Offering an ice watch program is a way to grow or improve your service offering and expand your business. But while you may already have equipment and some staff in place, there’s much to consider before jumping in feet first.
People do not slip on snow - they slip on ice. Broken bones, along with bruises, scrapes and cuts, can occur anywhere ice lurks and unsuspecting people walk. Injuries from slip and fall accidents can even prove fatal, particularly if the injured victim strikes his head.
Your snow service is like an insurance policy for your client, and an ice watch program is an added layer of protection. The person responsible for making the contract decisions may not be aware of the potential costs and risks (e.g., lost time and associated costs of a workers’ compensation claim or impact a lawsuit can have on insurance) associated with not having an ice watch program, so as you outline your scope of work and client expectations, educate them on the risks of not having such a program in place.
Before deciding to implement an ice watch program, there are several things to consider:
- Geographic location, weather patterns, legal precedents, and client attitudes toward safety and risk mitigation will determine how necessary the service is for your client base.
- Consider whether you are prepared to monitor a site for approximately five to six months of the year around the clock anytime temperatures drop below 38° F. You may be making significant changes in your operational plans to accommodate the staffing requirements necessary to monitor the weather and sites between events.
If you decide there is a need for this service and you can provide it profitably, you will need to ensure you have identified actual scope of work, included proper contract terminology, and adjusted your operations to accommodate the additional work.
Scope of work
The scope of work (SOW) in your contract will describe clearing, deicing, and other services and factors relevant to the overall snow service program. Your SOW should clearly indicate:
- what is or is not involved with ice watch services based on your client’s budget and expectations;
- when and under what conditions you are responsible for monitoring; and
- when monitoring responsibility shifts to the owner or client.
Even if you don’t offer an ice watch program, this should be articulated to avoid confusion.
Including an ice watch program in your scope will contractually obligate you to perform the service, and if you fail and there is a slip and fall incident you may be liable for damages. If you do not have “Ice Patrol” in your SOW but you still perform some degree of site monitoring, you may have created the expectation in your client’s mind that the service is included. Consult with your attorney to determine the language that should or should not be included in your contracts to clearly articulate your responsibilities for monitoring and ice patrol services.
Know the laws in your state for slip and fall injuries and how precedents are being interpreted. Is refreeze considered an act of God, are pedestrians assuming the risk when they venture outside, or are property owners considered negligent if their properties are not maintained ice-free? How the law looks at these matters will certainly impact the demand for an ice watch program. Are you reasonably able to ask your client to indemnify you from lawsuits if you are ultimately responsible for the condition and safety of the pavement areas?
Any additional risk you assume should be based on the decisions you are directly responsible for making and the service that you provide. Any limits placed on your services should have a corresponding limit of liability. Delivering solid service with consistent and thorough documentation help limit your legal exposure.
Pricing for costs and risks
Building a price for an ice watch program is no different than pricing other services. The price needs to cover your costs and risk (including possible costs of a legal defense) while also providing a profit.
Direct costs. Your direct costs for ice patrol include labor, material and fuel. The time and fuel to drive and monitor sites may be more significant than the actual material that is spread, depending on the event. Use your operational plan to determine how many hours may be needed for site monitoring, and then determine how you will charge each client a rate that covers your additional costs.
Overhead. The additional time between storm events providing ice watch services does not directly affect your overhead, so you may choose not to factor overhead into your pricing. If you do add overhead, understand that by sharing overhead with the ice watch services that it lowers the burden, and cost, for the other services. You will need to decide from which services you will recover your necessary overhead.
Pricing. There are a number of ways to price services. A fixed seasonal price makes it easier for your client to see the total cost and weigh the value of the service relative to the risk they are trying to protect themself against. Variable pricing may surprise a client when the invoice arrives and may cause some amount of uncertainty relative to the value they are receiving. Make sure your pricing is clearly communicated in the contract.
Weather monitoring and triggers
Establish a threshold that will trigger your service or a routine schedule that will prevent oversight. For example, in many cases you are likely to have refreeze from sunset to dawn or following an event when more moisture is present. Warming daytime temperatures cause thawing, and moisture will refreeze when the sun goes down. Do you have sites that are exposed when the sun sets late in the afternoon and temperatures fall below a certain threshold?
Where do air and surface temperatures need to register to create ice and slippery pavement? It will depend on a number of factors. The core pavement temperature taken 6 inches to 12 inches below the surface will impact surface temperature despite the air temperature. Microclimates in and around structures, or sites that are shaded or exposed differently, may require more proactive treatment.
Determine if your plan requires someone on staff 24/7 to watch and monitor the weather or how you will know when you must provide service. An ice watch program requires a lower threshold for monitoring compared to new snowfall events, which places a greater burden on your staff.
Performing ice watch services will require trained and knowledgeable staff, equipment, deicing materials, and preparation and planning. You already have equipment and materials, so designating vehicles for ice patrol service should be easy. Staffing and planning will be the toughest challenge.
You need to define your service expectations and train your staff accordingly. Clearing snow is fairly objective and relatively easy to determine if it was completed. Monitoring and treating for ice is just as objective, but potentially more challenging to manage. How will you know if your staff effectively surveyed and treated all ice dangers? Eventually, it comes down to documentation and trusting that the service is being performed properly by your trained staff.
Your ice patrol staff serves as an additional layer of quality control. They will be visiting sites after each storm event and can provide feedback about issues that may need to be addressed with your regular snow service staff, such as snow pile placement and quality of their work. Evaluate your current service policies and adjust accordingly to reduce the work your ice patrol service has to perform:
- Ensure snow piles aren’t blocking drains and consider moving piles to lower grades to minimize runoff.
- Clearing curb lines will minimize snow that could result in new ice formations.
- Clear the full width of sidewalks and an additional few inches into turf or bed areas so when snow melts it flows back into the landscape and not across the walks.
- Map your client’s operating hours and the times you are exposed on the site. If your client’s building closes at 5 p.m. and ice patrol is scheduled from midnight to morning opening, are you responsible for the late worker who slips in the parking lot at 10 p.m.? Adjust your service schedule according to your client’s requirements.
Staffing your ice patrol is likely going to be your largest challenge. You need to ensure your current staff is getting rest between storms, and you may run into overtime considerations that increase your cost of operations if you have frequent or long-lasting events. Both of those concerns may force you to add staff specifically for ice-monitoring services. Your ice patrol staff needs to be responsible, conscientious and thorough, despite long hours and the routine of searching for ice, often in the dark hours before sunrise. Going through the motions is the first step toward complacency and poor performance, which may result in serious personal injury to someone who slips and falls. Failure to provide an effective service exposes your company to liability and the potential loss of a client.
Developing and implementing an ice watch program should drive additional improvement in your service delivery. With continual monitoring and an eye toward improvement, you will identify more efficient and effective ways to deliver your service. Even if you’re not ready to offer a full-blown ice watch program, you can begin ramping up with preliminary planning, organizing, and improvement of your current service delivery, which will mean a smaller leap to a successful implementation when you are ready to “go live” with your program.
Scope of work
Outlining site monitoring responsibilities can limit liability No site monitoring
The Owner has NOT specified that the Contractor will monitor the premises between winter storm events for areas that may become slippery due to refreeze from thaw, runoff, or any other naturally or unnaturally occurring conditions during intervals between storm events. Owner will notify Contractor of situations requiring ice control applications. Ice patrol with limiting language
The Contractor shall monitor the site after snow events for a period of 24 hours after the last service visit for areas that may become slippery due to refreeze from thaw, runoff, or any other naturally or unnaturally occurring conditions and treat with ice control products as necessary. The Owner will be responsible to monitor the site after the 24-hour period for conditions that may require service and will notify the Contractor if additional service is necessary.
Ice patrol with all inclusive
The Contractor shall monitor the site and provide necessary service between storm events during the duration of this agreement to ensure the property remains free of slippery conditions.
Ice patrol documentation
Important items to document as part of your ice watch program:
- Time in/out on-site
- Air/pavement temperatures
- Current site and weather conditions
- Services performed and materials used
- Note parked vehicles/obstructions
- Note specific areas covered or not covered during visit
Ice watch checklist
To avoid complacency, ensure your team checks the following during their monitoring activities:
- Snow storage location runoff
- Building runoff (e.g. gutters/roof)
- Curb lines, transitions from walks to parking lot
- Ramps, walks and stairs
- Emergency exits
- Tire depressions, low areas
- Cart corrals
- Primary entrance/exit
- Drive lanes, general parking
- Loading docks
Douglas Freer, CSP, owns Blue Moose Snow in Cleveland.