The winter months bring more than just cold weather; they bring the possibility for winter storms that may result in a snow- and ice-covered landscape. While it may be a winter wonderland for some, as a business owner or property manager, snow and ice buildup means a hazard with the potential for costly liability.

If you deal with either commercial or residential property, you are responsible for the side effects of winter. In legal terms, snow and ice are the same as any other hazard presented on a property, and just like any other hazard, property managers can be held liable if they cause injury. To avoid litigation resulting from winter injuries, it is important that you are vigilant in your snow and ice removal efforts.

Recognizing and Preventing Hazards

Slips and falls are by far the most common injury associated with winter weather conditions. Diligent snow and ice removal can go far in keeping walkways and parking lots safe. Remove snow quickly after snowfalls, and salt regularly to keep ice from building up.

Icicles, along with other accumulations of frozen or heavy snow above walkways and building entrances, can cause serious injury if they fall on those below. Remove icicles and other buildup as soon as possible. If it still appears to present a hazard, consider rerouting foot traffic around the area.

Performing preventative maintenance in the summer and fall can also keep you prepared for winter storms. Make sure eaves are properly installed, and check that downspouts are aimed away from walkways. If eaves leak or downspouts direct water onto walkways, snow that melts in the heat of the day has the potential to freeze and create a hazard with cooler nighttime temperatures.

Contracting Snow Removal

Based on the size of your property and the average snowfall in your area, you may be inclined to contract out snow removal to an independent company. While this can save you the time and costs associated with managing snow removal yourself, it is important that you choose wisely to avoid complicating matters.

First, make sure the contractor has sufficient resources to meet your demands. It is important that they can be onsite quickly after, or even during, a snowfall to make sure walkways and parking areas are cleared.

Second, make sure the company you hire carries the proper insurance, covering both its operations and its employees. The last thing you want is to end up being liable for a worker’s injury when liability for injury is the very thing you were trying to avoid. Also, it is important to specify the conditions and time constraints for removal in writing. When contracting any type of service, it is essential to have a written contract that will guarantee you receive the services you pay for.

It should be noted that hiring a removal service does not absolve you of liability. If the company you hire provides poor service, or simple does not show up at all, you are still the party responsible for any injury resulting from a winter hazard. Make sure to pick a reputable company that you can trust to do a good job, and always have a plan of action for removal if they are unable to complete the work as quickly or effectively as you require.

Additional Tips for Winter Safety

Be proactive and put a winter safety plan in place before the cold weather arrives. This plan should account for winter slip and fall hazards both outside and inside your business. It may include items related to removing snow; de-icing sidewalks and parking lots; using mats and mops for slippery indoor areas; and creating a dedicated area to stow wet items, such as boots and coats.

Other tips to consider as part of your business’s safety plan to enjoy an accident-free winter include:

  • Decide whether you will use rock salt or an ice melt product for ice removal. Rock salt works at temperatures above 5 F.
  • Mix ice melt with sand to reduce the amount of ice melt you need and to provide extra traction.
  • Use the appropriate amount of ice-removal product. Too much product can damage concrete and cause additional danger.
  • Repair potential winter hazards (e.g., potholes, clogged gutters or blocked drainage spouts) before they affect visitor safety.
  • Make sure employees who help with snow and ice removal wear suitable clothes and proper footwear to help them avoid slips or falls. Encourage frequent breaks if the weather is extremely cold.

For additional questions on your risks and exposures, or on appropriate coverages to protect you from liability or costly disputes, contact us at Neckerman Insurance Services today.