By Jason Sawin, CHS Snowmakers
Safety: It’s thought about, talked about and practiced, but is every aspect of safety being covered? The short answer is no.
The “low hanging fruit” are the easy things to protect like ears, eyes and heads with helmets. The harder safety items are not as obvious. Industry should discover these things together, come up with solutions together and implement those solutions together. This article addresses snowmaking hose as it pertains to our unique environment.
Common hose manufacturers, including: Groway, JGB Enterprises, Mercedes, Niedner Snowhose, Ponn Nordic, Techno Alpin and Valley rate their hose to 750 or 800 psi working pressure (WP) and will have a burst pressure of 1,500 to 2,000 psi. This pressure rating is tested with the cam locks used on the hose. The hose or cam locks will begin showing stress and potentially fail at these high pressures. This gives a safety margin of 2:1 to 3:1 and the maximum WP is then determined.
Most hose manufacturers also make fire service hose. Snowmaking hose is glorified fire hose that has a higher pressure rating. The fire service has to follow the National Fire Protection Association’s (NFPA) standard, “NFPA 1962: Standard for the Care, Use, Inspection, Service Testing, and Replacement of Fire Hose, Couplings, Nozzles, and Fire Hose Appliances.” The snowmaking industry hasn’t traditionally followed any predetermined rules; basically, it’s been: use a hose until it blows.
Since 2006, CHS Snowmakers has been repairing snowmaking hose and has seen different brands outlast others 2:1 or more. There are many reasons why one brand will outlast another, but a major contributing factor is the care the hose receives during its life. Here are some examples of damage that can be repaired (cut out a bad section and recouple the ends) and hose that shouldn’t be repaired:
Repairable damage – Snowmobile ski cuts, snowcat tiller cuts, shovel cuts, torch burns, freezing bursts and bending the hose with ice in it.
Unrepairable damage – Mud and dirt damage, operating over the recommended pressure, weave or yarn damage from excessive external oil, UV damage and age.
NFPA 1962 requires documenting every hose, pressure testing once a year and even describes when to remove a hose from service. These requirements are very strict, but they are important to protect the firefighter at the end of the hose. The snowmaking industry may not need to follow every NFPA rule, although it may be wise to adopt some standards; not reinvent the wheel. Here are some recommendations for industry’s consideration:
Documentation – Each manufacturer stamps a month and year of manufacture on the hose. After five to 10 years, these numbers fade, so use a black permanent marker to keep it visible. With that same marker, snowmakers should mark the date of when they received the hose. When the hose is sent for repair, the repairer will put three letters for the name of the resort, two numbers for the year and then number the hose: CHS 19-01, as an example. The repairer will document this on the repair form and scan it into the resort or ski area’s file.
Inspection – On a yearly basis, every hose should be inspected for damage. Take a black marker and circle any light-damage spots if they don’t leak. Also, mark around the hose end of each coupling, this will show if the coupling is slipping (a NFPA requirement). Wash the hose with a light detergent and water to remove any build-up of dirt or other foreign material.
Storage – Hose should be rolled up clean and dry and stored indoors, out of UV light. An old firefighter tradition is to roll the male end inside to protect the threads. This method will also protect the cam lock. If the hose is damaged and in need of repair, a good practice is to roll it up backwards and mark it with a tag.
System pressure – Many snowmaking systems have pressures well over the safe WP tested by the hose manufacturer. Even though a safety margin is built into hose, that margin is only for a new hose. Over time and with abuse, the safety margin will decrease. Don’t use regular snowmaking hose in areas that require pressures higher than the hose manufacturer’s WP. Many resorts have switched to rigid hose with cam locks that are rated for much higher pressures. Make sure the cam locks used on the rigid hose are rated for the higher pressures.
Pressure testing – This can be a labor-intensive job, but it must be considered. The first five years of life for a hose can be expected to have a high safety margin, unless it’s not well cared for. After five years, testing hose to the maximum WP or the highest pressure plus 100 psi (not exceeding the manufacturer’s maximum WP) should be done. Consider every other year between five and 10 years and every year after 10 years.
Remove the hose from service – While fire hose is typically removed from service at the 20-year mark, most snowmaking hose doesn’t last 10 to 15 years due to extreme weather conditions. Hose that doesn’t leak, but has been damaged and should not be repaired, could be retired into another use. Bike parks need water and, as long as it is low pressure, retired snowmaking hose can likely be repurposed. Just make sure that hose doesn’t make it back into snowmaking service after a summer in the UV light, dirt and mud!
Do not retire a water snowmaking hose to the air side. Industry has taken the much lower compressed air pressure for granted with snowmaking hose, but the danger from a blown air hose is as much as, if not greater than, water pressure. Most air/water systems use the same hose, so it is easy to just “grab hose” and go. Some resorts have a different size air hose than water and some color code the hose. The bottom line is: don’t use old or damaged hose for air because it is lower pressure. Compressed air has a massive amount of energy potential.
There has been recent discussion about securing the fittings of the air hose just like other industries. In construction, a jackhammer with one-inch hose and sexless couplings needs to have a hose arrestor or metal strap that holds the ends of the hose if the couplings come apart. For snowmaking hose, there isn’t yet a solution, but people have tried.
If an accident occurs, do you know what to do? No matter if it’s the biggest resort or the smallest, everyone needs to have a plan before disaster strikes. Consider what Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) would have to say about an operation before and after an accident? Don’t wait to educate staff about OSHA and what they expect. They have tremendous resources for all industries and established rules to follow. According to National Ski Areas Association, the snow operations industry has moved way up OSHA’s watch list due to many recent accidents and deaths in the ski industry.
Jason Sawin is the owner of CHS Snowmakers. Contact him at jsawin@CHSsnowmakers.com for more information on how to streamline hose pressure testing processes.
Visit www.osha.gov for more information on hose safety standards.