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  • 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.”


    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.”


    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

  • 28 Jul 2020 9:49 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    First written by now retired Smart About Salt Council (SASC) Executive Director Mr. Bob Hodgins in 2012.


    As I was out walking my dog and pondering the topic for this month’s article, I came upon a thick layer of salt spread around a city bus stop that made me realize it might be time for an article on application rates.

    This is always a gritty topic, since there is no accepted standard or even agreement on the quantity of salt to put down on parking lots and sidewalks. Fortunately, there is an ongoing study at the University of Waterloo that hopefully will answer this question with some solid science. In the meantime, there is a lot of experimentation going on.

    In Ontario, there is considerable concern about the effect excessive salt use is having on our drinking water. It was this concern in the Regional Municipality of Waterloo that led to the development of the Smart about Salt program. As well, since the Walkerton disaster, the Ministry of the Environment and conservation authorities have been working on provincial plans to protect drinking water supplies.

    Rock salt has been identified as one of the threats to water supplies that needs to be addressed. Eventually every ounce of salt we put down ends up in our water. So, while we need to use salt to maintain winter safety, it is also important that we are responsible and use only the right amount to achieve safe conditions.

    In our training, we encourage snowfighters to have three different application rates: a light rate for frost and light snow falls, a medium rate for normal snowfalls and a heavy rate for heavy snowfalls and colder temperatures. But what are the correct rates?

    Snow and ice control contractors who are certified under the Smart about Salt program, report annually on their salt use. Last year the average application rate that was reported was 53 grams/square metre, which is 11 pounds per 1,000 square feet, or 490 pounds an acre. Everyone likes to use different units of measure. The highest reported rate was over twice this average, with the lowest less than half this average rate. The Region of Niagara has stipulated rates that are the same as its road application rate for parking lots and sidewalks, claiming to have eliminated the incidence of slip/falls at the targeted locations.

    My article entitled, ‘Rock salt doesn’t melt anything’ (December 2011) talks about the benefits of liquids. When using liquid de-icers, the amount of salt used is significantly less with enhanced safety under the right conditions.

    We have a responsibility to maintain safe conditions during the winter, but we also have a responsibility to protect our water supplies for now and into the future. There are many contractors who have been diligent about their salt use and reduced their rates by using pre-treated salt, liquid de-icers, or simply dialling back the spreaders. Clearly the people maintaining the city bus stops could learn much from these responsible snowfighters.

  • 20 Jul 2020 11:05 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)


    Abstract Image

    Widespread use of NaCl for road deicing has caused increased chloride concentrations in lakes near urban centers and areas of high road density. Chloride can be toxic, and water quality guidelines have been created to regulate it and protect aquatic life. However, these guidelines may not adequately protect organisms in low-nutrient, soft water lakes such as those underlain by the Precambrian Shield. We tested this hypothesis by conducting laboratory experiments on six Daphnia species using a soft water culture medium. We also examined temporal changes in cladoceran assemblages in the sediments of two small lakes on the Canadian Shield: one near a highway and the other >3 km from roads where salt is applied in the winter. Our results showed that Daphnia were sensitive to low chloride concentrations with decreased reproduction and increased mortality occurring between 5 and 40 mg Cl–/L. Analysis of cladoceran remains in lake sediments revealed changes in assemblage composition that coincided with the initial application of road salt in this region. In contrast, there were no changes detected in the remote lake. We found that 22.7% of recreational lakes in Ontario have chloride concentrations between 5 and 40 mg/L suggesting that cladoceran zooplankton in these lakes may already be experiencing negative effects of chloride.

  • 17 Jul 2020 10:47 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    After a long winter we have finally made it to another hot and hazy summer.  Although this year we have faced many unprecedented challenges both personally and professionally the Smart About Salt Council (SASC) are excited to return to a “new normal”.  SASC wants to reassure all of our stakeholders that we are continuing to work behind the scenes to advocate for smarter winter maintenance practices which benefit winter maintenance contractors, facility owners/operators and the general public. 

    Our “New” Normal

    ·        Due to the challenges with COVID-19, Smart About Salt Council SASC) has made one (1) training module available at no-charge for 2 week periods.  The modules are being updated every two (2) weeks to provide new content.

    ·        We currently have in-class training scheduled for September 1oth, 2020. The potential for this in-person professional development (PD) event be re-evaluated for safety concerns closer to the date and depending on the number of applicants but could also be delivered online as a webinar.

    Please go to the website for additional information regarding certification and training.

    Stay Safe Everyone!

  • 28 Apr 2020 11:40 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    As a result of Covid 19, these are difficult times for each and all of us. As stakeholders in winter maintenance ourselves we understand the challenges you’re experiencing. The Smart About Salt Council (SASC) is here to assist you as best we can. The volunteer Board of Directors of SASC has agreed that starting Friday, May 1, 2020 twice a month until the end of the pandemic shutdown, one (1) of the modules that comprise the “Essentials of Salt Management” award-winning training course will be offered free-of-charge.

    The training offered by SASC is geared to people working in the snow and ice control business. Contractor managers, supervisors and operators will benefit from the course. Facility managers that control winter operations and hire and direct snow and ice contractors should be trained to best understand the business of snow and ice control. Risk managers will learn about winter related risks and how these can be managed as well as the challenge contractors face because of poor site design.

    The SASC training for winter maintenance professionals, owners/operators and others can:

    ü  Help win contracts

    ü  Help to reduce the costs of winter maintenance

    ü  Help to provide a defense against legal claims

    ü  Help to differentiate good contractors from others

    ü  Help reduce the impacts of salt on infrastructure

    ü  Help improve client and customer relations

    ü  Support the environment and drinking water resources 

    Successful completion of the SASC training and associated exam are fundamentals required for Smart About Salt Council certification.

    To learn and to register please go to

  • 02 Apr 2020 10:18 AM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    It’s 4 a.m. The sky is still speckled with stars and ice is glinting in the streetlights from the freezing rain. 

    You can hear the hiss and groans of large trucks shooting out bullets of road salt, a sound that, to you, means a safe drive into work. But for the species living in nearby waterways, it is the sound of an assault on their habitat by another round of poisonous pellets that kill their young and threatens the ecosystems upon which they depend.  

    Since the 1950s, Canada has used road salt as a cheap and effective way to break up ice and keep citizens safe during the winter. More than seven million tonnes of road salt are spread each winter, according to the World Wildlife Fund.

    Some waterways in Southern Ontario have now eight times the recommended level of salt, surpassing more than 1,000 milligrams of salt per litre, the WWF found in a 2019 report

    Now the Ottawa Riverkeeper is raising the alarm about the impact of road salt on waterways in the National Capital Region.

    Startling new findings from a pilot testing by the non-profit organization found waterways with more than 800 milligrams of salt per litre – seven times the healthy level. One creek showed sky-high readings of 3,500 milligrams per litre in mid-February, according to data released March 16.

    Monitoring the waterways

    These tests are part of a monitoring program that started in mid-January. It consists of weekly tests on local waterways to determine salt concentrations during the winter months. The Ottawa Riverkeeper is monitoring Pinecrest Creek, Graham Creek and Gatineau’s Moore Creek, as they all feed into the Ottawa River. 

    Aquatic organisms can survive in freshwater if salt levels are kept below a constant threshold of 120 milligrams per litre, the Riverkeeper’s first report noted on March 7. However, the newest data shows that all the creeks being monitored surpassed this threshold this winter, some by an alarming amount.

    Pinecrest Creek, for example, consistently contained salt levels of about 800 milligrams or higher, spiking to 3,500 milligrams per litre in mid-February, and salt levels in Graham Creek exceeded 1,500 milligrams per litre twice this winter, the data shows.

    “I was just surprised. I thought, ‘What more can we do? How can we get this message through to people?’” Elizabeth Logue said. The Riverkeeper added that there are plans to expand the program to gather data from more local creeks. 

    Every winter, 190,000 tonnes of road salt is used by the City of Ottawa, the city’s operational research and projects manager, Kevin Monette, said in an email. These amounts do not include the road salt dispersed by private contractors or individual property owners. The city hasn’t updated its salt management plan since 2005, although it conducted a general study of surface water quality in 2017.

    Though the City of Ottawa says it is committed to testing waterways on a monthly basis, the testing is only done “in non-ice conditions,” because of safety concerns, Ryan Polkinghorne, the city’s environmental monitoring manager, told CBC on Feb. 1. The Riverkeeper launched its new monitoring program partly to ensure that data is collected throughout the winter, when road salt is most heavily used. 

    As road salt — in the form of sodium chloride, calcium chloride or magnesium chloride — makes its way to nearby waterways, Logue said it threatens ecosystems and wildlife. Excessive amounts of chloride degrades habitat quality, along with increasing egg mortalities and decreasing the biodiversity that keeps our freshwaters healthy. 

    “Especially with amphibians that breathe through their skin, they are getting this chloride directly into their system,” she said, explaining that salt tends to draw moisture out of their skin and dehydrate them. “The levels are high enough to affect their health and whether they are able to survive into the summer.” 

    A 2016 study by researchers at Yale University and the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute also found that excess salt concentrations can increase the number of male frogs, while decreasing the number of females by 10 per cent, affecting the number of offspring and future populations. This likely happens because sodium binds to cells and mimics testosterone, the study explained. As a result, not only are there fewer females, but salt also lowers the number of eggs that females can produce. 

    Species suffer

    And it’s not just frogs that are affected. Many other species with low salt tolerances are unable to procreate or have a higher rate of egg mortality, Logue explained. For example, high concentrations of salt affect the appetite of dragonflies, which then makes mosquitoes more plentiful in the summer, she said.

    In Ottawa specifically, the hickory nut mussel, which was added to Ontario’s species-at-risk list in August 2019, may face even more challenges with increasing salt levels. Historically abundant in the Ottawa River, these mussels play an important role in filtering our waterways, Logue said. 

    Chloride levels hurt even the tiniest specimens, according to Robin Valleau, a PhD candidate in biology at Queen’s University. Her work is focused on the Muskoka region, where she is studying how salt levels affect zooplankton in freshwater systems—important species at the bottom of the food web. 

    “(Zooplankton) filter the algae out of the water, which makes our lakes clear and esthetically pleasing, and they are also a main source of food for some fish,” she explained. 

    Increased salt levels in the water have introduced more salt-tolerant zooplankton, which can be harmful for fish that are used to eating other kinds of zooplankton. This has led to a decline in the number of fish in lakes with higher salt concentrations, she said.

    These studies provide valuable information about the risks of road salt to larger waterway systems, such as the Great Lakes, she added.

    “We have these early warning signs in our shallower systems that are more sensitive to changes, and a lot of our big, productive lakes like the Great Lakes haven’t reached chloride levels that are of concern,” she said. “We’re catching it early enough that we could do something. And really, the biggest solution is using less salt.” 

    Humans should also be concerned about the increase in salt concentrations in local waterways because it pollutes drinking water and damages the beloved freshwater systems so integral to Canadian identity, experts say.

    “Some people don’t realize that our drinking water does come from the Ottawa River,” Logue said, noting that once salt is in the water, it is hard to extract it. “Salt doesn’t just disappear into thin air … I guess people don’t see that full-circle effect.” 

    Although road salt isn’t an acute threat to ecosystems on the level of climate change and habitat loss, Nick Lapointe, a senior conservation biologist for the Canadian Wildlife Federation, said the steady accumulation of salt over time is concerning. He agreed there is no easy way to take salt out of freshwater.

    Not sustainable

    “The way we use road salt is just not sustainable. It’s not something that future generations are going to be able to deal with,” he said. “We’re currently on pace within the next couple of decades — 50 to 100 years — to have this become a big problem in our urbanized watersheds.”

    In 2017, city staff prepared a Surface Water Quality Report for council’s climate protection committee. This report found that, although overall water quality had improved between 2000 and 2014, with a decrease in levels of substances such as copper and phosphorous, chloride levels had risen in local waterways.

     “Although chloride may be naturally occurring, there is evidence to suggest the source of the city-wide upward trend for chlorides is an increasing release from road-grade salt from both public roads and private commercial properties,” the report stated, although it did not explain the reason for this increase.

    Ottawa has been trying to manage its use of salt for years. In 2005, the city developed a detailed salt management plan outlining practices the city could take to reduce the use of road salt. 

    For example, lightly spreading “liquid de-icers” such as sodium chloride brine over road salt effectively accelerates the ice-melting process by “pre-wetting” the salt. In turn, this reduces the amount of salt needed, the plan stated.  

    Acknowledging this plan, Logue said it’s good the city trains the staff on salt management practices, but “given that we still see high levels in creeks, it makes us wonder if this is enough.” 

    For more than a decade, the city has continued to invest heavily in liquid de-icers, along with computer controllers in all salt spreaders to accurately control the amount of salt used, Monette said in an email. The city also often uses sand on lower-priority roads, according to Coun. Scott Moffatt, who is also the chairman of the standing committee on environmental protection, water and waste management.

    However, the province requires cities to meet minimum road-maintenance standards, which can influence the amount of road salt dispersed. These standards include having bare pavement on main roads such as Carling Avenue and Baseline Road. Keeping sidewalks ice-free also increases public safety and ensures the city doesn’t face lawsuits.

    “If we don’t maintain these things and we don’t manage the ice, then we’re liable in case there’s accidents or in case someone falls,” Moffatt said. “That comes back onto the city.” 

    Best practices

    When asked whether the city has succeeded in reducing salt use since the report was published, Monette said in an email that the city has been following best practices to maintain its salt usage to the “minimum required to achieve public safety.”

    Ottawa has also looked into using alternatives to road salt. In 2011, the city tried to use a beet juice solution, but it was deemed ineffective, according to Monette. No significant benefit was observed compared to the liquid de-icers the city was already using, and there were issues with foul odours and staining, he explained. 

    Though alternatives such as beet juice have been introduced in various cities, including Winnipeg, Chicago and, most recently, Cornwall, Valleau said she doesn’t think they are the best solution, as they may have negative consequences that haven’t yet been identified.

    “Not a lot of research has been done on these alternatives because they are so new,” she said, adding that using less salt is always best. “I would caution people when using new products because we don’t know how they will affect lakes.” 

    Another way Ottawa has addressed concerns about rising salt levels is having participated in Smart About Salt’s training program, the 2017 Surface Water Quality Report said. 

    The organization aims to train contractors and municipalities across Canada to improve their road salt practices, giving them a certificate in the process. Applying best practices, such as using liquid de-icers, can “reduce the use of salt by as much as 70 per cent, while maintaining safety and saving money,” according to executive director Lee Gould.

    Though the city was involved in the program in 2011, Monette said Ottawa is not currently participating, but did not explain why in his email statement. 

    Meanwhile, homeowners and entrepreneurs can do their bit, Logue said. An example of a best practice for homeowners, according to Logue, includes reducing the amount of road salt used on sidewalks and driveways. 

    “I’ve seen it where there is more salt than snow in some areas,” she explained. “For a driveway, you don’t need several shovel-fulls. You just need a coffee cup-full—that’s what we’ve been trying to educate people about.” 

    Limit usage

    Elizabeth Hendriks, the vice-president of freshwater for World Wildlife Fund Canada, recommends using one pill bottle’s worth of salt per square metre.

    Though road salt trucks disperse most of the salt that washes into our waterways, she said most people would cut back on their own use of salt on sidewalks and driveways if they knew about its impact on the environment.

    “It is an actionable issue,” Hendriks said. “Sometimes we have these environmental issues that people think are too overwhelming, but saying, ‘Let’s reduce our salt and it will have a positive impact on our freshwater ecosystems,’ interests people.”

    Canada has the highest number of lakes in the world – a fact that gives people an extra incentive to protect them and ensure our freshwater ecosystems can continue to thrive, she added.

    “Canadians really care about our freshwater. It is part of our identity and when we become aware of the impacts we are having, people do care and want to change.” 

  • 21 Feb 2020 2:12 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    MARKHAM, Ontario, February 21, 2020 – BGIS is a leading global real estate management services company focused on sustainability and innovation. Through its collaborative approach to sustainability and innovation, and prompted by a ‘safety first’ paradigm, BGIS is proud to announce its coast-to-coast partnership with the unique not-for-profit Smart About Salt Council (SASC), that will strive for improved winter maintenance services grounded in best management practices.

    The Smart About Salt Council (SASC) offers BGIS and other stakeholders a win-win solution to the challenges surrounding winter maintenance, that will ensure effective facility management while benefiting the environment. In an industry-first initiative, BGIS will work with SASC to ensure that all facilities supported by BGIS apply leading-practices in winter maintenance by influencing contractors to actively participate in SASC’s award-winning training and certification programs.

    Once applied, the SASC’s programs have demonstrated their ability to promote safety and address a growing environmental concern surrounding the over-application of salt as a result of poor winter maintenance practices. BGIS will lead the industry by encouraging all service partners in new tendering engagements for winter management services in 2020 to be SASC certified through their proposal evaluation criteria.

    “We help facility owners and operators to work with their contractors and others so that facilities and the public are protected. It’s about collaboration and awareness so that everyone benefits – including our water resources” shared Eric Hodgins the volunteer President of Smart About Salt Council.

    “Our excessive use of road salt is poisoning our watersheds, rivers and lakes, putting at risk many of our freshwater species” says John Castelhano, VP Strategic Sourcing NA at BGIS.

    This partnership will provide benefits to the environment, while still ensuring safety first.

  • 13 Feb 2020 3:52 PM | Smart About Salt (Administrator)

    KITCHENER -- A remote controlled robot could one day replace your snow shovel.

    Developers working out of Kitchener's Velocity Garage are working on an electric, snow-plowing and salt-brining robot.

    The robot walks along the sidewalk at walking speed, taking up only half so that pedestrians can pass them.

    The idea was inspired from wanting to remove snow and brine sidewalks in an environmentally-friendly way.

    "Also including the ability for sidewalk brining before storms means that less salt water is going to go into the water tables and that we can have that be kept bare as the snow is coming down, as well," explains Technical Developer Tim Lichti.

    A remote control operates the robot, but the goal is for it to be semi-autonomous one day.

    That means they would be able to operate on their own but they'd always have human eyes on them to ensure they're operating safely.

    The robot is in a private pilot testing phase now.

    Its developers are hoping to expand the pilot next winter.

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