5 hazards to watch for this snow season

Snow contractors must prepare for any contingency. Here are five particularly troublesome property issues.

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October 21, 2020

They’re out there on every client’s property, and there’s a chance you don’t know about them. Failing to recognize hidden property hazards not only increases the chances of a slip-and-fall incident, but they contribute to avoidable property damage. They might even mar your bottom line.

Here are five common hidden property hazards to familiarize yourself with before your next preseason site inspections. Once these trouble spots become apparent, then you and your crews will more easily recognize them and take the appropriate actions to either avoid or rectify these issues before any damage is done.

Pavement conditions.

More and more snow professionals are taking advantage of the latest advancements in plow technology, which, by design, are bigger and heavier than the traditional straight-blade plows. Designed to provide a cleaner surface, these tools tend to bite the pavement better than their predecessors. As a result, these plows can potentially tear up pavement imperfections and make existing surface damage worse.

In addition, these surface imperfections are prime spots for refreeze conditions. Ice builds up in these pits, dips and cracks and contributes to potential slip-and-fall hazards for pedestrians traversing the parking lot from their cars to the adjacent building. In addition, larger and/or deeper damaged areas can fill with snow, which disguises a potential tripping hazard to unknowing pedestrians.

When inspecting the property, look for signs that the pavement has heaved. And if you can identify broken grout joints, then that’s a sign the pavement has already heaved during your market’s freeze-thaw cycle. Common areas to find these imperfections are at high-traffic areas, stop signs, near site intersections and around loading docks. It’s imperative to thoroughly identify and mark these problem areas on the site’s storm management plan.

In addition, site inspections should take place all winter long. Since we’re ISO 9001/SN 9001 certified, we not only conduct preseason and postseason inspections, but we also do post-event inspections on all of our properties. This exercise identifies any new problems areas site crews need to be aware of before the next snow and ice event.

Lastly, we’re all aware snow contractors typically get blamed for any site damage that takes place during the winter. That’s why it’s very important to thoroughly document site conditions both before, during and after the season. Again, this is important from both a safety and a financial perspective to make sure we don’t have to carry the financial burden of correcting damage we didn’t create.

Curbs, Catch Basins and Sewers.

When it comes to curbs, all I can say is document, document, document.

Curbs are probably the No. 1 thing we repair on an annual basis. Obviously, if we damage a curb during snow ops, then we’ll fix it. However, curb damage happens all year long and the snow contractor is often the fall guy. That’s why you must video document and photograph the curb conditions at client sites where you anticipate a lot of damage could take place. It’s a preventative measure to identify for the client property damage you’re not responsible for.

For example, a retail center has a lot of semi-truck traffic coming on and off the property throughout the course of a business day. And curbs tend to get damaged when semis – or even cars, for that matter – cut corners too closely. Therefore, it’s important to be vigilant. Go through and document curb conditions, so you don’t get blamed for the damage and stuck with the financial burden of repairing them at season’s end.

It’s important to mark catch basins and sewers on your site map not only for plowing purposes, but also for drainage. For example, if you stage snow on a property, it’s important to have an awareness for where the catch basins and sewers are located to understand how the property is designed to drain. So, for thaw-refreeze cycles you’ll want to know which direction water will flow and where, potentially, it will reform into ice.

And as with other property features, it’s important to note any existing strike marks or damage to these areas because these are easy targets. In fact, it’s not unheard of for a plow operator to unknowingly take off a manhole cover. Imagine the damage that could do to a car driving into it, or God forbid, a pedestrian.

Roofs and architectural details.

Many storefronts and modern facilities have intricate, architectural details and overhangs that can cause havoc with your site management plan. Snow tends to build up at these areas, and they become major areas for refreeze problems on the pavement and walkways below.

In addition, pay very close attention to these details if they are south facing or are surrounded by reflective glass. Both tend to melt snow and ice during the day, and therefore are the first areas that will refreeze at night.

Clearly mark these areas on your site maps, so you, your crews and your clients are well aware of the potential hazard to pedestrians.

Space constraints.

When developing your storm management plan, it’s important to know where you’ll stage and store snow, as well if it’ll be removed from the site. It’s not uncommon to have challenging space-constrained properties where you’ll have to employ specialized equipment to relocate the snow while you’re plowing.

Therefore, it’s important to know in advance where you’ll be putting it because it will decrease the amount of time to clear the site completely. Don’t forget to consider these factors when building out your proposals.

Traffic patterns.

A lot of being successful in snow and ice management has to do with timing, so understand both the vehicle and pedestrian traffic patterns unique to each property.

For example, some properties condense employee parking areas. Once people start parking in spaces, it’s nearly impossible to get the pavement cleaned safely. So, timing is vital to get the product down and services done before anyone arrives for the work day or their shift.

In addition, be aware of the site’s hours of operation. Over the course of an evening you can plow against normal traffic patterns and place and stage snow in certain areas. You lose that flexibility during the site’s hours of operation – typically the daytime hours – when your only option is to abide by the traffic patterns. This only elongates the amount of time you have to clean that pavement and make it safe.

When building your site’s contingency plan, it’s equally important to know when customers are open, where and how people typically park and the delivery schedules to the property. For example, if you have a Starbucks on a retail property, then it typically opens at 5:30 a.m. while the rest of the stores don’t open until 10 a.m. It’s those kinds of details that must be taken into account when you do your site planning.

Jerry Schill is the president of Schill Grounds Management in North Ridgeville, Ohio.