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  • 22 Sep 2020 8:49 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    La Niña weather patterns can cause drier than average years in some regions of the United States. In those same regions, El Niño weather patterns can cause wetter than average years.

    You’ve probably heard your local weather forecaster talk about rain or storms caused by El Niño. But have you ever heard of La Niña?

    La Niña, like El Niño, is a weather pattern that can occur in the Pacific Ocean every few years. In a normal year, winds along the equator push warm water westward. Warm water at the surface of the ocean blows from South America to Indonesia. As the warm water moves west, cold water from the deep rises up to the surface. This cold water ends up on the coast of South America.

    n the winter of a La Niña year, these winds are much stronger than usual. This makes the water in the Pacific Ocean near the equator a few degrees colder than it usually is. Even this small change in the ocean’s temperature can affect weather all over the world.

    Rain clouds normally form over warm ocean water. La Niña blows all of this warm water to the western Pacific. This means that places like Indonesia and Australia can get much more rain than usual. However, the cold water in the eastern Pacific causes less rain clouds to form there. So, places like the southwestern United States can be much drier than usual.

    La Niña is caused by an interaction between the Pacific Ocean and the atmosphere above. However, it can have effects on weather all over the world. These changes in the atmosphere can lead to more lightning activity within the Gulf of Mexico and along the Gulf Coast. Also, the environmental conditions during La Niña can lead to more tropical cyclones—which include hurricanes—forming in the deep tropics (near the islands in the Caribbean, for example).

    Thankfully, scientists can predict the El Niño and La Niña weather patterns up to a year before they occur. The GOES-R series of weather satellites can help weather forecasters map the increased lightning and issue earlier and more accurate severe weather warnings.

    In Spanish, El Niño means “the little boy” and La Niña means “the little girl.” They are sort of like a brother and sister. Like many siblings, the two weather patterns are opposites in almost every way. La Niña causes water in the eastern Pacific to be colder than usual. In the same region, El Niño can cause the water to be warmer than usual. Areas that are hit with drought during La Niña years are pummeled with rain in El Niño years.

    Unlike a brother and sister, El Niño and La Niña might not be related. A La Niña year usually happens a year or two after an El Niño year. However, scientists don’t think that a La Niña is always caused by an El Niño.

  • 11 Sep 2020 6:38 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    La Nina, which translates to “little girl” in Spanish, is characterized by cooler-than-average sea temperatures in the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. It’s considered the antithesis of El Nino, which is distinguished by warmer-than-average sea temperatures.

    CTV’s Your Morning meteorologist Kelsey McEwen explained that La Nina gradually develops when the westward trade winds in the equatorial region of the Pacific Ocean – the west coast of South America – intensify. As a result, the stronger winds push warm surface water to Indonesia and Australia, which allows for deep, cold water to rise to the surface along the South American coast.

    “It’s called upwelling… all this cold water deep in the ocean basically comes to the surface, and it drops the temperature,” McEwen said during a telephone interview with on Friday. “What that does is it cools the surrounding atmosphere.”

    While this activity is happening in the tropical Pacific, McEwen said it can have a dramatic impact on temperature and precipitation conditions in North America and the rest of the world.

    In Canada, McEwen said La Nina will likely affect British Columbia, the Prairies, Ontario, and Quebec while the territories and the Maritimes will be less impacted.

    “Think cold and wet, basically, as the big takeaway,” she said. “It’s going to mean likely a wetter-than-normal winter for B.C., for Ontario, for Quebec, in particular, and then in the Prairies, it could mean colder-than-normal temperatures.”

    McEwen stressed that it won’t mean the entire winter will be wet and cold for those regions, but when there is precipitation in Ontario and Quebec, for example, there could be a lot of it and the Prairies might have to deal with some extended cold spells.

    “If 2020 wasn’t bad enough, get ready to shovel,” she said.

    As for the Maritimes, McEwen said those provinces won’t be as affected simply because of their distance from the Pacific Ocean.

    South of the border, La Nina has already made its presence known with its impact on the Atlantic hurricane season.

    McEwen explained that La Nina has been brewing for some time and it results in the weakening of the winds between the ocean surface and the upper levels of the atmosphere or the “wind shear.”

    “The best way to picture it is like corkscrewing in the atmosphere,” she said. “It's wind changing direction and speed with height so as you go higher up in the atmosphere, the wind almost corkscrews and this wind shear is detrimental to hurricane development.”

    An environment with lots of wind shear will prevent hurricanes from developing, McEwen said.

    La Nina, however, reduces the amount of wind shear in the Atlantic basin, thus creating optimal conditions for hurricanes to develop.

    “This is a global impact,” McEwen said. “Yes, it's in the Pacific, but we look at that area to basically define our entire planet, because we're all connected through the atmospheric circulation.”

    The 2020 Atlantic hurricane season has already been more active than most, McEwen said, with a tropical storm named Sally expected over the weekend.

    “The fact that we are already at “S” [in the alphabet for naming tropical storms] is unreal,” she said. “And we’re not done yet. We’re going to November so we will likely run out of names and then at that point they go into the Greek alphabet. So it’s a huge year for sure.”

    McEwen said La Nina will likely peak during the winter months before easing in the spring; however, that could change because the atmosphere can be unpredictable.

  • 08 Sep 2020 6:53 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    A few parts of Alberta got a taste of winter-like weather this long weekend.

    Temperatures plunged across the Prairies due to a deep upper level trough dragging in unusually cold air from the north. A weak low pressure system then tracked over the Rockies into Alberta and the frigid temperatures allowed for snow to fall across parts of the province.

    Some high elevation areas saw several centimetres of snow accumulate and certain ski hills, such as those at Sunshine Village, looked like they were in the middle of winter.

    See below for a look at the winter-like weather in Alberta.

  • 29 Aug 2020 1:45 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    The City of Whitehorse says 75 per cent of its trees planted along Main Street in the downtown core have died in the last couple of years due to road salt, making it the third time trees have had to be replaced on this street over the last few decades. 

    Martin Paquette, with the city's parks and recreation department, says business owners may be contributing to killing the trees. He says too much salt is being spread on the sidewalks during the winter, which is getting into the tree bases.

    "What happens with salt is that it absorbs water and reduces the amount of water available for the tree, so it creates conditions similar to drought, which is really bad for trees," Paquette said.

    Paquette says the city is spending around $20,000 to replant 45 out of 60 trees over the next month.

    The city purchased assiniboine poplar trees, which are known to be resilient, and plans to plant them deeper and use mulch at the base to help protect their roots. 

    "Hopefully this will help absorb the salt from de-icers in the winter," said Paquette. He says the city plans to replace the mulch each spring as well. 

    "So in winter it will act as an insulation and hopefully it will absorb all the salt."

    Paquette wants business owners to start using sand instead of salt. He says the city is going to distribute pamphlets with more information. 

    Paquette hopes the new trees will thrive this winter.

  • 18 Aug 2020 7:34 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    (CNN)Death Valley was the hottest place on Earth on Sunday. If verified, it could be the hottest temperature recorded in the world since 1913.

    The hottest, driest and lowest national park in California and Nevada recorded a preliminary high temperature of 130 degrees Fahrenheit on Sunday, according to the National Weather Service (NWS). The all-time high of 134 degrees, reported over 100 years ago, was also recorded in Death Valley.

    It'll be just as hot on Monday in Death Valley with a predicted high of 129 degrees, per the NWS. The agency is warning people who live in eastern California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah to limit their time outside to between 5 a.m. and 8 a.m.

    Nearly 60 million people in the US, from Arizona up to the US-Canada border, are under a heat advisory, watch or warning this week, CNN meteorologist Tyler Mauldin said. The heat is the result of high pressure that's settled over much of the West Coast.

      Usually, the West and southwestern US experience the North American monsoon during this time of year, said Daniel Berc, warning coordination meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Las Vegas.

      But the monsoon hasn't developed as it typically does so instead of heavy rainfall Death Valley is getting hotter under high pressure, Berc told CNN.

        It's been a sweltering summer for much of the US -- last month was the hottest July on record for seven states along the East Coast, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

        Not to be outdone, Death Valley reported a high of 128 degrees last month, too -- its hottest temperature (until this month) since 2013, NOAA reported.

      • 14 Aug 2020 11:23 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

        Don’t know what to do with all that leftover sidewalk salt once the snow stops falling? The City of Hopkins is now offering the first-ever sidewalk salt recycling program in Minnesota.

        Simply bring your leftover salt to Hopkins Public Works and dispose of it in the black garbage bin located near the front door. (All salt must be shaken out of the bag or other original container when going into the bin. No pellet salt is accepted.)

        All recycled salt will be mixed in with City road salt and used for Hopkins public streets.

      • 04 Aug 2020 8:37 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

        Nobody knows how blue crabs got into Toronto’s Mimico Creek, but the more interesting question is how some of them survived in it.

        The blue crab is a saltwater creature, yet six apparently healthy ones were found in the freshwater creek in 2011. And while the water wasn’t salty enough for them to breed, it made for comfortable living. The crabs’ survival illustrates a growing problem for Ontario’s waterways: the excessive salting of roads, sidewalks, and parking lots has contaminated rivers, streams, and lakes.

        Road salt is a necessary evil, effective in deicing roads, sidewalks, and parking lots, and in improving safety at certain temperatures. But in Ontario, it’s common to use much more than necessary, which leads to crunchy sidewalks and runoff that makes lakes and rivers saltier.

        “We could probably reduce the amount of salt we’re applying by at least 25 per cent,” says Tim Van Seters, senior manager with the Toronto Region Conservation Authority. “We’re not going to get rid of it altogether. That’s not realistic to think — but we could certainly reduce it much more by putting in the right safeguards.”

        Salt pollution does much more than provide habitable waters for strange creatures. Increased salinity is harmful to many freshwater organisms, right down to the tiny invertebrates that underpin the entire food chain. Salt is also bad for many native plants and can contaminate groundwater.

        Van Seters has been watching Toronto’s rivers and creeks since 2002, when he started working as the water-quality coordinator for the TRCA. The authority monitors chlorides across the watershed (the chloride part of salt is what causes problems). Guidelines state that chronic exposure to chloride in freshwater streams is concerning above 120 milligrams per litre, and acute exposure above 640 milligramts per litre. Mimico Creek regularly tests above 25,000 milligrams per litre in the winter, according to Van Seters. (By comparison, seawater contains roughly 35,000 milligrams per litre.)

        But salt doesn’t only cause problems in winter, Van Seters says: chlorides can build up in groundwater and stormwater reservoirs, leading to year-round waterway contamination.

        Environment Canada completed a five-year study in 2001 that concluded road salt should be added to its list of toxic substances, although the department did not actually ban the use of road salt. It also stated that any measures taken in response to the study should be “based on optimization of winter road maintenance practices so as not to jeopardize road safety, while minimizing the potential for harm to the environment .”

        While provincial and municipal crews can be directed by policy, much snow removal is done by private contractors, which makes it difficult to monitor and control how much salt is applied to Ontario’s roads.

        “There’s quite a lot of parking lots in the GTA, and a huge amount of salt is applied to those areas. Anyone can go out in a truck, put salt in the back of their truck and spread it in whatever quantities they want,” says Van Seters. “There’s no regulation as to how that’s done, and there really should be. There should be some kind of certification or some kind of licensing requirement just as there is for pesticides or anything that might be toxic.”

        Van Seters says new salt-spreading equipment could also help: automated spreaders are capable of moderating the amount of salt laid down and can help contractors monitor their application rates.

        New Hampshire was the first U.S. state to use rock salt (that is, sodium chloride) on its roads, and it’s ahead of the curve when it comes to moderating use of the stuff, although it hasn’t turned to licensing. Instead, the state’s Department of Environmental Services offers Green SnowPro training for snow removal contractors; those who take it are protected against liability to slip-and-fall claims.

        “What we heard from the contractors is that it was very challenging for them to reduce given the liability concerns. One of the reasons they put down so much salt is to prevent liability in a slip-and-fall case,” says Ted Diers, administrator in the Department of Environmental Services’ water division. “What we did was we wrote a bill for our legislature that would give limited liability relief for people that have gone through our Green SnowPro training program.”

        If someone slips on a parking lot full of salt drifts, it’d be tough to argue that the landowner had been negligent. But more visible salt doesn’t necessarily mean more safety — especially if temperatures are cold enough to render it ineffective (sodium chloride works only between 0 C and -7 C).

        “Because putting salt down increases your safety, the assumption is that the more salt down, the more safety you’ll get — and that’s simply not true,” says Bill Thompson, manager of integrated watershed management with the Lake Simcoe Region Conservation Authority. “There’s a point beyond which putting more salt down doesn’t actually increase safety. It’s a waste of money. It’s an impact on the environment. And in some cases, it may cause pavement to become slipperier ... When you’ve got really high amounts of salt on some sidewalks you feel like you’re walking on marbles.”

        The conservation authority has worked with Smart About Salt — which began as a joint initiative between Landscape Ontario and the Region of Waterloo — to train some 200 area contractors in how to reduce their use of road salt safely. Thompson says the authority is also watching the New Hampshire situation closely, to see how well the legislation works. For now, though, it’s focused on education.

        A major part of the solution, says Lee Gould, executive director of Smart About Salt, is to educate people about winter safety gear and change their attitudes toward snow and ice. Snow tires and boots with good traction, for example, make slippery surfaces safer — and undercut the expectation that pavement should be visible 365 days a year.

        “There needs to be a lot of things that change. There needs to be a change in attitude and culture in terms of how we view winter so we’re taking the necessary precautions — snow tires, sensible footwear,” says Gould. “I think the expectation of having bare tarmac is unfortunate.”

      • 31 Jul 2020 8:11 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

        The Transportation Safety Board of Canada has released a report of its findings after investigating a Canadian National derailment that occurred on February 18, 2020 at Emo, Ontario, northeast of the Minnesota border. The 144-car train included 38 cars of crude oil. A total of 33 cars derailed, and 29 of those carried crude oil. The investigation determined that six of those cars were leaking, and they ultimately released 84,464 gallons of crude onto the surrounding landscape. There were no injuries or fires reported from this derailment.

        The temperature was approximately -17 degrees Fahrenheit, and the train went into emergency braking as it was rounding a four-degree left-hand curve while traveling at 44 m.p.h. Also, the train was rolling over a rail-highway crossing (Ontario provincial highway 602 public automated crossing) when it went into emergency.

        The report notes that “smearing and gouging” was seen on the wheel rim faces of the several of the derailed tank cars. When the wheels left the rails, they landed between the rails, and pushed the rail out of gauge as they moved forward.

        Additional inspection discovered a build-up of snow and ice between tie plate rail seats and the underside of the rail base. This resulted in the rail becoming separated from the tie plate, creating the possibility of a loaded train spreading the rail, which is exactly what caused this derailment. This circumstance is referred to as “ice jacking.”

        The Transportation Safety Board of Canada included the following discussion of ice jacking in it’s report:

        A combination of weather conditions and track conditions is required for ice jacking to develop. In winter, roadway snow clearing activities frequently push road sand, salt, and snow off to the ends of a crossing and onto railway tracks. The presence of road salt can accelerate snow melt, which sometimes leaves water pooling alongside the track. When the track is exposed to freeze/thaw cycles, this can contribute to ice build-up along the base of the rail.

        When water is present, the passage of trains produces a pumping action that can promote water ingress between the underside of the rail base and the tie plate rail seat, where the water freezes. When a number of these cycles occur, it can produce a build-up of ice that physically lifts the rail from the tie plate rail seat, which makes the rail susceptible to gauge spreading when subjected to loading as a train passes. The TSB has observed this phenomenon in at least 1 other investigation. (TSB Railway Investigation Report R11V0057.)

        Although railways are aware of this condition and track supervisors are trained to recognize it, the condition can still be difficult to detect during a visual track inspection when snow is present.

        Read the entire report at

      • 28 Jul 2020 3:36 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

        Winter is coming, and so are those slip-and-fall lawsuits. According to the latest numbers from the Canadian Institute for Health Information, slips and falls led to nearly 9,000 hospitalizations last winter. That was more than twice the number for hockey, skating, skiing, snowmobiling, and tobogganing injuries combined.

        The bad news for snow and ice contractors is that all of those falls mean the potential for liability claims, not to mention higher insurance premiums every year. One contractor from Oshawa, Ont., last year reported a 400 per cent increase in premiums after one slip-and-fall claim. Another in the Toronto area said her premiums went up $10,000 last winter, even though she had never made a claim.

        The good news, however, at least for those who can still afford the premiums, is that there are more tools than ever to help ensure properties are serviced to the letter of the contract. From business management software to GPS technology to weather cams, here is how four contractors from across Canada keep tabs on their properties and reduce the risk of those liability claims even reaching litigation.     


        With 25 franchises in six provinces, Clintar’s documentation systems can’t be completely standardized. But Clintar’s manager of corporate training and health and safety, Krista Kent, says there is a level of documentation franchises have to meet, and the company does have recommendations.

        “We recommend, for instance, that they send a pre- and post-storm email to clients detailing the weather that’s coming, that we’re aware of it, and that we’ll be there to provide that service,” says Kent. “The post email would detail any issues they came across.”

        Most Clintar franchises also use LMN to track when crews were onsite, though Kent notes some clients have their own service verification platforms that crews have to log in and out of. In recent years, many franchisees have installed weather cams onsite so they can monitor conditions live and make sure the level of service is appropriate.      

        Thankfully, Kent says, she can’t recall specific instances when these processes and tools saved the company from getting sued. Indeed, she believes they actually prevented the company from even getting to the discovery stage. She also believes the level of detail these technologies provide has strengthened client relationships and led to renewed contracts.    

        That’s why her main piece of advice for anyone trying to set up or improve a documentation system is to make sure it can give you the most detail possible. Staff training is key to that, she adds, because if those tools aren’t being used properly, they can’t really help you when you need them most. “It’s so crucial, right from day one, to make sure that training is consistent and ongoing, and to let staff know that if they have any concerns or obstacles, to let managers know so that it can be an easy transition.”   

        Kent says the company has had situations where employees weren’t happy about the data usage on their personal phones when clocking in and out of apps like LMN, so she recommends being prepared for those concerns. “Are you going to provide them tablets, for instance, or their own work phones? Or maybe you can give them a monthly allowance for data.”

        Bottom line: support your crews and stay current with technologies that might help your documentation system, says Kent. “I think we’re a bit behind the U.S. when it comes to technology and processes, but these are going to become more of the standard. So, it’s key to always look back into your overhead and see where you can make adjustments, because things do improve, and new companies pop up that might be the supplier for your needs.”


        HALIFAX, N.S.
        Over the last five years, Mat Archibald can think of five instances where landlords of smaller commercial properties have called him to say something like, “Someone slipped outside my building and now they want money. What’s the deal? Were you guys there?” Within a few minutes, Archibald  responds with digital records, proving that yes, they were. “That ends it right there,” says Archibald, Trim’s president.

        Those digital records usually come from a variety of tools, including the business management software LMN, which crews use to sign in and out of properties and to get job details, all from their phones. Trim also uses two other digital tools: a GPS system called Northern BI that tracks, among other info, where every vehicle has gone, and the Hilti On Track asset management system, which can provide a complete service history of every piece of equipment. Plus, Trim uses a private weather service that runs about $1,000 per month. “It’s worth its weight in gold,” says Archibald, because crews and clients depend on it, as does Archibald himself when claims are filed.   
        In fact, all of the tools Trim uses for documentation are worth it, says Archibald. While claims from smaller clients can usually be dealt with quickly, those for larger clients can require much more time and detailed information. “Those tools have definitely saved us many times, and the insurance guys like it,” says Archibald. “I’ve been told by many of our underwriters and claims people that the information I provide to them has made their ability to deny claims much easier if they see fit.”
        It’s only been over the past five years, however, that contractors on the east coast really started adopting digital documentation, says Archibald. Before, it was all pen and paper, which made the process for crews very time-consuming, especially for growing companies like Trim. That’s part of the reason it’s been straightforward to get buy-in from crews to use these digital tools, says Archibald.

        For employees who aren’t too comfortable with smartphones and apps, Archibald says the company just has to spend a bit of extra time on the education side. “If you just tell someone to do something, the buy-in isn’t great. But if you explain why we’re doing this and that at the end of the day we’re just trying to keep the properties safe and make sure there’s documentation, we get buy-in across the board.”

        Ginkgo Landscape Management

        For Chris Budrow, the first step to improving his company’s documentation system was with a risk assessment consultation from his insurance company. It happened over two days and about 14 hours a couple of years ago, but by the end of the audit it was clear what Ginkgo had to change. For one, they had to scrap the paper time sheets showing when an employee was at a property and go digital with LMN. (Ginkgo also uses GPS nodes on equipment to back up LMN’s digital time stamps.) “If it’s a paper time sheet and it’s not signed, it doesn’t exist,” says Budrow. “Unless the guy signed it, it means nothing.” It was the same with training. In the event of a slip-and-fall claim, Ginkgo would have to document when and how staff were trained, and with a signature.  

        That assessment consultant also reiterated something Budrow had learned a few years prior: photograph and document the conditions of your properties before the snow falls. In 2016, he was the division manager at Clintar in Moncton, and they had a contract for a Sears parking lot in the CF Champlain Mall. “That lot was a meteor shower,” he remembers. Yet that year the insurance company approached Clintar with a $60,000 claim and told them to pay it. Instead, Clintar handed over the photos of the pothole-ridden lot and the written details of the hazards they had sent the client before the incident. “It worked,” says Budrow. “We didn’t pay.”           

        Budrow has also found sometimes you have to build a little creativity into the system. At one seniors’ residence, for instance, Ginkgo actually moves every one of those residents’ vehicles before plowing and salting. “We do that a) because it’s cold out for them, and b) because I don’t want them to fall going to their car,” says Budrow. “It’s going to cost $150 to do that versus a $2,500 deductible and my rates are going up if someone falls down.”     

        Perhaps just as important as that creativity and those digital tools and that assessment consult, however, is training, says Budrow. He regularly attends seminars that touch on documentation and has even started a peer development committee for snow and ice contractors on the east coast. “I’d put education as more important even than advertising,” he says. “A lot of people might think that’s stupid, but your phone will ring for jobs even if you don’t advertise. But if you don’t know how to do those jobs, your phone’s not going to ring.”


        ST. ANDREWS, MAN.
        If there’s anything Geller’s owner Matt Bell has learned about creating a documentation system, it’s that you can’t craft it on the fly. “You need to sit down and spend the time required to first develop standard operating procedures for your employees before you can start dealing with liability,” he says. “At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what you get a homeowner or commercial client to sign off on, because it really comes back to what you’re able to have your staff complete when you’re there in terms of documentation.”

        What works for Geller’s team is LMN and GPS. With LMN, Bell says it really helps them maintain a consistent and clean form of communication, as well as provide a high level of accountability. With GPS, Bell says it bolsters accountability and adds another layer of verification if the company does encounter any legal disputes.   

        Luckily, Geller’s has never had to deal with any legal liabilities due to slip-and-fall claims, but still, these two tools have paid for themselves and then some, says Bell. “We’ve found that we’ve really gotten a cost benefit just in billing back the clients. The systems detail when were we there, how long we were there, why were we there, what did it look like before, what did it look like after. And to have that basically at our fingertips makes it really easy from a management perspective.”

        It helps that these tools are easy to use for crews, even for older employees who aren’t as used to new technology as younger ones, says Bell. Besides, he adds, they don’t really have a choice. “Company culture plays a big role in buy-in. It’s just: This is how we do it, and if you want to work here, this is how it has to take place.”

         That doesn’t mean Bell ignores his employees when crafting Geller’s documentation system. Quite the opposite. “When you’re looking at developing a really bullet-proof system for tracking work, it needs to start with the end user,” he says. “You need to ask what he is going to be able to use efficiently and effectively and build from that point out.”

        And again, that can’t be done on the fly. “You don’t start to develop a program like this a month before winter,” says Bell. “As crazy as it sounds, you’re best to start in February or March, when you’re in the winter, when you know what works. You get to test it out a little bit so that when you go into the following season you’ve got a bullet-proof plan already put together.”

      • 28 Jul 2020 10:05 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

        We are in the midst of an insurance crisis,” says Tony DiGiovanni, Executive Director of Landscape Ontario.

        DiGiovanni says he is receiving calls from concerned business owners across the province who can no longer get insurance for their snow and ice removal operations. Others report their insurance rates have doubled or tripled, while deductibles have also increased.

        “The quantity of lawsuits, probably encouraged by relentless advertisements, has resulted in many insurance companies pulling out of providing winter service coverage,” DiGiovanni explains. “With no coverage, there will be no service. This is an extremely serious issue that will affect every member of the public. The services of Landscape Ontario members and other professional winter maintenance firms are essential. They keep the economy going and the public safe.”

        Reducing frivolous slip and fall lawsuits

        Norman Miller, the Progressive Conservative MPP for Muskoka-Parry Sound, recognizes the seriousness of the issue and its implications for everyone in society. Miller says after hearing from several snow contractors in his riding, he decided to take action.

        Last spring, Miller put forward Private Member’s Bill 118, Occupiers Liability Amendment Act. The bill, which passed second reading on June 6, 2019, proposes to reduce the notification period for slip and fall lawsuits from two years to 10 days, bringing the private sector in line with the current standard for municipalities.

        “In Ontario, I would simply say, obviously, you want anyone who is hurt to be looked after,” Miller told Landscape Ontario during a recent phone interview. “But we have winter. We are going to fall down the odd time; it doesn’t necessarily mean that someone else is at fault.” Miller says he felt that a 10-day notification period made sense, because it would “provide more certainty for businesses and make it much easier to be able to keep records and to be able to defend themselves in cases where they are sued.”

        He was also troubled by the amount of slip and fall lawsuits in the province.

        “We are becoming more like the United States, more litigious,” Miller said. “When I drive back to Parry Sound, I see big billboards advertising services of lawyers, if you think you’re hurt, then sue somebody, and frankly, I don’t like that trend. It’s my feeling that if you hurt yourself, it’s not necessarily somebody else’s fault and businesses shouldn’t necessarily have to pay for it.”

        NDP MPPs, including Tom Rakocevic (Humber River-Black Creek), voted against the bill at second reading. “Many injuries don’t even manifest within (10 days),” Rakocevic said. “Certainly, many injured may not even know where to turn when lying in a hospital bed, if they can turn at all. As they lie there, a week and a half flies by and, with it, any chance for rightful compensation.”

        Rakocevic also painted the bill as part of a larger pattern by the Ford government to advantage large business interests.

        “This bill thus protects large, negligent private property and business owners from individuals who have been injured on their properties. Yet again, this government puts forth legislation that gives more power to our society’s most powerful members — always at the expense of the little guy,” Rakocevic said.

        Belinda Karahalios, PC MPP for Cambridge, voiced her support for the legislation during the second reading. “Bill 118 makes it easier for businesses in Ontario to defend themselves in cases of slip-and-fall incidents and will reduce the number of frivolous lawsuits, thereby decreasing insurance costs for snow removal companies,” she said at the Ontario Legislature during the bill’s second reading.

        “It will also help relieve the backlog in the courts. With a limit of 10 days, there is sufficient time to give notice for legitimate claims against genuine cases of negligence. People who suffer significant injuries are also protected by the exceptions outlined in this bill.”

        What is causing the crisis?

        David Amadori, VP Commercial, Marsh Canada, says the rising rates are the result of a combination of regional factors, including slip and fall lawsuits, as well as conditions in the global insurance market. The snow removal industry in Ontario was generally not well positioned for a turbulent insurance market.

        Marsh is the endorsed insurance supplier for the Canadian Nursery Landscape Association, who represent members of all provincial landscape and horticulture associations across the country.

        On the insurance market side, Amadori says this is the first “hard market” in over a decade, contributed to by climate change and the increase in catastrophic natural disasters.

        “Over the last 24 months or so, there has been over a $160 billion in global natural disaster, catastrophic claims,” Amadori explains. “Tsunamis, fires, anything that makes the news. We saw Hurricane Harvey in Houston a few years ago and the headline was that it created $9 billion of damage. Much of this was incurred by the retail insurance marketplace.”

        That $160 billion over two years equalled the cumulative total for the previous six years, Amadori said.

        “Those disasters have depleted the global pool of insurance capital,” Amadori explained. “The resulting rate increases have trickled down from re-insurance companies, to retail insurers and ultimately passed on to the retail purchaser of commercial coverage. There is a co-relation with what happens at a global/macro level and the impact on insurance that is available to small businesses at a regional level.”

        Norm Miller MPPNorm Miller

        david lammersDavid Lammers

        david amadoriDavid Amadori

        Why are snow operations risky for insurance companies?

        One of the reasons snow operations are risky for insurance companies is because they have such a “long tail, meaning that a claim can grow over time as the injuries sustained develop,” Amadori says.

        Slip and fall claimants can also wait up to two years to file suit, making it difficult for insurance companies to quantify risk and costs up front. Another problem has been the willingness of some insurance companies to settle slip and fall claims out of court, rather than standing up for the contractor by taking the case through the legal process.

        In many cases, it’s cheaper for an insurance company to settle with a claimant than to fight a drawn-out court battle. However, those settlements incentivize any bad actors that may exist to continue to pursue frivolous suits, and they perpetuate the problem that we see today.

        Amadori says the personal injury law industry has expanded in Ontario, particularly in the Greater Toronto Area, in recent years. And the industry’s marketing efforts have become increasingly aggressive.

        “We’ve seen a real increase in the last decade with respect to marketing efforts from the legal community,” Amadori said. “You used to go across the border to Buffalo and see Celino and Barnes and personal injury lawyer billboards and that was something unique. That model has come up here. And if you turn on the radio or CP24 you are likely to be inundated with reminders that you have access to free legal counsel with no costs associated with your representation unless a settlement is reached. With this information being constantly pushed into the public consciousness, attitudes may have shifted towards rolling the dice with a lawsuit, as there is no downside, only a time commitment for a claimant.”

        Norman Miller says the The Ontario Trial Lawyers Association has contacted his office to voice their opposition to Bill 118. The OTLA was asked to comment for this article, but representatives did not provide a response by press time.

        Insurance Brokers Association of Ontario president Joseph Canevale said, “There’s no doubt that Ontario Brokers have been impacted by the shortage of insurers willing to offer coverage for snow plow operators and are seeing increased rates on renewal. In turn, this has created issues for snow plow operators and their own clients. Norm Miller’s Private Member Bill 118, Occupiers’ Liability Amendment Act, intends to curb the number of lawsuits insurers have to payout as a result of slip and falls, thereby reducing the burden on landlords and snow plow operators. It’s our hope that this would reduce frivolous lawsuits against landlords, decrease claim payouts and the costs associated with insurer claims, and reduce the pressure on premiums for those landlords and their snow plow operators. However, we would want to ensure measures are in place that protect consumers who are legitimately impacted by negligence surrounding slip and falls and ensure they have proper recourse within a reasonable timeframe.”

        Fair contracts

        Another part of the problem has been the way property owners and managers have pushed liability onto snow contractors by including hold harmless and other clauses in their contracts.

        “Property managers have been well ahead of the curve and they have been pushing the liability onto the snow removal contractor for quite some time,” Amadori said. “And so, a slip and fall claimant isn’t actually suing Tim Hortons or some other large corporation, they’re suing a guy who might have five trucks and six employees and works 18-hour shifts for three and half months straight. Unfortunately, contractors, not all of them, but some, have been signing contracts that require them to assume far too much liability — much more than is reasonable.”

        David Lammers, President of Garden Grove Landscaping in Waterdown, Ont., acknowledges the industry-wide problem of taking on too much liability. Lammers believes legislative changes need to be made in order to level the playing field.

        Lammers said, “Business owners need to start sitting down with the customer, the property manager, and discuss these matters including hold harmless clauses. As contractors we need to stop signing contracts that include those clauses. He added, “The laws (also) need to change in Ontario in order for these property managers to stop putting out these legal contracts that contain all the clauses.”

        Ultimately, the liability should be shared, Lammers said. “We believe that as we move forward as a professional snow and ice industry that we will partner with our customers and we will have contracts that have fair clauses. We need to be responsible for the things that we do. We’ve got to take ownership of the right and the wrong, and if we haven’t done something that we were contracted to do, that’s on us.”

        Next steps

        Landscape Ontario hosted an emergency meeting on the insurance crisis on Jan. 9, 2020, featuring a panel discussion with insurance industry representatives and members of the LO Snow and Ice Management Sector Group. Nearly 300 industry members attended, and the frustration was palpable in the audience.

        At the meeting, DiGiovanni encouraged LO members to contact their local MPPs, and if possible, to arrange face-to-face meetings with them to show their support for Bill 118 and to impart the seriousness of the issue. However, he acknowledged Bill 118 is not the silver bullet that will solve the problem.

        DiGiovanni outlined the various strategies LO is currently working on:
        • Supporting MPP Norm Miller’s Private Members Bill. LO sent out information to over 1,000 members asking them to contact their local MPP.
        • LO is part of a coalition asking the government for legislation that limits liability for professional Accredited Contractors who follow best management practices. Similar legislation exists in New Hampshire.
        • Exploring a captive insurance model.
        • The association has developed a standard form contract that helps limit contractor liability only to areas they are responsible for.
        • Developed risk management guidelines.
        • Endorse an insurance broker (Marsh) based on the principle that the more we pool our resources the better clout we have.
        Amadori outlined how the Marsh insurance program is addressing the challenges facing the snow and ice industry.

        “What we try to do in the contracts is make sure that we are holding a property manager harmless, but only with respect to negligence, for what is outlined in the scope of work,” Amadori explained. “This would acknowledge that the contractor is on the hook, but only if they were to drop the ball, and it could be shown that they were negligent to their contractual obligations. This is a big change from some of the contracts that hold the contractor responsible for everything and anything that happens on site 24/7, 365.”

        On the back end, Amadori says Marsh’s insurer partner is committed to defending claims, “whenever contracts and contractor’s logbooks and documentation allow for, even if it means incurring higher legal fees.

        “We want to make sure that our program supports the industry and builds the reputation that Hortprotect, through CNLA, through Marsh, will not be a source of quick settlements for would-be claimants,” Amadori said. “The long-term intent of this defence first philosophy is to have the legal community recognize that the path toward a settlement will be much more laborious and taxing on their time with our insurer compared to others involved in the space. Our insureds keep meticulous records and have contracts that are reasonable, so why shouldn’t they be entitled to a proper defence?”

        Using this defence first philosophy, the Marsh program has “closed over 70 per cent of our slip and fall claims over the last decade at zero liability,” Amadori said. “That’s a number we are quite proud of. Part of the reason this has been so successful is that we have isolated the legal representation to one specific firm for the GTA (where the bulk of the slip and falls exist). Our program is represented by a firm with expertise in defending contractors in this space. The benefit here is to the contractor. When their representation shows up at discovery they have a keen understanding of precisely what they’re doing, who they are representing, and all of the other benefits that come from working with absolute expertise in a niche area of law.”

        How contractors can help

        DiGiovanni suggests the solution to this crisis is multifaceted. In addition to contacting local MPPs to support Bill 118, solutions start with contractors enhancing their risk management processes. This includes using contracts that clearly delineate the scope of work, such as using Landscape Ontario’s standard form contract. In addition, operators must keep very detailed documentation that can either make or break a lawsuit in court. Technology exists to track all operations, including the use of cameras, local weather stations, truck sensors, salt application sensors, etc. The industry is encouraged to use technology as much as possible.

        Landscape Ontario members also have access to the Snow and Ice Risk Management Guidelines, developed by CNLA in conjunction with Marsh Canada.

        Updates on the various initiatives will be available in future issues of Landscape Ontario magazine, via LO weekly enews and the association website at

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