Contractors and road salt have a rocky relationship.
Every year, as winter comes around, road salt becomes a hot topic that cannot be avoided. Most of these articles now feature highlights into road salt alternatives and a call to reduce salt in order to save our groundwater, roads, bridges and wildlife.
These issues are important. Unfortunately, they come second to a very real, very threatening aspect in the lives of snow removal contractors. The threat of bankruptcy and liability guide the amount of salt used by contractors and private companies way more than environmental or infrastructure threats ever could.
Legal Liability Impacts Contractor Road Salt Use
Contractors in the snow and ice management industry will not stop using road salt and they will continue to use it liberally.
The biggest reason that salt use is vital to snow removal contractors is because the liability for slips, trips, and falls is placed squarely on the shoulders of snow removal contractors. It is this “Hold Harmless Clause” that puts all the responsibility on the hired contractors with the property owner having no responsibility – financial or otherwise – in the event of an injury.
This is the side of salt use that isn’t talked about; environmental concerns are important but when faced with the possibility of losing your business or going bankrupt, the environment comes second and the choice is made to use the salt liberally.
“By far the largest driver for the overuse of salt is the fear of liability for slip and falls.” says Tony DiGiovanni from Landscape Ontario. Snow removal contractors everywhere are held accountable for ensuring that zero accidents happen on the properties of those who hire them for the season. Many snow removal contracts stipulate that, if a fall were to happen and the company or property was sued, that the contractor themselves would be liable and responsible for covering legal charges and payouts.
Contractors get insurance for this, but insurance rates for these contractors are getting more and more expensive.
“Currently there is an insurance crisis. Many contractors cannot obtain insurance and those that can are paying exorbitant prices and are forced to carry large deductibles.”
– Tony DiGiovanni, Executive Director of Landscape Ontario
In a case of an accident, it falls to the contractor to prove that they did everything to prevent it. This includes GPS routing, proof of snow clearing, schedule details and – yes – amount of road salt applied. Even with all this, they can be found liable.
When faced with the possibility of an accident and the resulting insurance claim, deductible payments and rising insurance rates… applying a whole lot of salt is the safe practice. It’s a protection of contractors themselves which takes precedence.
This is the piece that is missing from many of these discussions. It is a reality in snow removal that needs more public attention.
Protect Contractors, Protect the Environment
Standards to regulate these insurance rates don’t really exist; There has been a movement, however, by landscaping and contractor groups to bring change to the industry.
Landscape Ontario has developed Snow and Ice Operations Risk Management Guidelines to help empower contractors to protect themselves. The association is also encouraging governments to create legislation which would accredit contractors who are following leading practises, and then protect those same contractors who meet governmental “accredited” levels.
Landscape Ontario is also currently supporting a Private Members Bill that was put forward by MPP Norm Miller in Muskoka, Ontario. The Bill – called the Occupiers’ Liability Amendment Act – calls to reduce the amount of time someone can make a claim in a slip and fall lawsuit from 2 years down to just 10 days. This is the same timeframe used in municipally managed properties. The goal of this bill is to level the playing field for private snow removal contractors and ensure “fairness and equality for all occupiers of land.”
Kevin Gilbride – Executive Director of the Accredited Snow Contractors Association (ASCA) – is also working to create legislation to limit the ability of companies to put accident liability on to contractors in the event of a snow or ice accident in the United States. Some states in the US have passed legislation like this but contractors are still responsible to read all contracts carefully themselves to know exactly what responsibility they are taking on before they sign.
Contractors within the snow removal industry know about the dangers of salt and the impact it has on the environment. Until contractors are protected, the ability to be more conservative with salt use and introduce alternatives into the private sector will be limited. Thanks to the work of associations like Landscape Ontario, these protections will hopefully become a reality.
Time For a Change
The liability held by contractors needs to come out of the shadows and become public knowledge. The more it is talked about, the more powerful the demand for change can be. The outcry from communities to protect our environment will be strengthened by their knowledge of this deeper issue. True and lasting change will not be possible unless the relationship between contractors, salt, and insurance companies is addressed.