fabric. Wearing layers makes it easier to cool down by removing one layer at a time as you work. Have a toque or balaclava available to protect against frostbite. Do not wear loose clothing that may get caught in moving parts of the machine (e.g., scarf). Keep clothing as dry as possible and dry out boots and clothing when you come indoors. Refer to section 6.3.5 Clothing.
Wear proper insulated snowmobile gloves or mitts. They should be comfortable and allow the use of your fingers and thumb. Wearing thin inner gloves will protect your hands when you remove mitts to do precise work.
Floater snowmobile suit
If working on ice, this is the safest suit to wear. It is very buoyant and will not absorb much water if you fall through ice in contrast to a regular snowmobile suit. While more costly, it can save your life. At the very least, wear a snowmobile suit that contains some buoyancy material and a personal flotation device (PFD).
Keep the snowmobile under control at all times. Always be able to stop within the distance you can see, especially at night. Ride to reduce risks and avoid accidents.
Ride at the appropriate speed for your skill level, the visibility, terrain, weather and light conditions, and potential oncoming traffic. All these factors play a role in determining a safe operating speed limit.
A 'safe speed' will vary day to day - and even during the day - depending on conditions and visibility.
Slow down when travelling in rough terrain, confined areas with limited visibility, when towing a sled, carrying a passenger, or where you might expect to encounter traffic or wildlife.
Ride snowmobiles at a very slow speed within camp or where heavy machinery is operating at a work site.
Speed kills. Most accidents are due to excessive speed for the riding conditions, as a rider cannot respond quickly enough to an unexpected situation.