August 9, 2021
Nichole Ashton
Nichole Ashton

Reducing salt output

NICHOLE ASHTON is a trainer and the contractor representative for the Smart About Salt Council (SASC). The council was created in 2010 in an effort to protect fresh water from salt used in winter maintenance.

Why is it important for you to educate fellow contractors on the benefits of reducing salt use?

I love competition. Every time I teach, there’s always someone that tells me that nothing is going to change. I tell them that 40 years ago smoking was cool, everyone was doing it. Now you can’t smoke anywhere.

I’ll also ask, “10 years ago, did anyone call to complain about too much salt?” Then I will ask how many calls they received last year about too much salt, and they can’t tell you.

The industry is changing. There’s more people fighting to save the environment, with the wrong information. Contractors have to be prepared and ready to educate their customers, so we can better the industry together.  

What are some of the challenges involved in delivering training for SASC?

Getting people to communicate is probably the biggest challenge. On the Smart About Salt board we have water guys, insurance people, a lawyer and plenty of environmentalists. We have plenty of tree huggers and water savers, but I’m the only contractor. It can be a struggle a lot of the times when we have conversations.

Their clientele is people like me, the rough around the edges contractors. And you have to speak our language. You have to speak contractor. If any of these environmentalists tells the contractor to put down less salt, they’re going to tell them to pound salt. It’s their liability. It’s their livelihood. You have to give them the information and tools for them to understand and make an informed decision to change it.

Do you believe SASC has effectively reduced the amount of salt used by the industry?

Absolutely. I think everyone that takes the training learns something.

I think the industry has become much better. We’ve heard reports of people reducing their salt consumption by 30 or 40 per cent, just by tracking it. A lot of them would never track it. When you start tracking and training your employees, you give them the knowledge and power to make some informed decisions.

Are there any new issues winter maintenance contractors should have on their radar?

Management companies. It’s getting bigger and bigger and more prevalent in Canada.

The management company model came into effect in New York State probably about 10 to 15 years ago. Big brands with multiple franchises will hire a management company that will use bidding to find vendors to do the work. They take their percentage off the top, then give the rest to the vendor. So, they find a vendor that’s going to do all of the work and take all of the liability.  

What advice would you offer to a Canadian contractor to combat incoming management companies?

Know your needs and know your price to do a job. Then, be ready to fight for it. Management companies are going to come in and say, “Hey can you take this site for this much money?” Don’t just take it. However, a lot of smaller companies will take it.

Last year, you wrote a column for LT explaining winter maintenance insurance issues, is there any movement toward a reasonable solution?

Not even close and it’s getting worse. If you used to slip and fall 20 years ago, you’d look around to see if anyone saw it, because you were embarrassed. Today, people will slip and fall and look around for a witness. In Ontario, we’re in the process of passing Bill 118. That will require no more than 60 days to file a notice of intent to sue. That will be huge. It will get rid of a lot of those cases of “I’m going to sue you because I can.” If you’re really hurt, and you need to sue someone, you would know within 60 days.

You’ve described your profession as the “doctors that deliver the cure for winter.” Is that part of the draw to the industry?

Yes, and the more that we educate them on it, the more excited they are.

Snow removal is an emergency service. We save more lives than firemen. When you train it that way, it’s not just a job. They’re not just shovelling snow, they’re protecting people.

All of these guys that love video games, this is a live video game. It’s war.    
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