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Winter’s Just Getting Started – Are you prepared?


Snow removal around modern townhousesIt’s getting colder and Old Man Winter is well on his way. In some parts of the country, that means a whole lot of snow and a whole lot of ice. Are you ready? Property owners have an obligation to maintain safe conditions for both tenants and visitors, including making sure that all walking surfaces are reasonably free of snow and ice during the winter season. So let’s get prepared.

To prevent injuries and minimize costs, property owners should implement a snow removal program, now, before the first storm hits. The program should clearly list your policy regarding how potential slipping/tripping hazards caused by snow and ice are to be identified, who is responsible for removing the snow and ice, what equipment should be use to remove the snow and ice, and, most importantly, include the maintenance of a snow and ice inspection and removal log. If at all possible, it’s best to hire a professional snow removal contractor. Not only is a qualified contractor better equipped and more experienced at removing snow and ice, but potential liability for trips and falls may be transferred to the contractor.

Here’s a snow and ice removal program checklist you should consider:

  1. Create a plan for how you will routinely inspect your property to make sure surfaces are clear of ice and snow. Be sure to establish a set schedule that clearly identifies who should do the inspection and at what times during the day.
  2. Create a plan for how you will remove snow and ice (what equipment and/or materials will be used) and who will be doing it. Make sure to set a clear schedule as to when this should be done (i.e, time after first snow fall and how frequently during and after snow fall).
  3. Place weather mats at all entrances to the building. These mats should be placed in both inside and outside of the entrance so as to catch snow and water when entering and exiting the building.
  4. Routinely check the mats to make sure they are in good working condition. If the ends begin to curl, immediately replace the mats as they pose a tripping hazard.
  5. Post notices near the entrances of buildings requesting that all snow and ice-related hazards be immediately reported to the property manager.
  6. Create and maintain a snow and ice removal activity log. This log should list: a) the date and time of the property walk thru, b) whether or not any snow/ice hazard was found, c) if a hazard is found, where and what actions were taken to remove the snow/ice and d) signature of person performing the walk-thru and/or removal.
  7. Create a standard claims reporting procedure. This should include claims investigation (i.e, witness statements, pictures of surface “causing” the incident, copy of the snow removal log) and reporting forms.

Should you elect to hire an outside snow removal contractor (recommended), be sure to require the following:

  1. A written contact that clearly identifies the responsibilities of the contractor.
  2. The contract should state that the contractor adheres to safe working practices and maintains a Workers’ Compensation policy on its employees. Require a Certificate of Insurance (COI) evidencing this coverage.
  3. The contractor should maintain, at all times, a general liability policy with a minimum of $1M in coverage. The contractor’s COI should evidence this coverage. Require that the contractor name your company as additional insured on this policy and provide a waiver of subrogation as well.
  4. The language of the contract should clearly state that the contractor is responsible for all claims resulting from its actions and/or inactions regarding the work covered under the contract.

An ounce of forethought and prevention NOW will go a long way in eliminating injuries and minimizing liability costs that come with inclement weather. So before Old Man Winter really gets settled in, let’s get prepared.