Pros and Cons of Municipal Night Work

Whether it’s for emergency repairs or routine maintenance, municipalities weigh in on the advantages of working at night along with the obvious risks.
Pros and Cons of Municipal Night Work
Doosan L20 light tower

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The City of Baltimore has 4,000 miles of water distribution mains. Many are 75 to 80 years old and approaching the end of their estimated 110-year lifespan. Each year the city and surrounding county experience 800 to 1,000 main breaks, mostly in January and February and mostly after dark.

Although Baltimore has set procedures for nighttime work, it’s something the city prefers to avoid.

“We usually don’t work routine maintenance at night, although it’s not unusual for our crews to get involved when responding to a break and discover other work that can be done while on the location,” says Art Shapiro, chief of the office of engineering and construction. “The concern we have about working at night in general is it’s dark and we’re already working in a hazardous environment. Nothing good happens in the dark.”

It’s a sentiment shared by the City of Seattle and Lesley Jones, public works director for Augusta, Maine.

“We only do it for snow removal, and snow removal is an emergency,” Jones says.

Yet there are times when night work is the only option.

Rick Scott, deputy director for Seattle’s water line of business and share services, says transportation needs, such as trolley lines, take priority and mandate that city crews work at night.

“Some of the arterials with bus routes we can’t do during the day,” he says.

Traffic control restrictions also dictate the amount of work Seattle can do during daylight, according to Tony Blackwell, director of the water system maintenance division, who is limited to a six-hour, 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., window.

“Typically, the ordinances are so tough here that it’s difficult to work outside of business hours unless there’s an emergency or a real need,” Scott says.


Despite the challenges, there are advantages to working at night.

  • Productivity - “When we work weekends and nights, we’re able to work 10-, 12-, 14-hour shifts and be, in my opinion, upwards of 30 to 40 percent more efficient,” Blackwell says.
  • Less Traffic - “In Baltimore, we have a lot of industrial areas in the city where there are large mains, transmission mains as well as distribution mains. They’re very quiet at night,” Shapiro says. “In those situations we can plan work in the overnight hours when there’s no truck traffic and the warehouses are not occupied and active. In those cases we can safely – and without inconveniencing anyone – close off large areas and provide blanket lighting, which offers a much safer environment than daylight almost. Generally, our contractors will do this. Our overnight crews are focused on emergencies rather than planned work.”
  • Flexible scheduling - “If we receive a report of a minor problem in a relatively rural area, we can make a decision on a case-by-case basis and determine if we go out there and work without causing concern to the nearby neighbors because of noise or light,” Shapiro says. “The reason that’s a pro is it allows us some flexibility in leveraging our staffing. If we try to do everything within the eight-hour workday or during the daylight hours, in the wintertime we would not have enough daylight to keep up with our backlog and emerging new work.”


Yet most municipalities prefer to work during the day because night work creates some challenges.

  • Safety - “When there’s a water main break, generally we get a call from a citizen saying there’s water shooting out of a hole in the street,” Shapiro says. “We have to be mindful of that when we pull up with 15-ton dump trucks and heavy excavators on trailers. In some cases, sinkholes have formed very rapidly because of the failure of a pipe within the street buried 50 feet below the surface. To keep employees safe and seen during evening hours, Baltimore issues workers reflective vests, hard hats, steel-toed shoes, hearing protection and safety eyewear. They’re also given rubberized rain suits for inclement weather.
  • Inattentive drivers - “One of the things we learned is citizens driving at night become target fixated,” Shapiro says. “They see flashing lights, whether it’s a patrol car or the blinking lights on the back of a work vehicle, and rather than steer away from it they actually steer toward it. Crews are trained to use their heavy equipment as shields, but even then we’ve had near misses and we’ve had people struck by mirrors from passing vehicles.”
  • Lighting - “Anything that’s not lit you need flashlights or lights,” Jones says of nighttime emergencies. “If I’m walking to my truck and it’s not in the actual construction zone, I have to make sure that worker can get there safely.” Baltimore uses tower lighting to illuminate work areas, especially excavations where heavy rigs are used. “We have battery-powered light packs. We also have trucks equipped with spotlights and hand flashlights,” Shapiro says.
  • Sleep and noise - “You have people with sleep patterns who can’t sleep during the day so maybe they’re not quite as alert,” Jones says. “Night work also is disruptive to residents.” Shapiro says crews in Baltimore rarely work on water mains in residential areas at night. “We don’t want to disturb the residents with heavy equipment and excavation, jack hammers and things like that during the off hours,” he says. “Generally, our work hours are between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m.”
  • Expense - Baltimore has three unions within city services, including two labor and professional unions that have provisions for overnight pay differential when working 4 p.m. to midnight and midnight to 4 a.m. shifts. In Seattle, crews receive double time for responding to emergencies outside their normal work hours. “Anything outside your regularly scheduled shift would probably qualify for a shift differential or premium pay,” says John Holmes, director of drainage and wastewater system maintenance division.

Tools of the trade
If you do need to work after dark, here are a few safety products you don’t want to be without:

  • Doosan light tower and generator - The L20 light tower and 20-kilowatt generator from Doosan Portable Power provide a single solution to two important needs – power and light.
  • Larson 1,600-watt light plant -The 1,600-watt light plant from Larson Electronics features an LED light mast powered by a 7-kilowatt water-cooled diesel generator. The trailer-mounted light tower with generator has a 150-gallon fuel tank for 225 hours of continuous operation.
  • Atlas Copco light tower - QLTS solar LED light towers from Atlas Copco Construction Equipment feature manual and automatic photocell-operated lights. Powered by solar AGM batteries, an automatic photocell turns the unit on or off depending on light conditions.
  • ECCO LED worklamp - The Equinox line of LED worklamps from ECCO has a polycarbonate lens, aluminum housing and IP67 protection rating. Model EW2102 features Lo-Glo, an illuminated ECCO logo for additional safety as an obstruction marker light. The line also features an amber model for low visibility, such as dust, snow and fog.
  • Metabo LED work lamps - The 18-volt, battery-operated line of LED work lights from Metabo Corp. include the ULA flashlight, SLA inspection/work light and the BSA site lamp. The site lamp features 18 LED lights and two intensity settings that produce 1,800 lumens on high and 1,200 on low.
  • Optronics LED series lamps - ONE Series LED lights from Optronics International are available in single-diode 4-inch round and 6-inch oval stop, tail and turn lamps. The lights meet FMVSS 108 photometric requirements for visibility and safety.
  • Pelican Products LED headlight - The 2760 LED headlight from Pelican Products includes high, low, night-vision-friendly red and flashing modes. The light is made from water/weather resistant polymer and pivots to a 45-degree angle.
  • Godwin Pumps light towers - A series of light towers from Godwin Pumps features a 30-foot, 360-degree rotating steel mast that projects 4,000 watts of adjustable light, covering 5 to 7 acres.
  • Rain for Rent light tower - The 20-kilowatt light tower from Rain for Rent combines a rugged frame with your choice of either a high-quality generator or generator/welder. Four 1,000-watt lamps provide maximum illumination.
  • Sunbelt Rentals - Boasting the broadest fleet in the industry — From tow-behind light towers to hazardous-location floodlighting to portable light stands and generators — Sunbelt Rentals provides lighting solutions for any job, big or small.
  • AZZ Rig-A-Lite products - AZZ offers a wide range of industrial lighting solutions in its extensive line of Rig-A-Lite products such as the LHFL and LFL Series LED floodlights. All LED products are backed by a five-year warranty that covers manufacturer defects and lumen loss.
  • Magnum Power Products solar hybrid light towers - The MLT4000S Solar Hybrid Light Tower from Magnum Power Products offers an environmentally friendly hybrid power system of sunlight and liquid propane. LED light fixtures provide more than 50,000 hours of illumination.
  • LE, Inc. EcoSmart Compact light towers - EcoSmart Compact light towers from LE, Inc., which provide 7 acres of lighting in a very compact package, are available in multiple options.
  • Multiquip, Inc. light towers - Multiquip, Inc., unveiled the LT6K and LT6K5 fuel-efficient light towers. They produce 440,00 lumens, powered by a 12-hp, Tier 4 Final Kohler diesel engine that provides up to 66 hours of run time while offering additional electrical power through auxiliary receptacles located inside the cabinet.


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