January 12, 2022
Lee GouldThe winter maintenance insurance model is broken - it’s time to demand change

Like so many things that are complicated, winter maintenance is largely taken for granted. Those that don’t appreciate the science that underlies snow and ice removal often characterize activities as simply shoveling, plowing, and spreading salt. Winter maintenance professionals understand that to ensure safety, many, many variables have to be considered, including: weather, infrastructure, pavement temperatures, available equipment, labour, etc.

This lack of understanding exacerbates the challenges winter maintenance professionals face. One of the single largest challenges surrounds insurance. While many insurers have in recent years exited the space, those that remain are in many instances dramatically raising premiums — even for companies with no claims history. In part, this is due to the fact that personal injury claims (slips and falls) are often settled. It’s often cheaper to avoid court (and associated legal fees) by agreeing to a financial offer. These costs are then passed along and are reflected in increased insurance costs. In turn, for those winter maintenance contractors who continue to operate, increased costs must ultimately be reflected in the service charges for clients. Many stakeholders (winter maintenance professionals, insurers, building owners/operators, etc.) agree that the current system is broken.

Some jurisdictions have taken meaningful steps to address the situation. New Hampshire has adopted a framework that sees state-of-the-art winter maintenance and salt reduction practices that prioritize public safety while mitigating salt usage. Commercial salt applicators certified by NH Department of Environmental Services (DES) Green SnowPro under RSA 489-C, and property owners or managers who hire them, are granted limited liability protection against damages arising from snow and ice conditions. This is a program that the Smart About Salt Council (SASC) is proud to support through the delivery of award-winning training programs.

A growing number of groups representing a broad coalition of stakeholders have been advocating in Ontario for similar legislative considerations that support business and are a win for the environment. You can help. Each of us can connect with our elected provincial representatives (MPP’s), to make our voices heard. Each of us should demand the necessary changes to ensure businesses and the environment are supported.

A recent parallel that was successful was the Landscape Ontario led advocacy effort that achieved changes to the Occupiers Liability Act through Bill 118 in 2020. The legislation provides that no legal action can occur to recover damages for personal injury caused by snow or ice against an occupier or an independent contractor, unless notice of claim is filed within 60 days (down from two years). A significant victory to be sure, but much more is needed to address the many more challenges facing the industry.

To quote a well-known activist, “To say nothing is saying something. You must denounce things you are against, or one might believe that you support things you really do not.” Those of us that do appreciate the complexity surrounding winter maintenance must educate those that aren’t as knowledgeable and advocate for the necessary changes.

To learn more about the Smart About Salt Council (SASC) and its not-for-profit training, certification and program validation efforts please visit smartaboutsalt.com.
Lee Gould
Executive Director, Smart About Salt Council