Liability and Your Commercial Property
As a property owner/manager, you are responsible for keeping your property safe and preventing accidental injuries. In winter, that can pose a challenge with snow, freezing rain, ice, freeze and thaw, etc. all being a daily possibility. Qualified snow removal services subcontractors have the ability to handle the bulk of the work during a winter storm, but they can’t always address every hazard on a site. Their primary responsibility during a storm is to keep roadways open and passable for emergency vehicles. It is only AFTER the snow has stopped that wider drive lanes are cleared and sidewalks get shoveled. Clearing of parking spaces or relocating large piles of snow is also an additional fee. So what do you do to protect your company from an expensive slip and fall liability claim?
Tips for Pretreating Commercial Properties for Winter Weather
Pre-treating drive lanes and walking paths is a critical step when trying to limit liability for injury in winter weather. The basic thing to remember is this – pretreating breaks the bond between ice and pavement. So salt is applied to asphalt and salt lowers the freezing point. Snow or freezing rain falls. Because new snow now freezes at a lower temperature, it turns to water. That water mixes with the salt forming a brine. The brine layer prevents continued snow from adhering to the asphalt. People drive on the asphalt, further spreading the brine/salt and melting more snow. Plows come through and scrape the slush down to the pavement and resalt. Then the entire cycle starts again.
When managers and owners choose not to pretreat, snow falls and sticks to the asphalt. As people drive over the snow covered roads or walk on the sidewalks, they crush the fallen snow creating packed snow and ice. This is not only a hazard for drivers and pedestrians, but it is extremely difficult to melt or scrape with plows or shovels. Picture taking an ice cube from the freezer and trying to melt it with salt or scrape the surface away with a blade. Takes a long time doesn’t it? That’s exactly what happens on a grander scale at a property that doesn’t pretreat or use deicers. When you weigh out the cost of a pretreat vs. the cost of a liability claim, it makes sense to invest in the pretreat service.
Using Deicers and Plowing to Prevent Accidents
When plows push snow or you snow is shoveled from walkways, the bare pavement is exposed. It is important to use a deicing agent like salt on that newly exposed pavement. It works much like the pretreating described above. If you remove the snow that has accumulated exposing the asphalt or paved surface and fail to reapply deicer, this is when snow can stick to the pavement causing icy situations which result in slips or accidents. Always plow and deice in conjunction with one another to get the best results and maintain the safest roadways and sidewalks.
Keeping Commercial Properties Clean in Winter
Both inside and out, it’s important to keep areas where residents and visitors walk safe and clean. People and pets track snow and deicer into buildings as they walk. Make sure that there are absorbent, slip-proof rugs or mats to capture those materials and prevent indoor slip hazards and be sure to post caution signs to make people aware that conditions may be less than ideal inside. When you look outdoors, the biggest challenges are poorly located piles of snow, snow between cars, and sand. Poorly placed snow piles can cause not only a trip hazard, but it can be a source of melting and refreezing causing icy spots where people can slip and get injured. Be sure to plan where your snow subcontractor will push snow and how it will be will be marked off before the first storm. Sand can be applied to an icy roadway or sidewalk, but because it has no deicing capabilities it typically gets dispersed or displaced by vehicle or foot traffic. You now have sand in places you never wanted sand (i.e. your house, lobby, inside your car, parking spaces, etc) that needs to be cleaned up after a storm.
How to Prepare Your Commercial Property for Winter
Pre-storm planning is the most important thing property owners can do to make sure that everyone has the same understanding of what is and is not being done by the snow subcontractor. After the subcontractor is clear, it is also time to let residents, visitors, and tenants know the plan. If there are places they cannot park because they are designated snow areas – make sure there is a map and those areas are clearly marked. Advise residents how to clean their cars and where to put that snow. This is one of the biggest culprits of slip and falls – when people clean cars and put snow into newly plowed streets, in between cars, or onto cleared sidewalks that may or may not be treated with deicer.
Logistics during a winter storm also play a large role in how quickly a property can be serviced. Roads can become gridlocked during storms – even just minor winter events. That makes treatment of minor issues difficult for snow subcontractors. Plowing roadways is one thing, but returning to a site because there is an icy spot on a sidewalk or a shaded area that doesn’t want to melt can be costly calls for service, but can be even costlier if the contractor can’t get there and the area goes untreated. For these reasons, Property Managers must keep ice melt, shovels, cones, and caution tape on hand. Placing cones or caution tape around particularly hazardous areas and applying deicing treatment to small isolated areas can prevent a slip and fall.