Reducing Hazards on the Highway with the Right Sweeper

When asked if there were many differences between highway sweeping and local street sweeping, Schwarze National Sales Manager, Joe Hendrickson, said, “This is a great question.” Although there are many differences between the two, Hendrickson sees three big ones: who is sweeping the project, what is being swept, and how it is being swept. Often times, this is defined by region, government regulations, or the number of times an area is being swept in a given period of time.

Every road is different, and time of year plays a huge role in what is being swept. On a highway, an operator is going to encounter a lot of rubber from tires, gravel from road wear, and large debris that has fallen out of vehicles, among other things. In a city, operators are going to find a lot of the same debris, however, it is usually swept more often so the volume is typically less. Cities and areas of high population are also regulated by stormwater or air quality, and those cities and high populated areas will have specific guidelines that will mandate sweeping requirements.

Local street sweeping and highway sweeping differ in that, with local sweeping, the sweeper trucks don’t have to travel very far to reach their route, which means they don’t need to reach very high speeds. Trucks that are sweeping from one end of highway to another, not only have to be able to handle speeds of 65 mph, but they need to travel from the garage to the highway where they are performing the job.
Marjorie Strandlund, Marketing & Communications Manager for Python
Manufacturing, Inc., says, “In towns and cities, a unit that is agile and can work on narrow streets is ideal.” For local street sweeping jobs, she says Python’s S2000, while still a powerful sweeper, is nimble enough for this application. A three-wheeled sweeper is also an option for some cities.

Typically on a highway application, an air or mechanical high dump machine is used. Due to the long travel distances to a dump site, a high dump machine allows the sweeper to dump into a dump truck without leaving the job. The type of sweeper will be dictated on the size and volume of the material which is being swept on a regular basis. These definitions of sweeping a highway also translate into city sweeping. Bottom line: a sweeper must be selected based on the type of work being completed. If an operator is sweeping heavy gravel or large debris, a mechanical machine is typically used. If operators are doing more maintenance-type sweeping and are focused on capturing more of the particulates from the roadway, an air type sweeper will be used. Hendrickson recommends the Schwarze M6000 as a high dump mechanical sweeper, and the A8000 for a high dump Regenerative Air Sweeper. The A7000 and A9000 would be a high capacity RAS.

Elgin Street Sweeper’s equipment is tailored to the highway sweeper, built with the capacity to pick up some serious debris. Mufflers, car batteries, retreads—many sweepers can’t handle picking up such large debris. The Elgin Eagle can. The Eagle can pick up remnants of bumpers, and other vehicle parts left in the wake of an accident, not to mention the piles and piles of gravel that can build up along the shoulder. According to Elgin’s website, “the Eagle combines the proven Elgin sweep system, with variable high dump capabilities and highway transport speeds for maximum productivity.”

Also an issue with highway sweeping is having the ability to offload debris easily. Products Manager for Elgin, Brian Giles recommends a high dump machine for jobs on the highway. Most of the time, highway state run organizations like DOTs and turnpikes buy trucks exclusively for highway sweeping and don’t even buy trucks for slow routes. “They need the ability to get the big, ugly debris,” Giles says. Giles also recommends a mechanical sweeper with a high dump. He recommends a conveyer belt mechanism versus a squeegee conveyer, but says, “We manufacture both.”

Strandlund mirrors Giles recommendation and says, “For highway sweeping, you need a truck-mounted, four-wheeled sweeper such as the Python S3000. It is ultra-powerful and has a large capacity hopper.” In their product line, they also have a sweeper called the Harvester, and it continuously dumps into a truck that is driving in front of it, meaning that it never has to stop sweeping to dump. Strandlund believes the Harvester to be the best answer to highway sweeping.

Giles follows the motto, “Have as few people out of the truck and out on the road as possible.” Highway sweeping is loaded with hazards. The entire concept of sweeping debris on a highway is hazardous. Elgin Street Sweepers work toward making the process as safe and hazard free as possible, and they employ the Dan Ryan Test to do so. A test of Elgin’s own making, the Dan Ryan Test is performed on the Dan Ryan Expressway, which runs from the South Side of Chicago to the downtown loop of the city. Trucks bringing in anything on the North American continent from East to West use the Dan Ryan Expressway, and, knowing the importance of having a sweeper that gets up retreads and car parts, Elgin uses the expressway as a testing ground for their sweeper trucks to develop and, in turn, manufacture the best equipment for the job of highway sweeping.

If not using one of these trucks that can handle picking up the big debris, the result is people going out onto the highway—on foot—and physically picking it up by hand. “It’s totally dangerous,” Giles says. Hence, his motto. Typically, a plow truck with an absorber is supposed to follow behind when people are out there picking up debris, and Giles has even received requests to get an absorber put on the back of a sweeper truck, an impossibility since there’s already a brush back there. Also adding an absorber, unfortunately, would prove out of the question.

Giles says, “The whole process is a hazard.” A truck with an absorber should be following behind a sweeper truck, as well, and not just when people are on foot. Giles thinks a lot of lighting and dust control would be helpful to the process. “People run into a dust cloud and then they don’t see the sweeper. Even with a lot of lights, operators should have a follow truck,” he advises.

Hendrickson agrees that safety is a major concern when street sweeping is taking place in any setting, be it a fast moving six lane highway, or a One-Way city street.
The average street sweeper travels five to seven mph. When a sweeper is placed in an environment where cars are traveling 70 mph, the risk of an accident is very high. Hendrickson says, “As an owner or operator of a street sweeper, it is imperative that safety is the first priority. A clean road means nothing if someone is hurt in the process.” A well-trained operator is the first line of protection against the risk. Second is a well lit sweeper. “The more lights, the better,” he says. On highway jobs, it is not uncommon for the sweeper to be followed by a second truck that has a crash attenuator attached. The attenuator not only provides an extra line of caution for a passing driver, but it also lessens the impact in the event that a crash should occur.

Giles thinks the amount of debris that piles up along the highway could be prevented, which would have a positive impact on employee safety, as well. Who is responsible for sweeping a highway project could either be the state DOT, or, depending on the highway, the city the highway passes through. City jobs are commonly maintained by the city themselves, however, who is sweeping the project could also mean a contractor. In this case, the DOT or city will typically specify their requirements to the contractor for the work to be completed. He says, “If sweepers got their frequency a little higher, they wouldn’t have to sweep as much. Maybe it could minimize putting people out on the road and out of harm’s way,” Giles says.

Story by Megan McClure