Winter is fast approaching — is your facility ready? Statistically speaking nearly 80% of all slip and falls are due to snow and ice, and they occur mainly in parking lots and sidewalks. As an expert witness and consultant in the field of risk and liability due to snow and ice, I see incidences that could have been avoided had the facility performed a pre-season property assessment.
Store and property managers often ask me how they can determine the readiness of their facility for snow and ice. The time to consider your store’s parking lots and pedestrian areas (P.A.s) is now and not when the first snowflakes fall. The first step is to organize your assessment into four focus groups: Drainage, Grounds, Parking Lots/P.A.s and People/Plan. This will allow your team to tackle each effectively.
Drainage Dictates: When performing site reviews, pay close attention to where downspouts drain. Does water empty onto your parking lot or P.A.s, which will pool and then freeze with temperature drops? What type of roof/awnings does your store have? If the roof is sloped, make sure all gutters function properly.
Decide how snow sliding off awnings is handled, include in your plan and discuss with your service provider or in-house team. This seems basic but it’s amazing how often a facility’s drainage is overlooked and becomes a leading cause of a slip and fall.
Facility owners/managers must consider whether the building has any heat loss to cause creation of ice cycles that thaw and refreeze, jeopardizing the safety of patrons and employees. Devise a plan for roof snow removal to avoid collapse due to significant snow/ice accumulations.
Grounds Control: Here are some questions to ask yourself as you perform site reviews of your facility’s surfaces:
What is the current state of concrete on the property?
Are there cracks that show heaving potential to create a trip hazard?
What is the current state of turf in relation to curbing?
Is turf graded such that water will run off into the parking lot causing ice buildup during times of thawing and refreezing at night?
Consider areas of heavy use by patrons and employees, such as outdoor smoking sections and delivery locations. You should include a safe passage snow and ice plan for time frames these areas are in use. Consider too the location of your facility in relation to trees and other buildings. Sunlight aids in the melting of ice and snow, while shading limits it. Wind plays a factor; what is the prevailing wind direction of your site? Knowing this will help you evaluate drifting conditions.
Prep Parking Lots/Pedestrian Areas: What is your facility’s plan for placement of snow piles? How closely will patrons and employees park to the snow pile? Will this cause a thaw refreeze event that may create black ice?
You should have a plan in place to remove or relocate snow piles when necessary. Parking lots should be reviewed for potholes, depressions and cracks, all of which can easily hold water that later freezes. Downhill water runoff can cause a trail of water that freezes or forms black ice. These areas must be addressed prior to winter. Facilities should perform pre-season maintenance of parking and pedestrian-area lighting. Review/plan lighting both for increased patron safety and potential heat sources, which can cause thaw and refreeze of nearby snow accumulation.
People/Response Plan: Who is responsible for the snow and ice management of your sidewalks? If performed in-house, determine when it will occur and how it will work in conjunction with plowing operations by a service provider. Where will the snow from the walks be pushed? Leaving snow along a sidewalk can cause a slip hazard to pedestrians.
Key to preparation is a written Snow Response Plan that addresses all areas of concern, including when temperatures drop at night. All store personnel should know the plan. They should understand their areas of responsibility and be trained every pre-season on every piece of snow equipment. If you outsource, it is critical to discuss the plan with the provider prior to winter.
By performing a pre-season property assessment, you give your team the opportunity to foresee issues and time to address potential hazards. In the unfortunate event that a slip and fall from snow/ice occurs, you will be able to demonstrate that your team performed important pre-season procedures to try to reduce the chances of an accident.
Rich Arlington, CSP, CLP of Rich Arlington & Associates, is a consultant to the facility management industry with more than 25 years of experience. (firstname.lastname@example.org)