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.

What is Loss Control?

I had a surprising discussion the other day with the COO of a fairly large grocery company about risk, safety, and insurance issues. His company has sizable exposures in the areas of property, liability, and workers’ compensation, and he has policies with several insurance carriers totaling over 7 figures in premiums.

Misconceptions from bad to worse
What was surprising about the discussion was how well versed he was in the costs of his policies, and the claims and administration related to those claims, but what a limited idea he had about the concept and function of loss control related to his policies. What’s even worse about this situation is that a sizable portion of the commercial insurance community shares the same mistaken idea. What is the mistaken idea?

The idea in question
The mistaken idea in question was that “Loss Control” meant “Inspections.” And by inspections, it meant some sort of non-participatory process where an inspector would briefly visit a location, collect some information, make some observations and perhaps take some measurements, and then be gone. Some group of recommendations might appear a month or two later with a little bit of written explanation and not much more.

I asked the CEO if that’s what his idea of loss control was, and he paused and said that was pretty much it from his experience. His stores are nicely organized and maintained, and very well-run overall. He recieves very few recommendations overall.

Engagement determines impact
The issue here is that even though inspections are often an integral part of loss control, and certainly the most visible part for most smaller accounts, inspections are more of an oversight tool (making sure that the insured company isn’t doing anything that will put them at too great of a risk for losses beyond what their business type would indicate) than an improvement tool (helping attain better performance.) The challenge is engaging with business and property owners and operators to help them improve their performance and better their condition.

So what is it really?
If loss control (or risk control as it is also called)isn’t just inspections, what is it then? Here’s a start. Loss control requires two dimensions: The first dimension is the active engagement of insured entities to understand the hazards that they are exposed to, the controls currently in place, the loss experience they have had over time, and their approach to managing and guiding safety. The Second dimension is working together with those insured entities to improve their performance in a collaborative way. That second dimension is often absent.

The challenge
The biggest challenge toward that goal is that every organization is different and needs help in different ways. Some companies have well-developed safety management and only need targeted collaboration on certain key issues; others don’t have a clue of where to start and need more help than may be included with the service level set for their policies. Inspections will always be a part of the picture, and perhaps the most visible one in many cases, but loss control professionals and leaders need to remember and convey the bigger picture.

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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OSHA Releases Most-Cited Citations Year-to-Date

Nebula

Navigators use the stars and other means to chart their course.

Information for Navigation

Just as seafarers navigate with a combination of information from the sun, stars, landmarks, magnetic fields, satellites, and other sources, safety and risk professionals should use a good breadth of the pertinent information at their disposal to best understand and manage the risks their organizations face.

Top OSHA Violations

Last Week, at the National Safety Council‘s 2013 National Safety Congress in Chicago, Federal OSHA released the most-cited workplace safety standards for the current year to date. Not surprisingly, fall protection, hazard communication, and scaffolding violations topped the list.  Some cited areas also have a high number of associated injuries, such as Fall protection, where serious injury totals across many industries have also been high over the years.

Why This is Important

Safety professionals, risk managers, and anyone with responsibilities for safety in the workplace should familiarize themselves with this list. Not only is it useful to know the sort of things that OSHA looks for, it is also very instructive to understand what some of the most common workplace safety issues are across industries. Naturally state OSHA plans have differing lists (and some, such as California, have a differently organized and labeled set of state standards as well). It’s also very important to keep in mind that  any drill-down to specific industries will reveal vast differences as well. Nonetheless, this is a good starting point. Which of the following areas represent exposures at your workplace?

9/2013 YTD Federal OSHA Most Cited Workplace Safety Standards

Rank CFR Standard Category Total Violations
1. 1926.501 Fall Protection 8,250
2. 1910.1200 Hazard Communication 6,150
3. 1926.451 Scaffolding 5,400
4. 1910.134 Respiratory Protection 3,900
5. 1910.305 Electrical, Wiring Methods 3,450
6. 1910.178 Powered Industrial Trucks 3,350
7. 1926.1053 Ladders 3,300
8. 1910.147 Lockout/Tagout 3,250
9. 1910.303 Electrical, General Requirements 2,750
10. 1910.212 Machine Guarding 2,700
Note: These are partial year preliminary figures as of 9/13/2013. Totals are rounded to the nearest 50. Source: US Federal OSHA Information System Portal

Set Sail, But Be Smart About It…

“A ship in port is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for,”

The popular quote above is alternately attributed to William Shedd, James Shedd, and Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper. The meaning is clear and inspiring, expressing the need to venture out and face the world, and give up (near) absolute safety for the sake of achievement and worthwhile experiences. “You need to be willing to face risks” is a typical encapsulation of the sentiment of the quote, and certainly has applicability on several levels. Accepting the “Nothing ventured, nothing gained.” ethos as valuable and legitimate, let’s consider how the idea is often applied more broadly than any Admiral would support. Let’s examine some aspects of the idea behind this quote and consider the implications.

Take your ship out of port and onto the high seas…
If you have an oceangoing ship.
I recall an occasion when I was about 15, when my older brother and I took out 12 foot aluminum rowboat (with a 3-1/2 horsepower outboard motor) down to the ocean and out around the breakwater. We’d enjoyed many hours on lakes and ponds in that boat, but even 2 foot swells will pound a tiny rowboat pretty soundly.

Take your ship out of port and onto the high seas…
If you have a map and navigation equipment.
The ocean is vast, with rocks and shoals that won’t present themselves to the sailor. You’ve got to know where you are headed, how to get there, and what to avoid along the way. Add to that a way to know your position and you are on your way.

Take your ship out of port and onto the high seas…
If your ship is seaworthy.
My next door neighbor when I was growing up had a beautiful vintage 26 foot Chris Craft boat. He’d carefully refinish the wood hull regularly, maintain the engine and running gear, and keep all the onboard equipment looking and working great. He had a co-worker who wanted a boat, too, and bought an old salvaged boat to “fix up.” Trouble was, he didn’t know how to do the work as well as he thought. He didn’t understand that there was special plywood for marine applications. He’d used regular residential grade plywood to repair the hull, and it was coming apart within weeks of being in the water.

Take your ship out of port and onto the high seas…
With a good crew.
The first time I went sailing, I was the second person on a boat that took one person to handle. What I didn’t realize, though, was that there were many duties to perform, from securing and releasing lines, to dropping the center board and raising it back up, to getting out of the way of the boom when it swung around. Later, when I watched the big America’s Cup racing sailboats in action, I had a new appreciation for all the work (and teamwork) that was absolutely essential for successful sailing. And when a storm comes, the crew better know what to do without any guesswork.

Take your ship out of port and onto the high seas…
With good leadership.
Do you sail through the storm or around it? Do you tack aggressively towards the wind, or take a longer but less intense course? How often and where do you drop anchor along the way? Solid leadership gives you the best shot a successful journey.

So there you have a few examples of the story beyond the story about setting sail. We do need to leave harbor decisively, for sure. But we need to know how to give ourselves the best chance of getting to our destination rapidly and in one piece.