Snow and Ice Removal: The Details Matter

Snow Season Isn’t Over

In the realm of slip and fall prevention, attending to snow and ice control is a given in regions where cold winter temperatures are the norm. At the moment, with spring officially here and warm temperatures in many places, some operators have put snow and ice out of their minds. Yet the season is not fully over; for example, much of the Metro Denver area experienced 3-5 inches of snow this morning and it’s not likely the last snow of the season. I encountered a spot in a parking area this morning that is instructive for those charged with maintaining the safety of parking areas and exterior walkways. Here are two photos of the spot in question. I’ll outline the issues below.

Metal Walkway Plate with Snow and Ice

Metal Walkway Plate with Snow and Ice

Walkway metal plate

Side View Showing Drainage Channel

Why Does This Condition Exist?

First, you’ll notice the strip of snow across the walkway, in a localized spot, surrounded by clear sidewalk. The strip of snow if there because the walkway has a drainage channel across that spot, covered by a steel diamond plate cover. Because the steel cover is exposed to air on the bottom, it freezes much sooner than the regular walkway. This phenomenon is the same as what occurs on highway bridges and overpasses. Takeaway: Have you identified spots of special concern in your walking areas and do you know the factors in play?

What About the Cone?

Next, notice that there is a cone in place. It turns out this was placed there a few hours before the photos above were taken. The maintenance person who placed it there put it in place because the steel cover underneath was slippery due a layer of ice on its surface, under the snow. When the cone was placed, the whole walkway was covered with snow. This cone is beneficial because it helps alert pedestrians to the hazard. It is also not ideal because there are several preventative measures that could have been put in place, perhaps removing the need for a cone. Takeaway: Eliminate or reduce hazards first, then deploy warnings.

Possible Corrective Actions

Here is a round-up of possible preventative measures that could have been employed here:

  • Use a different material for the cover that would not function as a heat sink and be as prone to freezing.
  • Put a textured coating or finish on the cover so it would have better traction when wet or covered in snow.
  • Remove the snow from this cover after any snow accumulation, not just after the trigger level of 2-3 inches that prompts full-scale parking lot snow removal.

There may be other solutions as well, but this should give you a good glimpse of how effective risk control requires specific attention to the real-world details of your situation. The sidewalk and cover in question met building code requirements, which is a good start, but in this case prudent risk control takes more than that.

Parking Lot Safety: It’s Three Dimensional – and More!

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As I was working on a set of safety management guidance materials for a large chain restaurant operation, I looked at what existing materials they had across their brands and regions. One interesting finding was that when it came to parking lot and parking area safety, is that sometimes only part of the picture was being addressed.

Here’s what I mean. Do a simple web search for “Parking Lot Safety” and see what sort of material comes up. You’ll see that sometimes the emphasis will vary but there are three different dimensions to safety in parking lots, sometimes not all addressed in preventative planning.

parking-lot-684160_1280

Vehicular Safety is one dimension: preventing collisions in parking lots and on the way in and out.

Security is another dimension: Preventing crime and making parking areas less likely spots for criminals to target.

Pedestrian Safety is the third, protecting people as they walk in, through, and around parking areas.

The last one, pedestrian safety, has an additional aspect beyond the traditional idea of the people using the lot directly (hence the “and more” in the title of this article.) That added aspect is the protection of people who may be adjacent to a parking area, either on a walkway, at a building entrance, on a patio, or inside a nearby structure. Vehicle-into building crashes, or storefront crashes are the particular risk in question. Here’s an article from the National Association for Industrial and Office Parks’ “Development” magazine where I was interviewed about this topic. This aspect of parking area safety is receiving more attention all the time and is beginning to become the focus of risk management groups, consensus standards and legislative attention. The question of how to best protect people and property is getting regular media attention as well. This issue certainly qualifies as an emerging one, with new information about the nature of the risk and protective measures being developed regularly. Expect to see more and more focus on this issue over time.

Vehicle Into Building Crashes: A Longstanding Issue Emerging in Recognition and Understanding

I have been working with several groups in the restaurant, retail, and hospitality industries on the issue of vehicle-into-building crashes, also sometimes referred to as “storefront crashes.” This is about the accidental contact (or near contact) with or intrusion into buildings by vehicles, accidental versus intentional in nature. These incidents sometimes damage property, sometimes cause injuries. The outcomes may be severe.

The scope and impact of this issue is huge, but still not as recognized as it should be. Incidents continue to occur, with severe consequences to people and property. No unified standard of care, or regulatory framework has yet emerged, but work is underway in that regard. Thankfully, more attention is being given to this issue all the time. Here are two new articles of note that highlight the issue:

Risk Management Magazine on storefront crashes.

And another recent story on FairWarning.com, highlighting in particular how preventable many of these incidents are.

This issue it starting to receive some long overdue attention. Hopefully prevention approaches will soon become more widely understood and implemented.

Considering Vehicle/Storefront Crash Risks

Storefront Safety: Is It On Your Radar?

Last month I was working with a client in Southern California. We broke for lunch and I drove a couple of miles to a bakery/cafe restaurant that is a frequent spot for me when I’m on the road to eat and catch up on some e-mail. Just a few days later, I was surprised to see as I read the news that a jewelry store right across the street had been crashed into by a vehicle. And it wasn’t just a couple of feet into the storefront – the driver ended up some 50 feet into the store. Thankfully, no one was seriously hurt, but it would be very easy to have the same crash with multiple serious injuries (or worse) if it had happened at a different time or into a different store.

Vehicle-into-building crashes have occurred ever since cars came into wide use a century ago. The Texas A&M University Transportation Institute did some research on the phenomenon several months ago and collected a variety of interesting data.

Before I share a few of their findings with you, I’d like you to take a brief survey to gauge perceptions of this issue. It’s just six questions and will only take a minute.

Click on this link to take the survey: Storefront Crashes Survey

Thanks for taking the survey. The issue of storefront crashes may have escaped wide attention in much of the safety and risk control field, but there is reason to look further. Some data, analysis, and consensus standards activity on the topic will provide a good starting point.

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Retail Industry Safety: Who Needs a Safety Program at All?

“We’re better off without a safety program.”

…Not What A Safety Professional Wants to Hear

The words hung in the air after he said them. Not the best thing to hear when you are the architect and optimizer of safety programs, brought in to discuss just that. Yet the executive did have a point. He had been in senior management and executive positions for in a number of retail companies for years, and he was accustomed to safety programs for retail stores as mostly low-value with more formality than substance. Legitimate as his concerns might have been, though, they really speak to how well designed and implemented a retail safety program needs to be, not whether you need a program at all.

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A specialty grocery retailer (not related to the company mentioned in this article)

Setting the Stage
I was meeting with the vice president of loss prevention of a large specialty retailer just over two years ago. The meeting included representatives from their insurance broker, their workers’ compensation insurance carrier, their liability insurance carrier, and their claims administrators.

Proposing A Safety Program

I’d been invited to this meeting by their workers’ compensation insurance carrier because I’d worked with one of the comp carrier’s other retail clients to develop an overall workplace safety, health, environmental, and guest safety program.  After implementation they experienced excellent results in both incident frequency and severity terms, and the carrier was hoping that this retailer would be open initiating a similar program. As they’d grown to several hundred locations and close to one billion dollars in sales, much of what had worked for them when they were a much smaller organization was not necessarily still optimal for their larger (and growing) operation.

Do They Care?

The Vice President’s statement about not needing a program was not proof that he didn’t care about safety – it was more of a statement to how he viewed the formalized safety programs that he’d been acquainted with in the past. To look at things in a little more detail, this retailer wasn’t ignoring workplace safety and health or guest safety entirely – it just was structured as a marginal endeavor completely handled by groups that had other responsibilities.  Basic compliance was being handled by a combination of efforts from facilities, operations, and human resources internally, and the insurance carriers externally.

Safety Efforts Without A Program

We examined the various things that they were doing related to safety. There were quite a few, across divisional lines. For example:
– The facilities and architecture department ensured that their stores met building and fire codes when they were constructed.
– The facilities group would prepare and post emergency evaluation maps for each facility with exit routes and emergency assembly areas.
– Human resources maintained a section on safety and emergency preparedness in the employee handbook and new employee orientation.
– Human resources maintained the procedures and forms for reporting workplace injuries that require medical treatment.
– Operations used a daily manager’s “four corners” guide which instructed store-level management to circulate through the stores and make sure that everything was in good order and well-presented.
– Operations conducted regular pre-shift meetings in the stores, which were mostly focused on sales and presentation issues but occasionally touched on safety-related items to at least some degree, such as crime prevention.
– Operations maintained a “blackout kit” for each location, which included flash lights, batteries, and chemical glow sticks.
– The property insurance carrier conducted inspections of representative locations (perhaps 5% of all locations) once per year, focusing on fire extinguishers, sprinkler systems, fire alarms, material storage, and exits.

How Well Does that Work?

So that is something, for sure. Aside from those specific activities, they also had an overall brand reputation as a company that cared greatly about a well-organized, well-thought-out, carefully presented, total experience for their customers. No casual observer would suggest that they ran a dangerous operation, or didn’t care about the safety of their employees and customers. Yet for any safety or risk professional observing their arrangement, many issues exist with this sort of approach, and much opportunity remains for overall organizational benefits from a well-designed and implemented retail safety program.

High-end retail

High-end retail: Low risk?

The Challenge of Low Risk Environments

There is ample room for discussion about whether his particular company would be most accurately described as a low or moderate risk operation, but suffice it to say that the perception was that the risk was not significant. Of course, if you looked at their historical workers’ compensation and liability claims numbers, you would see that though they had never experienced a headline-grabbing catastrophe, there were plenty of claims that had significant costs, and even some clear trends related to type of injury and circumstances. At the same time, one retail chain with just over 30 locations experiencing a dozen carpal tunnel claims with average total incurred costs over $40,000 each, and over 100 days of lost time average per case, are a very significant issue. Place that in context with the typical retail employee and manager perception that workplace safety “is not a major issue” and you’ll see the difficulty of putting due attention to safety in many retail organizations.

Preconceived Notions

The VP maintained that any sort of focused safety program would not be worthwhile for them, citing the following reasons:

“This isn’t a hazardous environment.”

“Our people have common sense, and we hire good managers who can figure things out pretty well as they go.”

“We don’t have that many accidents”

“Our accident costs are not high, and the cost to implement a safety program would probably be higher.”

…and perhaps most notably:

“We do safety, already, as part of all the other things we do.”

Satisfactory or Self-Satisfied?

Each of those statements from the VP has some level of truth and applicability to it, but each statement also shows some level of misconception or misunderstanding about a prudent approach to hazard risk in a retail operation. Some of what works wonderfully in a small operation just does not scale when you have hundreds of locations, and thousands of employees.

The Rest of The Picture

Yes, the retailer in question was doing a number of things for the safety of their operation. Consider, though, just some of the things that were not covered to any significant degree by their approach:
– Individual and managerial responsibilities to create a safe environment, and specific examples of how that can be done
– What the various hazards that might be encountered in their workplace are, and how to deal with those hazards
– How to identify new and changing hazards as they arise
– How to monitor the work areas and customer areas for hazards
– What to do about hazards when they are found
– How to train employees on specific hazards and control measures
– In-depth emergency preparedness, with location and geographical consideration to specific location preparedness
– How managers can communicate about safety in a constructive and impactful way
– How managers can help employees do their jobs more safety and do a better job at creating a safe environment for customers
– How safety rules and safety practices fit together, and what rules have specific repercussions
– How safety activities are best documented, to fulfill regulatory requirements but also to help reduce incidents and accidents.
– How that emerging exposures and risk trends can be identified and dealt with early
– How that new information from other operations in the retail industry, and other industries as well, can be best brought in to help improve safety
– How targeted safety approaches, particularly in the area of applied practical ergonomics,  can help make employees not only safer, but less subject to fatigue and reduced productivity.
– Any advanced approaches at all, from alertness management, to behavioral safety, to employee-driven safety approaches
– How a positive safety culture and safety climate can contribute to better customer service, quality, and employee morale

What to Do?

Thankfully, the company in question did agree to initiate a safety program, and saw good results from it quickly. Any sizable company or organization needs a deliberate approach to safety. There are many options and stylistic differences possible in the formation of and implementation of a safety program. The common reluctance of retail executives to embrace safety programs should not be a source of frustration for the safety and risk professional. Instead, it should be viewed as an opportunity to show the deep value of a well-devised program.